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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 817


Senator MACKLIN(8.59) —I wish to speak in support of clause 8. The emphasis in the paragraph of the report of the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege from which Senator Puplick quoted was on the fact that that was the only time the privilege was used. The example that he gave, particularly the one regarding freedom of speech, is used every day. In my contribution in the second reading debate I tried to present an argument that the vast bulk of the time that privilege is used and used well. I agreed with him that it is occasionally abused. In fact, one cannot have any privilege without its being abused on some occasions. This particular privilege-that is, the ability to expel a member-has only ever been used once. I think that most people who review the history of that particular sorry case are led to the almost inevitable conclusion that a gross miscarriage of justice occurred on that particular occasion. However, the argument that I find more compelling is that a person is elected either to this chamber or the other chamber in a thoroughly democratic manner. It is really up to the people of the country to decide whether that person should remain, provided, of course, that he is still acting within the bounds of the other sections of the Constitution; that is, that he has not committed an offence which attracts a prison sentence of longer than 12 months.

I draw to Senator Puplick's attention that there are some fairly celebrated cases. Indeed, in the last elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate in the United States of America there were a couple of quite celebrated cases of people who had committed a variety of offences most of which, one would have thought, would have been tossed out by the electorate in no uncertain terms. These particular people, for whatever reason-whether it be the quirky sense of humour of their electorates or their notoriety-established themselves firmly with the people as being worthy of attention. Whatever it was, they were returned by the electorate. A democratic election put them back in. If those couple of items I am thinking about happened to be addressed in this chamber they would probably have led-certainly if this had been an active use of a privilege-to their expulsions. I think we need to look at whether this power ought to remain there.

I suppose the final argument is that it is a rather extraordinary power given the fact that in any chamber there is always a majority opposed to that particular individual. In this chamber that is probably almost always the case. No matter what group one is in, majority can be mustered against one and, depending on how things operate with the coalition parties, in a couple of weeks time there may even be a larger range of commutations and permutations available to us to gather majorities against any particular individual person.

I do not believe that it is in the interests of the House to retain that privilege any longer. It might have been a useful privilege in a non-democratically elected House such as the House of Commons over a vast period. I think in a very democratic House such as this, or the House of Representatives, it really ought to be seen as an obsolete privilege, one which is no longer necessary in the control of the members and that now can be safely left to the electorate to exercise its will on at regular occasions in regular elections. I would prefer to leave it that way. I think our Federal Constitution has sufficient checks and balances still in it to control any errant member and I believe that the powers to suspend or in other ways to discipline a member ought to be sufficient. I really cannot envisage a case where an item of sufficient gravity still manages to fall outside the 12-month period set down in the Constitution. It is for those reasons that I strongly support clause 8. I hope that the electorate in general will see that that is a move of the House to take away some privileges for itself, to refine much more the essential privileges of this Parliament. That is a privilege which we can do without. In that case I think we should do without it.