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PCA Amendment will aid police conduct inquiry

30 March 2004 Media Statement

PCA Amendment will aid police conduct inquiry

A Bill introduced into Parliament today will allow the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct to see files covered by secrecy provisions in the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) Act.

The PCA Amendment Bill, which will have its first reading this week under urgency, will introduce temporary provisions enabling the Commission to fulfil its terms of reference, Associate Justice Minister Margaret Wilson said today.

"Investigation files held by the PCA are currently subject to blanket secrecy provisions. This is likely to include information gathered by police conducting investigations on the PCA's behalf," Margaret Wilson said.

"Those provisions are designed to help the Authority obtain frank information from police and members of the public during its investigations – information that may be self-incriminating, personally embarrassing, or that might be feared to invite retribution and might therefore be withheld if confidentiality was not assured.

"However it is the view of the Government, the Police and the Commission of Inquiry itself that the Commission's task will be hampered by its inability to consider PCA files.

"It is vital for public confidence in the Commission, the Police and the PCA that this impediment be removed.

"The extent to which the PCA Act's secrecy provisions may hinder the Commission is to be the subject of a hearing on 8 April. However, the Government has decided the immediate introduction of an amendment Bill ahead of this hearing is desirable to provide an assurance to the public that the Commission will be able to carry out its mandate in full.

"It is also important to forestall any possible delays in the inquiry. Delays would not be fair to the complainants, who need to see these matters concluded as quickly as is reasonable.

"The Bill will also allow for public consideration of the Bill through a select committee process, albeit truncated, to ensure that any potential privacy and Bill of Rights Act concerns are able to be addressed and reported on by the committee.

"It is important for the credibility of the inquiry that secrecy provisions do not and are not seen to be hindering it. However, the privacy interests of all the individuals who have provided information also need to be taken into account.

"Commissions of Inquiry have the same powers that are available to Courts to protect witnesses. These powers may be able to be exercised to address the privacy interests of individuals."

Margaret Wilson said the amendment's provisions would only apply to the current inquiry. They would come into force the day after Royal assent was given, and expire one year after the Commission reported to the Governor-General.

The expiry date is to ensure that further material would be available for any subsequent proceedings such as a re-direction from the Government back to the Commission.

Margaret Wilson said the Commission was not likely to start considering relevant PCA files until June at the earliest, and the Government hoped to have the amendment passed into law by then.


ENDS

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