Fix it!

Senator Lambert Brown is insisting that the Government repairs gaps in its administrative processes which lead to overuse of legislation to pardon unlawful actions of public sector officers.

On numerous occasions the Government has had to rely on the passage of indemnity Acts (or good faith Bills) to protect officers from legal action. Indemnity Acts normally shield officials from some penalty to which they have become liable by acting illegally or beyond the limits of their powers.

Brown, who was contributing to the debate on the Consumer Protection (Validation and Indemnity of Tribunal) Act, 2023, in the Senate last Friday, stressed that there needs to be a system that allows for checks and balances to eliminate the need for indemnity Bills.

“Who in Government has the task of monitoring the tenure of boards on tribunals? Who has the task to ensure that reappointment or new appointments take place? We can’t continue to run government like this, that allow for the laws to be breached. Good faith or no good faith, it amounts to bad governance. When we allow the law to be breached and the administrative actions to prevent such breaches, a blind eye is turned to it…. no concerns,” he said.

Brown questioned why the Parliament “must be here taking good faith Bills [upon] good faith Bills because the administrative system is not working”.

The Indemnity Bill, which was piloted on Friday by Government Senator Aubyn Hill, seeks to protect from legal penalties, the members of the Consumer Protection Tribunal which was established under Section 44(a) of the Consumer Protection Act to settle disputes arising out of complaints made by consumers to the Consumer Affairs Commission. The tribunal had continued in office, after its tenure had expired, without being reappointed, which is in contravention of the Act.

Brown also took issue with lawmakers being asked to “validate acts done over four years by the tribunal” without even being provided with information about what actions they would be pardoning.

“So, in a sense, we are asked to… rubber stamp the decisions of a tribunal, decisions of which we know not. I would have preferred if we were told that the tribunal heard 10 cases, 15 cases, one case and they took decisions amounting to ‘x’ amount of dollars in compensation. But that has not been provided to the Senate,” he said.

“This senator takes offence to just being asked to rubber stamp a decision of the executive… This senator is not a yes man, a lackey or a wimp who has surrendered my right to dissent. I am not going to rubber stamp. I would really prefer… to be told the magnitude of sins that we are forgiving,” he added.

Quoting the Bill, Senator Hill explained that it seeks to validate and confirm as lawful, the purported continuation in office of the members of the tribunal and all official acts purportedly done by them in good faith and inadvertently, as to their continuation in office and official acts, not having been in compliance with… the Act, during the period commenting May 28, 2011, and ending on May 8, 2022.

“This is for a period of one year, not four years,” Hill pointed out.

Noting that the tribunal was appointed last year, Hill said what legislators were asking for is indemnity in a matter heard before the tribunal’s tenure expired, but the decision came after the expiration date.

“This is a long rigmarole for one item. We are fixing this… this Government is fixing it,” he insisted.

The senators later approved the Bill.