May 22, 2012

Privileges and Members’ Interests Committee – Reference

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (18:47):  The government will not be opposing this motion. I think that the Speaker’s statement before the House with regard to this matter is pertinent indeed. The Manager of Opposition Business raised the issue of misleading the House. Of course, that is not the charge. The charge is whether the House has been deliberately misled. To establish that that contempt has been committed, three things need to be shown. Firstly, that a statement had been misleading; secondly, that the member knew at the time the statement was incorrect and, thirdly, that the misleading had been deliberate.

I note that no Speaker has ever given precedence to this matter and therefore that precedent is not being established by this ruling and I think that is very important. I think it is critical that, whilst we debate these issues surrounding allegations against the member for Dobell, we are very careful that we do not establish precedence that would change the nature of the way that this parliament operates and change the nature of the way that the separation of powers operates.

The government could, of course, not support this motion even being brought on. I indicated earlier today that the government would allow leave because I did not want it argued that the government was somehow seeking to block a proper consideration of these matters by the Privileges Committee. The statement says, in accordance with the practice of the House, that precedence as of a right to a motion for this matter would normally be granted by the Speaker. It is open to this House to refer the matter. That will occur if the motion of the Manager of Opposition Business is carried.

But I do note the Speaker’s statement that a prima facie case has not been granted. I do note that no Speaker has ever granted precedence because in this fine Westminster House there are quite often disagreements as to statements, as to economic policy, as to whether there is a $70 billion black hole or not in the opposition’s funding, whether climate change is anthropogenic or not, whether a whole range of statements are made which are contradicted by the two sides of the House. That occurs every single day.

What the government wants to indicate here is the fact that we are permitting this motion to be moved by leave by the Manager of Opposition Business. It should not establish a precedent whereby we say that, when disagreements arise as to what facts are, they should be the subject for a reference to the Committee of Privileges. That indeed would be abuse of that process and would undermine the very functioning of this parliament.

We go further and say that when it comes to matters which are quite rightly, because of the seriousness of their nature, subject to potential legal action, either criminal or civil, then the idea that this parliament should sit in judgment undermines the rule of law, undermines the separation of powers and indeed, under other circumstances whereby the convention that these matters would only be considered if the Speaker were to grant precedence, is of some concern indeed.

It is of some concern because in the future a majority government should not use the fact that it is a majority government of whatever political persuasion to determine that matters should be referred to the Privileges Committee or to determine outcomes of these matters. That is why we have these conventions. We have these conventions so that the Speaker determines these things separately from partisan politics. I am confident that the Committee of Privileges will also consider these matters separately from partisan politics, and I would certainly encourage the members to do so.