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Australia : Inquiries Act amended to strengthen powers to seize documents and computers.

New powers allowing documents and computers to be seized will be included in the Inquiries Act following recommendations flowing from the Stella Maris Inquiry.

The Stella Maris Inquiry examined the former Labor Government's decision to grant a rent-free 10 year lease to Unions NT on the eve of the 2012 election, with the Inquiry finding Labor's actions were not 'accountable, responsible or in the public interest'.

Chief Minister Adam Giles said Stella Maris Inquiry Commissioner John Lawler made a series of recommendations to strengthen the Inquiries Act.

"The Inquiries Act is a broad piece of legislation that provides for a Board of Inquiry or Commissioner to examine issues, prepare a report and make recommendations," he said.

"In the course of the Stella Maris Inquiry, authorised officers from the Inquiry accessed and searched Union NT's premises looking for relevant documents.

"The Commissioner found that the Inquiries Act was deficient in this situation as documents relevant to the inquiry could only be accessed not seized and there was no penalty for hindering or preventing access to places, premises, buildings and documents.

"The amendments being introduced will modernise the Inquiries Act and address the deficiencies identified by Commissioner Lawler in the Stella Maris Inquiry report."

Mr Giles said the new process would allow a Board Member, Commissioner or authorised person to seize any item, book or paper that they reasonably believe to be related to the inquiry.

"This new process, recommended by Commissioner Lawler, will be important for when there is a reasonable possibility that documents or goods such as computers might be concealed, lost, mutilated, disposed of or destroyed," he said.

Mr Giles said the Inquiries Amendment Bill would also make it an offence for any person intentionally obstructing a Commissioner or authorised person from performing their official duties, with the offence carrying a maximum penalty of $15,300.

"This Bill will improve the efficiency and transparency of the inquiry system," he said.

"These changes will ensure an Inquiry Commissioner has the necessary tools to obtain the necessary information and provide a deterrent to anyone hindering or obstructing an Inquiry."

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Publication:Mena Report
Date:Feb 11, 2016
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