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Tuesday, 12 June 1984
Page: 2810

Senator GEORGES —by leave-Mr President, I seek to raise with you a matter which may be a matter of privilege. Matters of privilege should be raised at the earliest opportunity. Since honourable senators have had no chance to consider the matter, I ask you for an opinion. The Senate appointed the Select Committee on the Conduct of a Judge. Because of the sensitivity of the subject, the Committee has met in private. But an article appeared in the National Times purporting to be deliberations of the Committee. Only the Committee could know how accurate that report may be and it is up to the Committee to determine whether it need take action. But when a newspaper publishes what purports to be the evidence of a committee of the Senate, it is my view-you may be able to reinforce me in this, Mr President-that it is in breach of the privileges of the Senate. If that is so, we would be derelict in our duty if we did not refer it to the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege.

Senator Peter Baume —Public evidence, Senator?

Senator GEORGES —No. All the evidence of this Committee has been taken in private, which makes it even more necessary to protect the rights of those who appear before the Committee. We do not know whether what is reported in the article is actually what occurred before the Committee. What we do know is that the article purports to publish the evidence and deliberations of a Senate Select Committee before that Committee has reported to the Senate. My views may not be accurate. Nevertheless, I express my concern at this moment. If necessary , and if no one else does it at a later stage, I may move a substantive motion before the Senate.

Senator Chipp —Mr President, I raise a point of order. Senator Georges has asked you, as I understand it, for an opinion. I hope that you do not give one forthwith, because the general thrust of what Senator Georges has said-although, I also express concern-was on a subject about which I have some very strong views. I believe that the media of this country sometimes behaves in a way in which we would not want it to behave, but I believe it is so constrained in what it can report that it is time we politicians looked at the constraints which we put on the media. I am always reminded that because of those constraints no Watergate could be exposed in Australia. Because of the importance of this issue , Mr President, I hope that you will not rule upon it immediately but will, perhaps, have a word with the party leaders. It is a subject upon which the Senate could hold a very useful debate about the so-called privileges of politicians.

The PRESIDENT —On the point of order and in response to Senator Georges, honourable senators would know that it is not a matter for the President to rule as to whether there has been a breach of parliamentary privilege. It is for the Senate to determine, by way of motion, whether the Senate should refer the matter to the Senate's Privileges Committee for investigation and report. Having made that statement, I point out that it is open to any honourable senator to move that the matter go to the Privileges Committee, and then it is a matter for the Senate to make a determination on that subject.