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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 811


Senator JESSOP(8.31) —I am also happy to be associated with the Parliamentary Privileges Bill and I certainly add my congratulations to the former President on his initiative in introducing it to the Senate. I was a member of the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege when it dealt with this matter. That Committee's rather extensive report has been referred to. I just want to draw attention to some of the comments that former Senator Peter Rae and I made in minor dissension from some elements of the report. We made the general comment:

Now that the Committee has abandoned any notion of making sweeping changes to the law of parliamentary privilege, such as complete statutory codification and transfer of the contempt jurisdiction to the courts, we do not consider that it is advisable to be making alterations to lesser matters, particularly when there are no existing difficulties or problems to be overcome by such alterations.

We also refer to several other matters. It is very difficult to codify parliamentary privilege. Once one codifies matters relating to parliamentary privilege, a certain amount of inflexibility is introduced and I do not think that that should be the spirit of legislation of this character. However, matters have been dealt with in the Bill, which I think will be an advantage. In the last paragraph of our dissenting comments on the report we said that we felt that it was inadvisable to make references to the courts. I know that that has been excluded in most of the Bill anyway. Initially there was some suggestion that we ought to hand over quite a lot of responsibility to the courts. We were concerned about the matter and largely we were satisfied with the report.

Another thing that I was anxious about was the question of members of the general public or public servants being referred to, as has happened in the past, under privilege in the Senate or in the House of Representatives and having no right of appeal. I notice that the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) has tabled some proposed resolutions. I hope it is his intention to proceed with No. 5, headed `Protection of persons referred to in the Senate', which states:

(1) Where a person who has been referred to by name, or in such a way as to be readily identified, in the Senate, makes a submission in writing to the President:

(a) claiming that the person has been adversely affected in reputation or in respect of dealings or associations with others, or injured in occupation, trade, office or financial credit, or that the person's privacy has been unreasonably invaded, by reason of that reference to the person; and

(b) requesting that the person be able to incorporate an appropriate response in the parliamentary record;

if the President is satisfied:

(c) that the subject of the submission is not so obviously trivial or the submission so frivolous or vexatious as to make it inappropriate that it be considered by the Committee of Privileges; and

(d) that it is practicable for the Committee of Privileges to consider the submission under this resolution;

the President shall refer the submission to that Committee.

That is a very important matter to be considered and I hope that in due course the Minister will make some provision for that in the context of the Bill if that is the way that we should proceed. It is quite unfair that members of the public-I have heard this happen on occasions-and of the Public Service can be referred to in a way that casts some doubt upon their character and integrity. In one particular instance, reference in the Senate to a firm caused that firm financial embarrassment and in fact financial loss. I make that comment and I know that the Minister will recognise my concern because I raised it repeatedly with witnesses in the course of the Joint Select Committee's inquiry. I will leave it at that. I congratulate Harry Evans and thank him for the help that he gave me and other members of the Senate. I also thank the Minister at the table, who was also very helpful throughout the inquiry.