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Commissioner Staunton to assume responsibility for CAA/Seaview inquiry



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News Release Hon. Laurie Brereton MP Minister for Transport ♦ Minister for Industrial RelationsT2/95 1 February, 1995COMMISSIONER STAUNTON TO ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FORCAA/SEAV IEW INQUIRYCommissioner James Staunton has been appointed as sole Commissioner to inquire into relations between the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Seaview Air, Federal Minister for Transport, Laurie Brereton, announced today.Mr Brereton said it was fortunate that Commissioner Staunton was able to assume responsibility for the inquiry. He brings to his role as Commissioner his extensive experience as a member of the New South Wales judiciary.Commissioner Staunton will assume responsibility following a personal decision by Sir Laurence Street to withdraw from further involvement in the inquiries to preserve public confidence.“Sir Laurence has advised me that he felt total public confidence in the Commission could be compromised by his position as Chairman of Directors of John Fairfax Holdings Ltd, the parent company of the publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald, after the recent publication of articles on Seaview. Arising out of these articles Seaview has threatened defamation action against the Herald,” Mr Brereton said.“Seaview has made representations to Sir Laurence about his association with the Herald. Sir Laurence has advised me that there could arise a public perception of conflict of interest and this could undermine the credibility of the inquiry.In a letter to Mr Brereton dated 25 January, 1995, Sir Laurence states that: “it is of the utmost importance that there be total public confidence that the (the inquiries) have been carried out with ruthless thoroughness but at the same time with total impartiality.” The letter continues: “I feel it is my public duty to remove any risk of the value of these inquiries being diminished or called into question by reason of a perception that I have a conflict of interest.”The full text of Sir Laurence’s letter is attached.Mr Brereton said that he did not believe there was any conflict of interest on Sir Laurence’s part and that the Government was disappointed he had been placed in this position.“While the Government regrets Sir Laurence’s decision, his concern that the inquiry not be compromised and his swift action in addressing the matter is very much appreciated,” Mr Brereton said.

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The Minister said that he was confident the inquiry would be completed by 31 May, 1995, as previously announced.

Commissioner Staunton, AO CBE QC, served as Chief Judge of the New South Wales District Court from 1973 until 1974. Between 1971 and 1973 he was a Judge and Chairman of the District Court. In the late 1970s Commissioner Staunton conducted

the investigation into the Granville train disaster.

Media contact: Kate Hannon (06) 277 7320

Commissions of Inquiry into the Relations Between the CAA and Sea view Air

The Hon Sir Laurence Street AC KCMG Level 13

Commissioner 80 William Street

Locked Bag 4312 (GPO)

James Henry Staunton CBE QC SYDNEY NSW 2001

Commissioner Telephone: (02) 3 3 6 7 1 0 0

Facsimile: (02) 360 7551

Christine Briton Secretary

25 January 1995

The Hon Laurie Brereton, MP Minister for Transport Parliament House CANBERRA ACT 2600

Dear Minister

CAA and Seaview Air Inquiries

On 23 January 1995 Seaview Air wrote to the Managing Director of John Fairfax & Sons Ltd complaining in strong terms about an article said to be critical of Seaview Air published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 21 January 1995.

The article is said in the letter to be ‘part of a campaign of deception of the public and denigration of [Seaview Air] by certain people-whose defamatory writings are published by the Sydney Morning Herald’. The letter states that the matter has been referred to the Press Council and threatens defamation proceedings.

In a letter to the two Commissioners of 23 January 1995 Seaview Air suggested that this places me in a conflict of interest position by reason of the fact that I am the Chairman of Directors of John Fairfax Holdings Ltd, the parent company of the publisher of the Herald. The letter calls upon me to withdraw from the Inquiries.

For a number of reasons that I need not go into the suggestion of conflicting interest is not soundly based. There is, however, the prospect that there could arise a public perception that a conflict of interest does exist. In the event of the findings in the Inquiries being condemnatory of Seaview Air such a perception could have the effect of discrediting the whole of the processes and the findings in the Inquiries.

After anxious deliberation I have reached the conclusion that I should not expose the Inquiries to this risk. It is of the utmost importance that there be total public confidence that they have been carried out with ruthless thoroughness but at the same time with total impartiality. I feel it is my public duty to remove any risk of the value of these Inquiries being diminished or called into

question by reason of a perception that I have a conflict of interest. I accordingly formally request to be permitted to return my Letters Patent to the Governor General and to be relieved from further involvement in the Inquiries.

Yours sincerely

Laurence Street