Sep 12, 2007

Questions to the Speaker – Privilege

Questions to the Speaker – Privilege

12 September 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3.09 p.m.)—Mr Speaker, I wish to draw to your attention, as notified to your office earlier today, a gross abuse of privilege that occurred in the House last evening. During debate on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Democratic Plebiscites) Bill 2007, the member for Moreton made a series of unsubstantiated allegations related to the long-running Australian Federal Police investigation into himself and the members for Bonner and Bowman. The member alleged that a federal agent of the AFP had engaged in a high-level political conspiracy with Queensland government ministers in relation to the conduct of the investigation. The member for Moreton named the AFP officer and the ministers involved in this alleged conspiracy.

Mr Abbott—Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is really not appropriate material for a question to you. If he wants to make accusations, there are other forms of the House that can be used. But this is in fact a long statement couched in the guise of a question, and it should not be proceeded with in this form.

The SPEAKER—The Leader of the House does raise a valid point inasmuch as a matter of privilege, which is what I take it that the Manager of Opposition Business is raising—

Mr ALBANESE—I notified your office earlier today.

The SPEAKER—I say to the honourable member that a matter of privilege should normally be raised at the time, but I am listening carefully to the honourable member and I would ask him to get to his point.

Mr ALBANESE—The member further claimed that the AFP officer was installed in her position for the very purpose of subjecting the member and his colleagues to scrutiny. The member made these claims in the certain knowledge that a criminal investigation into allegations regarding the member for Bowman is ongoing. Mr Speaker, I ask you to consider referring the conduct of the member for Moreton to the Privileges Committee.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop—Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. You just said to the member opposite that the time to raise a matter of privilege is at the time of the alleged breach. This is a long time after last night’s speech.

The SPEAKER—The member for Mackellar will resume her seat. I have said to the honourable Manager of Opposition Business that I am listening carefully. If he wishes to raise a matter of privilege, he would also have to be prepared to move a motion to that effect. I call the honourable Manager of Opposition Business and point out to him that privilege, of course, is a very serious matter and it should not be used for political purposes.

Mr ALBANESE—Absolutely, Mr Speaker. This is a very serious matter, which is why it has been raised at the appropriate time with you. Mr Speaker, I ask you to consider referring the conduct of the member for Moreton to the Privileges Committee and, in so doing, I remind you of the observation by Speaker Halverson on 28 June 1996 that the standing of the House suffers when abuse of privilege occurs. May I also remind you of Speaker Halverson’s ruling that when a member makes false allegations they have ‘a duty to withdraw and apologise’. The clear abuse of privilege by the member for Moreton and his subsequent failure to withdraw and apologise serves to diminish the standing of this House and the parliament. I seek your urgent consideration of this matter.

The SPEAKER—I thank the Manager of Opposition Business. I will look closely at what he has raised. It is not my role to refer the matter to the Privileges Committee—it is the role of a member—but nonetheless I will look carefully to see whether or not there is a prima facie case.

Mr Hardgrave—Mr Speaker, in the deliberations in the answer to the member for Grayndler’s political interference—

The SPEAKER—Order! The member for Moreton will not debate another member’s reference. Does the member have a question?

Mr Hardgrave—Mr Speaker, would you, in the consideration of the member for Grayndler’s request to you, acquaint yourself with the Courier-Mail of 9 March this year?

The SPEAKER—The member is debating the point. He will resume his seat.