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Tuesday, 12 May 1987
Page: 3000

Mr MARTIN —by leave-The Parliament will recall that when I first raised this issue in this place it was referred to the Committee of Privileges for determination. I believe that the conclusions that have been reached by the Committee of Privileges have vindicated that reference to the Committee. I would like, very quickly to refer to the conclusions which were reached and which are reprinted on page 11 of the report. The first conclusion states:

. . . confidential committee deliberations have been disclosed without authorisation by persons with access to the information.

That, in itself, is a vindication of the fact that this matter was referred from our Committee-the Telecommunications Interception Committee-to the Parliament and thence to the Committee of Privileges. What has been said by a number of speakers this afternoon, however, and was certainly said by the Chairman in the Privileges Committee report was that because the work of the Committee-that is the Telecommunications Interception Committee-was not impeded, the severity or otherwise of that information being passed on to journalists was difficult to measure and that whether or not a penalty should apply was also difficult to determine.

I am not a lawyer and I dispute that fact. I think that by virtue of the conclusion being reached that there was a breach of the privileges of this Parliament a penalty should be determined. The information that was disclosed to journalists by people whom the Committee was unable to detect through its extensive investigations was, nevertheless, extremely important. Whilst I said in my evidence to the Privileges Committee that the work of the Telecommunications Interception Committee was not impeded-I said that because the Committee's deliberations had reached the stage where the report was about to be printed in its final form-that does not take away from the fact that, in my view, there was a serious contempt of this place. In layman's terms I suggest that information being considered in a chairman's draft report or in confidentiality in the confines of committee deliberations should remain firmly within the confines of the committee. They should not be available to be freely spread around through whatever form of media should somebody choose to do so.

I certainly agree with my colleague, the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Tickner) in his summation that the persons who actually leaked the information are the ones at fault. It is not necessarily the fault of the journalists for printing it. It is my belief-I have said this previously in this place and in evidence-that journalists have every responsibility to sniff out information on stories which they believe are in the public interest. I find it abhorrent that somebody-I am disappointed the Committee was unable to determine who it was-felt it necessary to pass on confidential information from a committee to journalists and that that took away from some of the determinations and considerations of the Committee.

I will refer to some of the comments that were made by my colleague, the honourable member for McEwen (Mr Cleeland). His assertion that leaking is a natural phenomenon in this place and that it is hypocritical for anyone to suggest that leaking should not occur or does not occur is drawing a very long bow indeed. There are many honourable members in this place. If they take their job seriously-I believe most members of the Telecommunications Interception Committee take their job seriously-they would not, under any circumstances, choose to go down that particular road and make confidential information available to the media or anybody else outside the Committee.

In conclusion, it is my view that the Committee worked as an effective group with one common purpose which was to look at the matters under investigation in its reference from the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) and to make a very real contribution to the whole question of the need for and the extension of telecommunications interception powers in Australia. I still believe that the Committee made an appropriate contribution. I am only deeply sorry that persons undetected found it necessary to make that information available to the wider community before it received the full assent of the Committee and before it was tabled as is the legal position in tabling documents in this Parliament.

Debate (on motion by Mr Uren) adjourned.