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Monday, 19 September 1994
Page: 885

Senator VANSTONE (3.25 p.m.) —Mr President, I am somewhat amazed by your response, but not the remarks that you make which point out that to the extent that there is a breach of privilege by a member of another place it has to be dealt with by the other place. As you indicate, that was confirmed in 1988. I ask you to consider that in my letter to you I made no allegation that it was Mr Cleeland who was the perpetrator of this breach. All I pointed out was that there were articles in the paper mentioning Mr Cleeland under the by-line, more often than not, of Mr Daly.

  By responding in this way, what I gather you have done is conclude that Mr Daly, the journalist, has not misreported anything he was told and has not committed any breach of contempt; you have concluded that Mr Cleeland did. I do not want to ambush you with that argument, Mr President, but the situation is that we have a joint committee on the National Crime Authority. I think he whom we sometimes refer to as `leaking Loosley' is a member, although he has not attended very much lately.

Senator Gareth Evans —Senator Loosley to you.

Senator VANSTONE —Senator Loosley to me, but `leaking Loosley' to anyone who has been on a committee with him. The committee has had serious problems over a considerable time. There are very good reasons for having privilege watched very carefully in these committees; we cannot expect members of the public to come forward and give information if they think that information will be in the paper the next day. We cannot expect parliamentary committees to work if that is the case.

  So, with a fairly objective mind, I wrote to you, Mr President, and said that this is what has happened. I sent you some of the clippings and indicated what had happened as a consequence of these matters being raised publicly. I now read in the paper that we have decided to have inquiries that we have not decided to have; I now read about confidential letters that have been sent to the Premier of Victoria, and inappropriate remarks by somebody that our committee had asked him to put up or shut up—which was not at all the tenor of the letter that was sent. Clearly, something has been going on.

  Has Mr Cleeland been breaching privilege as chairman of this committee, and feeling free to speak to the media saying, `I am chairman of the committee; this is my personal view,' knowing that this would clearly be written up as `Mr Cleeland, chairman of the committee'? Is that the case? Mr Cleeland does not admit that he has breached privilege. By inference he says, `The journalist has misquoted me; the journalist has done the wrong thing; the journalist has made the story up.'

  Mr President, it seems to me that we cannot leave this matter here. We do not need to argue about it today, but it needs to be considered for the future—not that I would like you to come back any time you like; I would like to hear from you soon about this matter. As a matter of practice for how we handle such things in the future, it raises the question: if, when someone writes to us and says that a House of Representatives person or a journalist—or both—on a joint committee has committed a breach of privilege, and we write back and say that it has to go to the House of Representatives, the implication is that it must be the House of Representatives member. I have not spoken to the journalist so I cannot conclude that this was done by a House of Representatives member. I do not know whether you have spoken to the journalist, Mr President, and can therefore conclude that.

Senator Kernot —He was on the Fairfax committee, too.

Senator VANSTONE —Was Mr Cleeland on the Fairfax committee, too?

Senator Kernot —No, the other one.

Senator VANSTONE —I see. Perhaps the journalist has made up these stories. They seem to have some remarkable similarity to and matching up with what is happening in the committee; but there are some divergences that seem to match Mr Cleeland's personal preferences. Maybe the journalist is divining this stuff out of thin air. Maybe he is an evil journalist who should be scrubbed out. That is the question I put to you, Mr President. Why do you infer that this breach must be a breach by Mr Cleeland and not by the journalist or, for that matter, another member of the committee? Why do you refuse to have this matter looked at? There is clearly a breach of privilege of a committee that is administered by the Senate.

  Mr President, I accept what you say, that perhaps we cannot inquire into a breach of privilege by a House of Representatives member. But we can ascertain whether or not it was anybody else. It would soon point the finger if we came to the conclusion that it was not anybody else, that Mr Daly from the Age is a responsible journalist who does not make up stories and that he is just the poor schmuck wearing the blame because Cleeland or someone else chooses to say, `Oh, the journalist misquoted me.' We could at least decide that in a committee that we have the responsibility to administer.

  I am not asking you to respond today, Mr President. I just think this response deserves perhaps further reflection. I ask whether you would be prepared to consider that and perhaps come back. In light of the view that I have put to you, people could draw the inference from this that you are assuming Mr Cleeland is guilty. I am not assuming that, but I am wanting to find out who is.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.