Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 10 Hansard (Wednesday, 27 August 2008) . . Page.. 3754 ..
We have a legal system that has been built up over many hundreds of years that we have inherited from the English. It is a good legal system. It is not perfect, but it is a good legal system and we need to be very careful about throwing out some of the principles of that system. If someone is breaching the law or engaging in defamatory conduct, there are remedies and people are reasonably free to pursue those.
We know that the system is always skewed to favour certain groups over others, and this legislation is an attempt to address that. I note some of the government’s amendments, and Mr Stefaniak will be speaking to those. I note the government’s concerns. We do not want to shift the principle too far so that reasonable litigation is prevented. That is the balancing act we are trying to find here. We need to find ways to protect this principle.
We are not going to get this perfectly right, Dr Foskey. No matter whether the bill goes through as is or with the government’s amendments, there will be teething problems as members of the judiciary get used to this legislation. Whichever version passes, we will be monitoring it very closely.
We very strongly support the principle of freedom of speech. We should be agitating more for it. I believe that it is more restricted in this place than I would like it to be. We need to find ways to protect that principle. We support the bill in principle and we look forward to further debate at the detail stage.
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (12.18), in reply: I wish to thank all members for their support for this legislation. In a way, all of you have been on this journey with me in the formulation of this bill. If ever there was a bill that was thoroughly consulted on, it is this one. It was not just an ACT consultation; it was a national consultation. This bill is of huge importance to the environmental movement. It is of huge importance even to the quiet little activist in the coastal town who writes a letter to his paper—I refer to a real experience here—and then finds out that he has had a SLAPP put upon him.
I cannot tell you the absolute chill that that inflicts on a person in this community who is brave enough to stand up and fight for something they believe in—whether it be opposition to the clear felling of a beautiful piece of forest or opposition to the erection of an inappropriate building and the destruction of a piece of heritage. Whatever it is, people all around Australia are vulnerable because there is no legislation like this.
We do not know whether this legislation will be the answer. I take Mr Seselja’s point that we will need to look at it and be prepared to refine it. Do you know why we do not know? It is because this is landmark legislation. The ACT should be very proud because this is a follow-on to the Human Rights Act, which placed us out in front. Other states and, hopefully, the commonwealth will catch up but, as yet, no other legislature has introduced a bill like this.
We know that quite a number of legislatures in the United States have introduced legislation. In the United States litigation is more common and more frightening, and they were quicker to act. I have been on the phone letting people around the country know about the legislation in the ACT and there is a great deal of excitement about it. I thank members for the process that the bill has been through.