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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 19238


Mr LATHAM (3:53 PM) —Mr Speaker, I raise with you a matter of privilege. The House of Representatives Practice, at page 708, makes available to the House the facility to treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt. In question time today, we heard the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government put the proposition to the House that, when he wrote his initial letter to the Minister for Police in South Australia, he made it clear that he:

... asked for the matter to be reconsidered, not changed.

We have a minister putting a proposition to the House that, in asking for the matter to be reconsidered, he was not asking for the matter to be changed. I think we can legitimately regard this as a contempt of the House. Nothing is more contradictory, nothing is more misleading and nothing is more designed to breach privilege and act in contempt of the good graces and good reputation of this House of Representatives. Mr Speaker, I again bring to your attention the Macquarie Dictionary definition of the word `reconsider':

to consider again with a view to a change of decision or action.

Surely it is a contempt—a breach of privilege in this House—for a minister to so treat the House that he expects us to believe that, in asking for a matter to be reconsidered, he has not asked for the matter to be changed. It defies the English language. It defies commonsense. It defies every single standard of a parliamentary democracy. If we do not treat this matter with the utmost seriousness—


Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The standing orders are very specific that asking questions generally may not be used for the purposes of making a speech. That is precisely what is being done in this question to you, and I ask it to be ruled out of order.


The SPEAKER —I have heard the member for Werriwa and I invite him to wind up his remarks.


Mr LATHAM —I am seeking precedence for a motion. I am raising the privilege matter at the first available opportunity.


The SPEAKER —I understand precisely what you are doing. I am inviting you to wind up your remarks.


Mr LATHAM —I submit this matter to you, Sir. There have been eight misleads of the House. The one that I raise is by far the most blatant, the clearest and the most serious. As a representative chamber, if we do not regard this sort of contempt with absolute disgust and disgrace and we do not refer it to a hearing of the Privileges Committee, we will, Sir, be much diminished.


The SPEAKER —I have no choice but to respond to the matter raised by the member for Werriwa because, as I have said on at least two occasions in the last sitting fortnight, few things are as serious as any suggestion that the privilege of the House has been in any way contravened. I have heard the entire debate over the matters that have involved the House over the last fortnight. Privilege is a very serious matter. Privilege ought not to be raised in this House unless there is genuine belief that in some way the privileges of the House have been damaged. Having heard the entire debate, I could not entertain what the member for Werriwa said as a prima facie case.