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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19709

Mr BEVIS (3:45 PM) —Mr Speaker, I have a question for you. It relates to events yesterday in question time. You will recall that during the course of question time yesterday the Prime Minister said:

I simply make the point that the Leader of the Opposition deliberately misrepresented what I said.

There was then a series of points of order during the course of which you made a number of comments, one of which, when you were referring to the Prime Minister's statement, was:

He has suggested that the Leader of the Opposition's misleading was deliberate. That is normally seen as an inappropriate comment ...

House of Representatives Practice makes clear the response that is required in those situations—and yesterday you did invite us to check the Hansard and House of Representatives Practice. House of RepresentativesPractice at page 490 says:

Offensive words may not be used against any Member and all imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on Members are considered to be highly disorderly.

It also says on page 489:

Once the Chair determines that offensive or disorderly words have been used, the Chair asks that the words be withdrawn.

I ask you, Mr Speaker, firstly whether or not you found those words offensive or disorderly. If not, could you give some guidance as to what now constitutes offensive words in respect of alleging deliberate misdeeds on the part of other members, whether that be deliberately misleading or deliberately misrepresenting? Secondly, if indeed they are offensive, given the advice of House of Representatives Practice, once having found them to be disorderly or offensive the obligation that House of RepresentativesPractice requires is for the chair to ask the person who uttered those words to withdraw. No withdrawal was sought from the Prime Minister yesterday. I now seek your advice on that, and the withdrawal of the comments by the Prime Minister.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I am conscious that one of the obligations placed on all of us in this parliament is to assist the chair where we can. Let me say, Mr Speaker, in an act of total generosity that, if the Leader of the Opposition is offended by what I said, of course I am prepared to withdraw it. I am content with the process of doing that, Mr Speaker. I am content to draw the attention of all fair-minded people in this place and elsewhere to a comparison of what I said and what the Leader of the Opposition represented inaccurately that I said to the parliament. Mr Speaker, I was right and he was wrong, but if he is offended I withdraw the remark.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Gellibrand, the member for Brisbane and other members may care to check yesterday's Hansard record. They will find that the Prime Minister had acknowledged that it was inappropriate to use the word `deliberately' and for that reason rephrased the question. They will also find that I encouraged them not only to check House of RepresentativesPractice but to check for precedent and to see if I had been consistent with what previous occupants of the chair had done in relation to prime ministers. Not only do I promise them that I have been consistent but also I believe that the Leader of the Opposition was generally recognising that what had happened yesterday was a matter that was acceptable to him as well.