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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2668

Dr KLUGMAN(11.36) —I shall be brief in this debate. I feel very strongly about clause 16 of the Parliamentary Privileges Bill. I feel it is completely wrong for us to include it in its present form, and I am sorry to hear that the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) has withdrawn his objection to it. I agree completely that people should not be able to be prosecuted on the basis of evidence given before parliamentary committees. But I feel very strongly that, where evidence is given before parliamentary committees which contradicts evidence given by prosecution witnesses in a court case, the witnesses should be able to be cross-examined on that evidence, or at least that it be possible that the evidence ought to be put to the jury on the question of credit. For the benefit of those people who will follow this debate in Hansard, I will quote from the explanatory memorandum attached to the Parliamentary Privileges Bill, which explains the legislation. On page 12, in respect of sub-clause (3), it is stated:

This sub-clause prevents the use of parliamentary proceedings in court or tribunal proceedings . . .

It then gives part (a), which is not relevant, followed by:

(b) to attack or support the evidence or credibility of persons giving evidence in court or tribunal proceedings; and

(c) to draw inferences or conclusions for the purposes of the court or tribunal proceedings.

On page 13, referring to part (b), it states:

This would prevent, for example . . . a parliamentary witness's evidence being used to establish their motives or intention for the purpose of supporting a criminal or civil action against them, or against another person.

I state that I very strongly support the proposition that it should not be possible to use that evidence in a criminal or civil action against the witness. But I think it ought to be able to be used to protect another person. Finally, again on page 13 of the explanatory memorandum, referring to part (c), it is stated:

This would prevent, for example, a jury being invited to infer matters from . . . evidence of parliamentary witnesses in the course of a criminal or civil action against them, or another person.

I draw the attention of the House to the fact that there may be a possibility of somebody being framed. Let me give a simple example-the only one I can think of off the top of my head. A witness appears before a parliamentary committee and says that some public servant or politician-it does not matter who-was bribed. The witness says he saw the person receive $5,000 in $100 notes. Either at the time of the committee hearings or at some later stage somebody realises that when the alleged offence took place $100 notes did not exist. A person is later prosecuted in a criminal case and the witness now changes his story and says that he saw that person receive $5,000 in $20 notes. Obviously, under ordinary conditions the defence lawyer would want to cross-examine the witness on the basis that he originally said that he definitely saw that person pay $100 notes. Of course these were not in existence at the time the alleged offence occurred. Under the legislation we are now debating that sort of evidence cannot be referred to in the defence of a person who is on trial. In a letter dated 30 April from the honourable member for North Sydney-I think he sent it to all of us-he, in effect, said what I have said. He stated:

For example, a prosecution witness in a criminal trial who gives evidence totally contrary to evidence given by him before a Parliamentary Committee could not be cross-examined on his Parliamentary Committee evidence for the purposes of proving he was giving perjured evidence. The result could be that an innocent person could be convicted of a serious criminal charge and sentenced to a heavy term of imprisonment on the basis of such perjured evidence.

In my view this is contrary to basic notions of justice. It is not needed for the protection of the privileges of Parliament. It could do great injustice. Therefore it should be removed and I will be proposing an amendment to that effect.

Before he wrote that letter and in the middle of last year when the original Bill was proposed, I completely agreed with him. When this matter was put before the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party's meeting and a meeting of the Caucus Administrative and Legal Committee I opposed it on both occasions because I could see this difficulty. It is a pity that the then President of the Senate and probably the present President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House have ignored the points that I have made. I am sure that nobody in this House would like to see this farce because this sort of evidence could even have been given in a public hearing, not an in camera hearing. People would have read that the witness gave in court evidence different from that which he originally gave before a parliamentary committee. Yet nobody can ask him any relevant questions. I find it extremely depressing that we are proceeding with this piece of legislation. In passing-in some ways this is relevant to what I have been saying-I refer to clause 4 of the Bill on the essential element of offences which states:

Conduct (including the use of words) does not constitute an offence against a House unless it amounts, or is intended or likely to amount, to an improper interference with the free exercise by a House or committee of its authority or functions, or with the free performance by a member of the member's duties as a member.

Last night the honourable member for North Sydney explained his reason for withdrawing his amendment and I accept it. It was put to him that if his amendment were successful probably no time would be made available for the legislation to be debated in the Senate and there would be great difficulty in having any legislation passed. Having been associated with the drafting of the Bill and, in some ways, in the sense of having been the Chairman of the original Committee-the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege-he was keen to get the Bill through the House. If the Leader of the House (Mr Young) or anyone else made the statement that if the legislation were not passed in its present form it would never be passed at all, I would consider that to be improper conduct.

Mr Spender —That was not said to me.

Dr KLUGMAN —I mean that if that had happened, but I accept the honourable member's explanation. The words can be put in many forms but I am driving at the definition of the word `improper'. It is not a precise term at all. What I consider improper another person may not consider improper at all. The Leader of the House-he is not in the House at present; he is a good personal friend of mine-would consider pressure of all kinds in order to get Government Business through the House to be perfectly proper. I may disagree with him; depending on the issue other members may well disagree with him at any time. We are being quite hypocritical and silly when we refer to improper pressure.

The honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) is the only member of the Queensland National Party in the House. The question of improper pressure arose in his Party. I will not get involved in the argument but it is obviously true that all of us, according to some members of the public at least, are subject to what they would consider to be improper pressure on the odd occasion. The threat of the withdrawal of pre-selection or endorsement could be considered to be improper pressure in some ways. I accepted the fact when I was elected as a Labor Party member that I had to sign a statement that I would vote according to the majority decisions that are made in the Federal parliamentary Labor Party. I accepted that proposition and therefore I do not consider it to be improper pressure. I was aware of the situation at the time I decided to become a Labor member of parliament. Obviously there would be significant disagreement in the community at large on what is proper or improper pressure. It applies to all political parties. It was highlighted recently in the case of the Queensland National Party. Members of that Party were clearly told that unless they voted a certain way at their Party meetings they would lose their endorsement. I query the wording of the clause.

I do not want to speak any longer but I feel very strongly that the House is doing a disservice to a rational approach of parliamentary privilege by not pursuing the question that arises from clause 16. Somebody could be convicted of an offence by a jury and not be able-I think all of us would accept this-to point out that a witness had changed his or her evidence in a relatively short period. I thank the House for listening to me. I am sorry that the amendment is not being proceeded with.