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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5355

Senator COONEY (3.35 p.m.) —I think what Senator Ray talked about is happening here: we are becoming a jury. I am a man who has great respect for Senator Herron, but I believe he has made judgments and statements on the basis of facts with which he is not equipped.

Senator Herron —We have just been told.

Senator COONEY —That is not so. This is a matter which is very much to do with the assessment of compensation in a court. A process has to be gone through. Senator Alston knows this. I thought his speech was quite a brilliant defence address but I think I would have got the money nonetheless.

  Senator Herron read out figures that indicate the compensation a widow would get on the death of her husband. Senator Herron would probably find that that was under a compensation system. As I understand what has been done here, and as Senator Alston will tell the honourable senator, this is a common law action. It is a quite different issue. If there is a common law action, and if that action is justified, widows would get a lot more than the figures the honourable senator has quoted. Those figures—not that the honourable senator would have intended this—are quite an unfair reflection on what is a common law action.

   We have to decide in this chamber whether we want to go into the exercise of deciding what is a fair figure or otherwise. We can, I think, quite properly look at the way in which that amount was assessed in terms of who did it, whether the proper people did it, and whether the proper process was gone through. That is something we can look at. That is the issue that the President has dealt with.

  It would be wrong for somebody who knows Mr McLeay, on the basis that the President does, to assess this matter. The President has stayed clear of that. What we can do—and there is no problem about this; I think we are entitled to do so—is look at whether the proper people made the assessment. As I understand it, a barrister, whom I take to be competent in this field, and the Australian Government Solicitor looked at the issue. We can look at issues such as whether they are the proper people to make an assessment. But I think it is wrong for us to be talking about whether the figure is fair on the basis of the evidence that has been given to us, because we are not in possession of all the evidence.

  The fact that taxpayers' money—that is, money from Consolidated Revenue—has been used in the settlement to the Speaker should not be a factor which leads us to assess whether, on the evidence, a fair figure has been reached. Taxpayers' funds are paid again and again to people who have been injured as a result of the Commonwealth's negligence. So I simply say this: let us get around to the real issue. As Senator Hill said on AM this morning and during this debate, let us look at the process, and if the process is right let it go at that. But it is wrong to go into what is really an exercise for a jury. So I would propose that we proceed in the way Senator Hill has suggested.