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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1879


Senator CHILDS(5.10) —by leave-I move:

That the report be adopted.

It is not the Committee's intention to have the motion resolved by the Senate before honourable senators have had an opportunity to consider the report's contents. The Committee trusts, however, that the Senate will make a decision on the issues discussed in the report before the Senate rises. The Committee has considered two of the three matters referred to it by the Senate on 14 June and 22 August 1984. Both matters concerned the publication, in the National Times, of purported reports of in camera proceedings of the Select Committee on the Conduct of a Judge. Owing to the extensive nature of the Committee's inquiry into these two related matters, the Committee has not as yet had the opportunity to consider the third matter referred to it by the Senate on 22 August 1984, on the motion of Senator Chipp. Briefly, the Committee has unanimously concluded as follows: Firstly, that the publication in the National Times in June, July and August of reports of in camera proceedings of the Senate Select Committee on the Conduct of a Judge constitutes a serious contempt of the Senate; secondly, that the reports were based on an unauthorised disclosure of the proceedings of the Committee-although the Committee undertook all investigations within its capacity to discover the source of the information it was unable to do so; and, thirdly, that if a person or persons disclosed the information wilfully and knowingly such disclosure constitutes a serious contempt of the Senate.

In making these findings the Committee stresses that the disclosure and publication of the in camera proceedings of the Select Committee could seriously have damaged the operations of the Select Committee and persons mentioned in the articles. As the report indicates, the Committee is also concerned about the damage that could be done to the work, not only of the Select Committee but also of other Senate committees. Most importantly, however, the Committee had regard for potential damage to witnesses before any committee of the Parliament and regards as fundamental the obligation of either House of the Parliament to protect witnesses coming before it. Before the Committee reports to the Senate on the question of what penalty, if any, it proposes to recommend to the Senate, it intends to make available to the persons affected by its findings a copy of this report and will seek from such persons any further submissions they may wish to make.

The Committee has also given persons who were mentioned unfavourably by the editor of the National Times, Mr Brian Toohey, in evidence given to the committee, an opportunity to respond to matters raised in the course of his evidence. The Committee will further consider responses already received and any other responses which may be forthcoming over the next few weeks, and will make a further report to the Senate on these matters also. It also proposes to make a more detailed response to matters raised in written submissions on behalf of John Fairfax and Sons, Mr Toohey and Ms Wendy Bacon in the next report. The Committee considered it was necessary, however, to inform the Senate as soon as possible of its clear views concerning the nature of the contempts. It is for this reason that I commend both the report and the motion to the Senate.