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Thursday, 21 December 1989
Page: 3358

Mr GEAR(10.49) —I seek leave to table two documents on behalf of the Committee of Privileges.

Leave granted.

Mr GEAR —I present a copy of the proof transcript of evidence taken during the inquiry, which the Committee has authorised for publication, and a copy of the minutes of the Committee's meetings on 30 November 1989. As Chairman of the Committee of Privileges it would not be appropriate for me to argue the merits of the matter now before the House. Nevertheless, it may help the House if I recount to it the substance of the Committee's report. In the report I presented on 30 November the Committee noted that the allegation contained in the speech by the honourable member for Bruce (Mr Aldred) during the grievance debate on 23 November amounted to a serious imputation against and personal reflection on the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Kent) but that the circumstances of the speech created difficulties for the Chair in the application of the rules of the House.

The Committee noted that there is often an inclination on the part of members to bypass the correct forms of the House in the making of the charges and allegations. The Committee believed that it had not been charged with the responsibility of making a determination of the substance or otherwise of the statements in the statutory declaration which contained the allegation against the honourable member for Hotham. It noted that in the ultimate it did not have the capacity to conduct an authoritative investigation into the allegation itself. The Committee reported to the House its conclusions as follows:

(a) whilst acting on the basis of information presented to him, the honourable member for Bruce, if of the view that the allegation should have been brought before the House, should also have been alert to the requirement that such a matter ought to be put forward by means of a substantive motion open to debate and which would admit of a distinct vote of the House;

(b) as a matter of urgency the attention of all members should be drawn to the requirements of the Standing Orders and practices of the House which govern the matter of reflections on and charges against members; and

(c) the great privilege of freedom of speech carries with it a heavy obligation that it be exercised with great care and responsibility and that the misuse of this privilege in making charges against other persons, whether Members or not, could be held by the House to be not only an abuse but a contempt.

Having regard to the experience of the honourable member for Bruce the Committee finds that the honourable member has offended against the rules of the House. Accordingly the Committee recommends that the honourable Member should, at the first parliamentary opportunity, be required to apologise to the House for this serious breach and recommends that the House require him to withdraw the allegation.

The Committee's report was accompanied by two dissenting reports. Those who have read the report and the dissenting reports will recognise that there was a measure of disagreement on the Committee.

I do not wish to go into the detail of the Committee's operations now, but I would say that this case illustrates how difficult it can be for members of the House to make judgments about their fellow members. I wish also to emphasise the point made by the Committee about the great privilege of freedom of speech. This privilege carries with it a very great responsibility. As members we must be careful in our use of this privilege and in our use of the forms of the House. Freedom of speech is essential to the Parliament, and I do not think any member would deny this. Nevertheless, the community is entitled to expect a very high degree of responsibility and care in the raising of serious matters, whether about members or other people. I do not wish to argue the merits of the present matter but have sought only to recount the substance of the main report for the information of honourable members.