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Attorney-General and Justice – Commission of Inquiry

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Tags: Child Abuse, Justice, Commission of Inquiry

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, the Premier announced the commission of inquiry on Monday, well past time, and we welcome that move. The only other commission of inquiry held in Tasmania was in 2002 and the Attorney-General at the time referred the law reform project to report on the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1995 subsequent to the first and only other commission of inquiry held under the powers of that act.

The terms of reference were handed to the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute to undertake an investigation into that act, and the terms of reference were to examine and report on the operation of the Commissions of Inquiry Act to, amongst other things, examine the need for any extension of the powers of the commission of inquiry.

The TLRI final report of September 2003 makes five recommendations for legislative amendment of the Commissions of Inquiry Act. The first recommendation would enable commissioners to apply to a magistrate for a warrant to use listening devices where there is a reasonable belief that the use of such devices is necessary and appropriate to obtain evidence in relation to a matter relevant to the inquiry. The other four recommendations relate to section 18 of the act which sets out the requirements to be met before a commission can make a finding of misconduct against a person relating to the circumstances, the evidence that has to be given to a person, the right to waive the minimum 48-hour period notice for allegations of misconduct and allowing a commissioner to make a finding of misconduct in special circumstances.

Could you please comment on what has been done in relation to the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1995? Correct me if I am wrong, but I do not know that any amendments have been made to the act. Will you will investigate these matters as a matter of urgency and consider bringing legislation to parliament to amend the act on the basis of the recommendations from the TLRI prior to setting up the commission?

Ms ARCHER - The report that you cite from 2003 obviously is 17 years old now. The act was amended in 2013 to ensure the commission of inquiry set up concurrently with the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse was properly empowered. I am not aware of any issues regarding scope of powers encountered during what was obviously an extensive five-year royal commission. Having said that, as we work through setting up and establishing a commission of inquiry in this instance we will look at whether any additional legislative amendments might be required. I will be guided by what we know following the five-year process of the royal commission rather than a report that is now 17 years old because we have made amendments since then and we would have looked at that to properly empower the commission of inquiry.

I have confirmed there have been some amendments since but during the establishment of our commission of inquiry, if we think there needs to be any amendments, we will do so.

Dr WOODRUFF - Did the previous attorney general seek an updated report from the TLRI when the 2013 amendments were made to the Commissions of Inquiry Act?

Ms ARCHER - I would have to take that on notice. I don't have personal knowledge of that.

Dr WOODRUFF - I am just a bit concerned you would junk the report from 17 years ago because at the first and major -

Ms ARCHER - No, sorry, I am not going to have words put into my mouth.

CHAIR - Don't verbal the Attorney-General, Dr Woodruff.

Dr WOODRUFF - You are correct; I will rephrase that.

Ms ARCHER - I haven't junked it; I just said that it was now out of date in that it is 17 years old. There have been amendments since then and for amendments to legislation, as you well know, we do a complete review in terms of what might be needed or required as part of those amendments. I am sure it would have been thoughtfully considered by the department. I wasn't Attorney-General in 2013, but I am sure that was looked at. I have given the undertaking that should we need to make any further amendments, we will.

Dr WOODRUFF - My question was about the 17-year-old recommendation which seems to stand today, which is about providing powers for the commissioner to use listening devices.

Ms ARCHER - I have told you the 2013 amendments were done concurrently with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to ensure we were properly empowered as part of our process within that.

Dr WOODRUFF - But you can't tell me what those amendments were? Did it include this one from 17 years ago? That's all I want to know?

Ms ARCHER - It is law, Dr Woodruff, and I am sure you are able to interpret legislation as to what might have occurred in 2013, but if you need me to take that on notice and provide you with what amendments were made to the act we can certainly advise you, but you can obtain that sort of information.

Dr WOODRUFF - You have not done as much research either because you do not have the amendments before you from 2013. Does it include the one from the TLRI report from 17 years ago? That is all I am asking. Does it include those recommendations, because I don't understand why you would think that empowering a commissioner to apply to a magistrate for a warrant to use a listening device if there was reasonable belief it was required should be something we oughtn't consider in this commission of inquiry when it goes ahead.

Ms ARCHER - Chair, just because Dr Woodruff does not like my answer, which is factual, I might add, I am satisfied that in 2013 when amendments were made, it was looked at and our commission of inquiry would have been properly empowered to assist the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Having said that, for the purpose of the commission of inquiry which we announced we will be establishing, we will ensure it is properly empowered, and should we need to make any amendments, we will do so. We would consider a number of sources for that. When my department does law reform, as you know and as I advise the House quite regularly, we do a complete review of a lot of information and sources of information available to us.

Dr WOODRUFF - It might include talking to the TLRI again about it 17-year-old report to see whether they still stand by it.

Ms ARCHER - It would worthwhile contacting them and I am sure our SLP unit would do that, as they regularly do.


Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, on another matter, the commission of inquiry that has been announced, we understand there are currently 10 staff allocated to Department of Justice's Child Abuse Royal Commission Response Unit.

Ms ARCHER - The CARCRU - I'm saying that now so everybody knows what I am talking about when I say 'CARCRU'.

Dr WOODRUFF - Are these people prepared for the number of survivors who may come forward due to the commission of inquiry? Would they be the appropriate staff for people to be referred to? Do they need assistance, I am talking financial resourcing, because we have to be as prepared as we can be for the number of stories and the need for support in this commission?

Ms ARCHER - I'll just explain, Amber Mignot, the director of that unit, has joined us at the table. There will be a lot of people perhaps viewing this item or listening to a news broadcast on it. A lot of information has been released on certain days and some of it - and I am not alleging it is you, Dr Woodruff - has been used by people over recent weeks for political gain. I am concerned about victims' and survivors' wellbeing. They can have telephone access 24 hours a day from Lifeline, Beyond Blue, 1800 RESPECT, Suicide Call Back Service and Men's Line Australia. They can contact the Department of Justice and CARCRU, our specialist unit, in this regard. I am deeply concerned about a lot of these things being remarked upon quite flippantly and there are serious consequences to some survivors who may not come forward.

In answering your question, the Premier has committed to providing the resources required for the commission of inquiry. As we work our way through the personnel requirements for the commission of inquiry, I expect that CARCRU will have a significant role to play in that process. It is a specialised unit that has been set up for not only the national redress scheme but Ms Mignot is already assisting the independent inquiry into the Department of Education. I expect its involvement in some shape or form will be required. Should it require extra personal, we will provide that. It has received a boost of personnel to respond effectively to the work it currently does. If you require further detail on that, I am happy to hand it to Ms Mignot to explain. We have resourced that unit very well. I continue to monitor their work closely with Ms Mignot. Ms Mignot is also involved heavily in our legislative program in response to the 409 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. What Ms Mignot doesn't know in this area is probably not worth knowing.