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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5515

Senator BISHOP (5.22 a.m.) —There are a couple of other points from the file that need to be on the record. The problem with this matter is that when you are dealing with a Presiding Officer and a sensitive matter such as this, not only does it have to be scrupulously carried out but it has to be seen to be done in that fashion as well. Quite frankly, the file does not show that that was done.

  The accident took place on 25 April 1990. There was a file note stating that on 10 April 1991 the strategy by the Government Solicitor was that they should seek to settle the matter with no admission of liability. There was the question also of whether the manufacturer of the bicycle should be held liable in the matter. The way that that is normally dealt with is that when the writ or statement of claim is issued there would be a joining in of the manufacturer as a co-defendant. If one settles on the writ at a very early stage, of course, that does not take place.

  There is a file note also on 17 April 1991 further stating what the strategy was to be, and the strategy is written as this:

McLeay's solicitors will be issuing a formal claim. The Australian Government Solicitor, Sienkowski, has spoken with them. Once this is done, the settlement negotiations can be concluded fairly quickly. Aim is to settle against McLeay and then look at the manufacturer for some indemnity. Sienkowski to put this to me in writing. In accordance with that strategy, process was duly issued in September 1991. Settlement was then recommended—

Senator Faulkner —I raise a point of order, Mr President. A number of senators are speaking in the aisle over there, interrupting the flow of debate and, as I have been called to order tonight for that same offence, I ask you to call those senators to order.

The PRESIDENT —I have often asked people to resume their seat or leave the chamber. Many people occupying this seat do that.

Senator BISHOP —The flow of the debate was interrupted by Senator Faulkner. To continue, the process began in September 1991. There was an instruction that was subject to Mr Bolton confirming it. The file note is dated 25 November 1991. It says:

Sienkowski rang to advise that Mr McLeay's solicitor had advised that Mr McLeay wished to accept the offer of $55,000. After deducting medical expenses already paid, the balance was $51,205.55. After confirming with Mr Bolton, I advised Mr Sienkowski to proceed with the offer. He will send a form 12 and seek to recover some of these costs from the manufacturers. Payment was duly made then on 26 November.

To put it mildly, the speed with which this matter was processed was quite out of the norm. There was another matter concerning somebody in this chamber. The accident took place in 1988. Settlement was not effected until this month, indeed 48 hours ago, and it was settled at the court door where proper process was issued and where normal court proceedings were gone through.

  The injury was far more serious than the Speaker's. I do know what the figures were, but that perhaps is for somebody else to disclose and not for me to deal with. It was a far more serious accident, with the same sorts of figures, and the case was conducted from 1988 to 1992. There was no speed, no little notes, and none of the ease with which the Speaker's matter was resolved.

  The difficulty is that Mr Bolton is responsible to the Presiding Officer. The difficulty is that there was no bringing in of the Joint House Committee. There seems to have been no arm's length negotiations. That is the whole problem with this sorry mess. It may well be that the injury was such that the settlement figure was appropriate. It may well be that proper processes could have been gone through and the same result would have been come to but, quite frankly, this is not what could be called a normal legal case. It does not match up with another case of which I am fully apprised where somebody was also in a position such as this.

  That is why this matter has been raised. That is why people are angry about it. They feel that it was not properly conducted and dealt with. An advantage has been given to somebody who was in a position of authority and who perhaps exercised that authority. Whether or not that was done, I suppose we will never really know. What we do know is that the person who benefited was in a position of authority over the person who exercised the authority to settle. Mr Bolton issued that authority to settle. Those dates speak for themselves.