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Tuesday, 26 November 1985
Page: 2221

Senator COONEY —I give notice that it is my intention at the giving of notices on the next day of sitting to withdraw Business of the Senate, Notice of Motion No. 1 standing in my name for this day of sitting for the disallowance of the Electricity (Amendment) Ordinance 1985. I seek leave to make a brief statement.

Leave granted.

Senator COONEY —In this Ordinance the Australian Capital Territory Electricity Authority was given a number of discretionary decision-making powers. While many of these were subject to review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Committee was concerned that two types of decisions were not so subject. After exchanging correspondence with the Minister for Territories (Mr Scholes), the Committee is pleased to report that the Minister has undertaken to amend the Ordinance not later than July 1986 by inserting provisions for review, consultation or scrutiny. The amendments will be based on inquiry procedures which have been included in the Trade Practices Bill 1985 and which are also due to come into force in July 1986. There will need to be consistency of approval between the Ordinance and the Trade Practices Bill and the Committee was satisfied, therefore, to accept the Minister's promise to amend the Ordinance to make sure that an effective review mechanism is operative next year.

The Committee was also concerned about a number of offences in the Ordinance which appeared to be of strict liability. The Minister has undertaken to amend the Ordinance to make mens rea and express request for these offences. The Minister has also agreed to insert protective clauses relating to voluntary entry by inspectors on to premises. These will make clear that entry is voluntary and by consent and will follow precedents in the Credit Ordinance. The Ordinance also provided that magistrates be empowered to issue telephone search warrants. The Committee regarded the issue of telephone warrants to be of such a nature as to require the approval of a superior court judge before the issue of a warrant. The Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) said that judges should not be burdened with this task and that appropriately it should be left to magistrates.

As matters affecting superior courts fall within the Attorney-General's portfolio, the Minister for Territories has agreed to delete the power entirely from the Ordinance.

The Committee was also concerned about a wide urgent entry power. The Committee accepted that it could be a reasonable power to retain, provided a power to issue telephone search warrants was conferred on a superior court judge rather than a magistrate. With the deletion of the telephone warrant power, legal authority to enter premises in emergencies might be harder to obtain and the urgent entry power might therefore be more frequently used. The Committee demurred to this. The Minister has undertaken to delete it also from the Ordinance. I should say, finally, that the Committee is grateful to the Minister and the Attorney-General and their officers for the assistance given in its scrutiny of this Ordinance. The Minister is to be commended for the changes he has promised to make the Ordinance more protective of rights.