Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2017 Week 02 Hansard (Tuesday, 14 February 2017) . . Page.. 368 ..
Again I thank the staff in the department who have picked up these requirements to change the legislation, and I thank the minister’s staff as well as my own staff for their work in preparing this bill.
MS CHEYNE (Ginninderra) (12.13): I welcome the opportunity to speak today in support of the Justice and Community Safety Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (No 3). The bill contains a number of important amendments that reflect the ACT as a progressive and sensitive community.
Today I would like to focus in particular on those aspects of the bill that amend the Coroners Act 1997 to better protect the privacy of ACT citizens. The amendments to the Coroners Act 1997 seek to ensure that parliamentary processes do not unnecessarily exacerbate the pain caused to families and friends in circumstances where the death of their loved one is investigated by the coroner.
Coroners’ reports serve an important role in the community. The coroner must investigate the manner and cause of death of persons who died or who are suspected to have died in circumstances that are specified in the Coroners Act. Some examples are deaths that are violent, suspicious, caused by accident or related to that person having undergone an operation or procedure. As I am sure members can appreciate, any death in such circumstances is likely to be a painful and emotional experience for the family and friends affected.
In some circumstances a coroner’s report will be tabled in the Legislative Assembly, and this should occur where the report raises matters of serious risk to public safety. This is an important process as it ensures that issues of public safety are on the public record, and so is the government’s response to the coroner’s recommendations. However, when a coroner’s report is tabled in the Assembly, it increases the likelihood that the contents of that report will subsequently be captured by the media.
Coroners’ reports can sometimes be published some time after the death that is being investigated occurred and, by their nature, often contain tragic and confronting information. Media attention can reopen old wounds and be distressing for family. Unnecessary publication of this material should be avoided wherever possible.
I am pleased that the amendments seek to minimise the potential impact that the tabling of coroners’ reports can have on individuals in two ways. Firstly, the amendments clarify that the minister only needs to table a coroner’s report if the report contains findings about any serious risk to public safety. Section 57 of the act is fundamentally about public safety. If there are no public safety issues there is no reason to table a report in the Legislative Assembly. With these amendments, the tabling of reports will be a matter of public safety and not of sharing private circumstances.
Secondly, the amendments grant the minister discretion to protect an individual’s identity and personal information where it is appropriate to do so. In exercising this discretion, the minister is to have regard to the interests of the members of the