Mar 26, 2007

Committees – Procedure Committee – Report

COMMITTEES – Procedure Committee – Report

Debate on the Speaker’s response to the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure Media coverage of House proceedings, including the chamber, Main Committee and committees and to its recommendations

26 March 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (4.28 p.m.)—I rise to make a contribution to this debate on the Speaker’s response to the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure Media coverage of House proceedings, including the chamber, Main Committee and committees and to its recommendations. As Manager of Opposition Business—and I did not have this position at the time of the inquiry by the committee—I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the report in this debate. Access of the media to the proceedings of our national parliament is an important issue. It is how Australians in their homes and in their workplaces find out what happens in the House of Representatives. It is also the case that in 21st century Australia the media has a seemingly insatiable demand for content. Of course, we have seen new media develop in terms of technological change, and therefore the guidelines regarding access to the House proceedings need to reflect that change and continue to facilitate the access that they were designed to give.

The competing interest is of course in ensuring that the House of Representatives is not damaged by a level of access that dilutes the public’s ability to focus attention on the proceedings there. It is also important to protect the integrity of the House and to prevent the media from needlessly focusing on elements of parliamentary proceedings not relevant to its business. It is of course a right the media demands and a right, which I respect, to determine what is and is not relevant. Certainly, one can understand the frustration of some sections of the media. It is a frustration that we as the opposition have also felt from time to time, when photographic records of important business in the House have been kept out of the media by outdated guidelines.

As the Manager of Opposition Business I want to go through the recommendations of the Procedure Committee and give a response to the Speaker’s response, if you like. There are six recommendations in the report. The first recommended updating previous resolutions to reflect current House arrangements and asserting the authority of the Speaker in administering guidelines for media access. There is no response from the Speaker to that recommendation.

Recommendation 2 was for a modernisation of the language to recognise the change from film to digital technology. It also recommended removing words from the preamble to the guidelines which concern media responsibility and the Speaker’s authority in relation to disallowing the publication of photographs which impact on the dignity of the House. The Speaker’s response is that the guidelines were amended in October 2005 to partially reflect this recommendation. Recommendation 3 was that the Speaker introduce a 10-week trial to extend automatic photographic permission for ministerial statements, MPIs, divisions and adjournment debates. This trial has been going on since 26 February and it is being done on the basis that any photographer accessing the House at that time inform the Serjeant-at-Arms when he or she enters the gallery.

Recommendation 4 was that television bureaus be provided with access to isolated feeds produced by Department of Parliamentary Services broadcasting staff on request. The Speaker has not agreed to that recommendation on the basis that isolated feeds are already provided to bureaus on request but that the production of the official broadcast should be considered first before other media interests. Recommendation 5 was that the Press Gallery Committee consult with DPS staff to improve access to different camera feeds from the House. It recommended that the committee evaluate any new arrangements after they had been in operation for six weeks. The Speaker has broadly supported that recommendation; however, he has reserved the right to approve a trial of any changes to the current arrangements. Recommendation 6 was that the Department of Parliamentary Services install cameras in the House of Representatives committee rooms to allow increased television coverage. The Speaker has broadly supported that recommendation but has asked the Department of the House of Representatives to examine that.

The recommendations of this report, we believe, are fairly innocuous. It is appropriate, I think, that there be access to the House, and certainly, in relation to recommendations 5 and 6, I think that we do need to have more concrete action considered. This is a process that has now gone on for several years. It is more than a couple of years old. We now have recommendations from the Speaker that we are debating here in the chamber for the first time. Certainly, the opposition would welcome feedback from the media as to how we might improve the guidelines if the current process does prove to be inadequate for dealing with their legitimate concerns. I will leave my remarks there, on that note.