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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 5878

The PRESIDENT (3:02 PM) —On 23 October 2002, during debate in the Senate on the report of the Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident, Senator Cook drew attention to language used in the minority report which he submitted was contrary to standing order 193, in that it constituted offensive words about senators, and asked for a ruling on the matter. He indicated that he accepted that there was no remedy against the inclusion of such language in a report to the Senate but asked for a ruling on the repetition of that language in debate. The Acting Deputy President, Senator Lightfoot, ruled that language contrary to standing order 193 could not be used in debate and undertook to refer to me the question of the use of such language in a report.

It is clear that there is no remedy against the inclusion of unparliamentary language in a committee report because neither the chair nor the Senate sees a committee report prior to its presentation. Nor does the majority of a committee see a minority report before presentation. Indeed, there is a resolution of the Senate to the effect that a minority on a committee is not obliged to disclose its report to the majority in advance. It is also clear that unparliamentary language may not be used in debate by the device of quoting a document. This rule has been upheld not only by rulings of the President but by reports of both the Standing Orders Committee, as it then was, and the Privileges Committee. There is no reason in principle for this rule not applying to committee reports as to all other documents. If it did not apply, senators could circumvent standing order 193 by simply including offensive language in a minority report or reservation attached to a report and then repeating that language in debate, with no ability of the chair or the Senate to control the breach of the standing order. Unparliamentary language should not be used in committee reports, and it is the duty of all senators to see that such a thing does not occur. If senators are in any doubt about the terms which may be used, they should consult the staff of the committee concerned in the first instance. Quoting material from a committee report does not excuse use of language in debate contrary to the standing orders. Apart from upholding the Acting Deputy President's ruling, I do not think it is necessary to revisit the particular incident concerned.

Senator Cook —I seek leave to make a short statement on your statement.

The PRESIDENT —Is leave granted?

Senator Faulkner —I rise on a point of order, Mr President. I think that Senator Cook should either seek leave to move a motion that the Senate take—

Senator Faulkner —Hang on! Just wait a minute, Senator Hill. I am making a point. If you were on the ball, you would make the point of order, but I have to help you out because you are so slow you cannot even respond in these circumstances.

Senator Faulkner —But, anyway, I just keep saying to you—

Senator Faulkner —I know, but you've got to concentrate—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Faulkner, I would like to hear your advice.

Senator Faulkner —Thank you, Mr President. In the absence of Senator Hill taking the appropriate point of order, let me make the point that Senator Cook either seek leave to move a motion that the Senate take note of the report or make some form of personal explanation, which it would be appropriate to do after taking note. I do not want to see the procedures that the opposition tries to consistently adopt in this place not adhered to on this occasion, albeit that I know Senator Cook wants to make an extremely important contribution in relation to this extraordinary abuse that Senator Mason and others have been responsible for.

The PRESIDENT —I take your point, Senator Faulkner. Perhaps, Senator Cook, you should seek leave to take note of my statement.