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Tuesday, 6 September 1983
Page: 431


Mr SPEAKER —Earlier today the Deputy Leader of the National Party, the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), raised a matter of privilege. I informed the House that I would consider the matter and make a statement to the House later in the day. In raising the matter the right honourable gentleman referred to an article published in today's issue of the Sydney Daily Telegraph and to a letter from the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) dated 29 August 1983 and asked two questions. I intend to deal separately with each of these issues.

The first question dealt with the Daily Telegraph article which appeared under the heading 'Speaker Probes Spy in MP Drama'. The article went on to allege that an Australian Security Intelligence Organisation agent is under investigation by me to determine whether he is in contempt of Parliament. In doing so it referred to a published transcript of certain in camera evidence given before the Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies. The facts are these: On the afternoon of Sunday, 4 September, I was phoned at my home by a member of this House who expressed concern regarding evidence given before the Royal Commission. The evidence in question referred to ASIO surveillance of a member of parliament, particularly with reference to association with Valeriy Ivanov, the expelled Russian diplomat. The honourable member could have been the person concerned in that evidence and raised with me the general question of breach of privilege and sought advice on the courses that were open. I advised the honourable member that I had not studied the news items or the transcript but that when in Canberra the next day I would consider them and advise the honourable member further.

During the course of Monday a journalist, Mr Bob Chisholm, approached a member of my personal staff stating that he had been informed that a Member of Parliament had referred certain matters arising before the Royal Commission to the Speaker. The staff member replied that a Member of Parliament had referred matters and these were being considered.

Later the honourable member who raised the matter with me was advised by me that if it were to be pursued further it should be raised in the usual way in this House. Honourable members will be aware that no complaint has been raised in respect of the matter and I can inform the House that I am not pursuing any investigations into it. Should it be raised at some future time I will then consider the matter in accordance with the precedents of this House.

The second question asked by the right honourable gentleman was in respect of a letter written by the Attorney-General to the Prime Minister, dated 29 August last. The letter apparently conveyed an opinion by the Attorney-General in respect of the possible prosecution of the honourable member for Port Adelaide ( Mr Young) in respect of matters currently being investigated by the Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies.

This matter is not one which comes within the responsibility of the Speaker. The question of any prosecution or other actions in matters affecting national security is entirely one for the Government. A member of this House is protected in respect of his normal privileges in the Parliament, the principal privilege being his right of freedom of speech in the Parliament, but in other respects he is in no different position to any other citizen of Australia. As I understand the law as it presently exists, a member of parliament may be subject to the same sort of inquiry by a security agency as is any other citizen of this country. Whilst I will strenuously defend the privileges of this Parliament, as I demonstrated recently before the Royal Commision, I can assure the House that in no way can I, nor will I, attempt to interfere in the normal processes of the law in respect of any member of this House.