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Tuesday, 23 April 1985
Page: 1392


Senator HAINES —I raise a matter of privilege pursuant to standing order 118. Recently amendments were prepared for moving in the Senate in respect of the Supported Accommodation Assistance Bill. These amendments were prepared purely for the purpose of the proceedings in the Senate and were not disclosed except to honourable senators, and only to some honourable senators, for the purpose of discussion of the forthcoming proceedings. It appears that a departmental officer has improperly discussed the amendments with interest groups, has misrepresented the nature of the amendments and has caused those interest groups to approach honourable senators on the basis of the misrepresentation.

I received a telephone call prior to Question Time from a worker in a non-government organisation with regard to an amendment which she alleged I was moving to this legislation. I was rather puzzled because, as the conversation ensued, she was clearly referring to an amendment foreshadowed by another honourable senator during the debate last night, although I had in fact prepared an amendment to that amendment. Although I had prepared an amendment to that amendment, I was puzzled as to how she could have known about the amendment I had prepared, as it had had fairly limited circulation at that stage. Some time later, near the end of Question Time, I received a note from a member of Senator Chipp's staff who had been contacted by welfare organisation representatives saying that they had been told by a departmental officer that Senator Haines, on behalf of the Australian Democrats, had an amendment which the Department did not like.

Since then, my office in South Australia has been inundated with phone calls from representatives of organisations concerned that a Democrat amendment is to be introduced with the apparent intention, deliberate or otherwise, to hold up or destroy the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program legislation. Apart from the fact that the amendment I prepared this morning could not do any of those things, I am concerned about suggestions that it could. Similar calls have gone to Senator Chipp's office in Melbourne and to his office here and, I understand, to Senator Grimes's office here. None of the callers appears to know what is in the alleged amendment but are acting on information that has come, directly or indirectly, as I understand it from the departmental officer concerned that the amendment would, in fact, damage the Supported Accommodation Assistance Bill and, therefore, funding to non-government organisations.

As you are aware, Mr President, there are sound authorities for the proposition that the protection which applies to proceedings in either House under section 49 of the Constitution also extends to the preparation of and dealing with documents which are prepared wholly for the purpose of those proceedings. Therefore, it would be open to the Senate to treat as a contempt improper dealings with such a document, for example, an amendment which has been prepared for moving in the Senate. Therefore, I move:

That the following matter be referred to the Committee of Privileges-The improper disclosure and misrepresentation by a departmental officer of an amendment prepared for moving in the Senate.

In moving the motion, I indicate that, should the matter be referred to the Committee, I will provide the Committee with whatever further details of the incident I have outlined it requires.