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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 584

Mr HOLDING (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs)(3.08) —The first element of the arguments put forward by the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair) was that the rights of all honourable members in this place are about to be affected by the motion that is before the House. In that he is correct; but the rights of all honourable members in this House rest upon all members recognising the authority and the integrity of the Chair in carrying out the Standing Orders of this House. Having listened to the remarks of the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey), I venture to say that not even the Leader of the National Party, who has been around politics for some considerable period, has ever heard such a serious set of public allegations directed at the Speaker of this Parliament, and therefore at the institution of this Parliament. That is the reality. Of course, the Leader of the House (Mr Young) does not have to be a political clairvoyant to know that this issue would be raised in the Parliament one way or the other. The assertion that he put to the House is very clear and simple: If half of the statements made by the honourable member for O'Connor had been made in the chamber after he had been named, there is no doubt as to the course that the Chair would have followed. He would have automatically been suspended from the service of the House for seven days. That is what is now being proposed.

I can understand party loyalties and party feelings. But let us understand what the Leader of the National Party is asking this Parliament to do and the threat that it poses to this institution. What he is saying, essentially, is this: It is open for a member, having been named in this Parliament, to go to the media, to make a lurid and contemptible attack upon the Chair and upon the Speaker, and to make accusations about the Speaker in terms which, on any kind of analysis, clearly constitute contempt of the Parliament, and then his party leader can call him in and say: `Look, I think you might have gone a bit too far; we will solve this by writing a letter of apology'. The House, if it were to accept the argument of the Leader of the National Party, is being asked to create for this Parliament a precedent which is without any tradition or concept in any Westminster system. It is being asked to endorse a principle to the effect that it is all right to go outside the Parliament and smear and malign, in the most contemptible terms, the Speaker of the House and the institution of the House. The precedent that the House is being asked to establish is that if a member writes a letter to the Speaker, stating, `I did not really mean it', we will all forget about it. The adoption of that precedent would erode this institution and the rights of all members. It would leave the Speaker in a position in which contempt and calumny would be the order of the day.

The action which was initiated by the Leader of the House is the correct and principled action. Let us have done with this sorry business. Let this House say that no honourable member can abuse the Speaker in the public media in the way in which she was abused and not expect the condemnation and the action of this House to stand by the Chair and the integrity of the Chair.