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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1447

Senator REYNOLDS —I present the 48th report of the Committee of Privileges, entitled Possible improper disclosure of document or proceedings of migration committee.

  Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator REYNOLDS —I move:

  That the Senate—

(a)endorse the findings at paragraph 2.12; and

(b)adopt the recommendation at paragraph 2.14 of the report.

On 25 November 1993, the following matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges on the motion of the Chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, Senator McKiernan:

Having regard to the article in The Canberra Times of 25 November 1993, headed `Mps to press for softer detention rules for refugees', whether there was a disclosure of a document that is confidential to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, or of proceedings in private session of that Committee, without the authorisation of the Committee, and, if so, whether a contempt was committed by that disclosure.

The Committee of Privileges has received declarations from all members of the migration committee and on behalf of the staff that they did not improperly disclose a document or proceedings of the committee to any person, including the author of the article in the Canberra Times, Ms Margo Kingston. The committee also sought a submission from Ms Kingston, who advised that she was unable to assist for ethical reasons. Furthermore, it sought information from another journalist in the light of the matter raised by the chairman of the migration committee. That journalist satisfied the Committee of Privileges that she was unable to shed any light on the matter. Details of the committee's investigations are included in chapter 1 of the report.

  The committee reports that it has been unable to make the finding that there was an improper disclosure of a document or proceedings of the migration committee and, therefore, does not find that a contempt has been committed. However, in making this report, the committee has drawn attention to the difficulties involved in matters such as this. It has particular concerns about the conflict between the requirement of a house of parliament to protect the integrity of its proceedings, especially in relation to protection of witnesses, and, on the other hand, journalists' commitment to protecting their sources. The committee has therefore recommended that this case be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for consideration as part of that committee's inquiry into the rights and responsibilities of the media. I commend the report to the Senate.