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Government moves one step closer to uniform defamation law.



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ATTORNEY-GENERAL THE HON PHILIP RUDDOCK MP

NEWS RELEASE

Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600  Telephone (02) 6277 7300  Fax (02) 6273 4102 www.law.gov.au/ag

29 July 2004 132/2004

GOVERNMENT MOVES ONE STEP CLOSER TO UNIFORM DEFAMATION LAW

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock today reaffirmed his strong commitment to fixing Australia’s defamation laws by releasing a revised proposal for a national uniform code.

Mr Ruddock said in the absence of firm and unambiguous agreement from the States and Territories to enact fully uniform laws, it would be necessary for the Australian Government to proceed with its development of a national law.

“The present situation is untenable. It’s not defensible in this age of television and the internet to have eight different regimes in Australia. Anything less than a fully uniform law is simply not acceptable,” he said.

“We need more than just gestures in support of uniformity,” he said. “The aim of law reform in this area should be to reduce complexity and inconsistency, to codify the rules, and to ensure that we have a law that operates on a national basis.’

The Commonwealth can rely on a range of powers, including the communications and corporations powers, to establish a code for most defamation proceedings. The only matters left to State law would be some defamatory publications made by one individual against another.

A discussion paper was released in March this year, and a revised proposal was released by the Attorney today for further public input.

“We have listened to what was said about the initial discussion paper during discussions with legal practitioners, media representatives and other interested parties in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth,” he said.

“The revised proposal responds to concerns raised during the consultation process, makes some changes and involves some clarification.”

For example, the revised outline envisages:

ï¿» a role for juries;

ï¿» adopts a defence of truth and public ‘interest’ (a matter not involving the unwarranted disclosure of ‘private affairs’);

ï¿» makes it clear the proposed defences of honest opinion and qualified privilege are intended to reflect and clarify the common law;

ï¿» proposes further mechanisms for encouraging speedy resolution of proceedings; and

ï¿» places more emphasis on restoring the plaintiff’s reputation, and less emphasis on money.

Attorney General News Release 2

Mr Ruddock said he did not expect the revised proposal would please everyone, but nor should it.

“We are doing what we can to get the best possible law,” he said. “Defamation reform is about striking a balance between the public interest in receiving information and the need to protect people’s reputation.”

The revised package includes a detailed policy paper and draft exposure provisions dealing with important features of the proposal. It is available on the Attorney-General’s Department’s website: www.ag.gov.au/defamation.

The closing date for comments is 31 October 2004.

Media Contact: Steve Ingram 0419 278 715