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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 5879

Senator COOK (3:06 PM) —I seek leave to take note of your statement, Mr President.

Leave granted.

Senator COOK —Thank you, Mr President, and I will be very brief.

Senator Ferguson —I rise on a point of order, Mr President. Is Senator Cook taking note of it or moving to take note of it? If he moves to take note of it, I guess other people can speak.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Ferguson, my understanding was that Senator Cook sought leave to take note of the answer. Any other person seeking leave to take note of the answer may do so, I understand, if leave is granted. So, Senator Cook, you are moving to take note of the statement?

Senator COOK —I am.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Ferguson was quite correct that if you do that other people may speak by leave.

Senator COOK —I accept your guidance, Mr President, and I will do as suggested. I now move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

First of all I want to say that I thank you for coming back to the chamber and providing a considered ruling on the point of order that I raised at the time. It should be noted that, regarding the words in question, there is no difference between you, Mr President, and the then Acting Deputy President, Senator Lightfoot. The words were in fact unparliamentary. I have to say that I sometimes think we are, in this place, a little precious about what words are parliamentary and unparliamentary. The reason why I raised the point of order is that the people who are using these words are frequently on their feet taking points of order about unparliamentary language. In this particular case, the language that they are committing to writing has been ruled unparliamentary.

The second point worthy of note is that in the committee we decided that there would be an opportunity for the minority report to be seen by the majority so that we could have an intelligent and structured debate in this chamber about the points being raised on both sides and there would be no unfair surprise in terms of any comment made by any of the senators who had sat through what was a long and complex hearing. I have to say that I was not able to see the minority report until a number of minutes before it was actually printed and I was therefore in no position to raise any objection to the unparliamentary nature of the language being used. But had the original agreement struck in the committee been adhered to then there would have been an opportunity to identify the unparliamentary language. I would hope that the honourable senators opposite who were the authors of that language would have been agreeable to removing it so that the report conformed to standing orders. I notice, through you, Mr President, Senator Brandis vigorously indicating disapproval of that remark. I take that to mean that he would not have agreed to the removal of the unparliamentary language. If that is the case then I do think this is a matter for consideration under the standing orders and perhaps the appropriate committee should consider it, because a device has now been developed in which unparliamentary language can be entered into the record of the parliament by use of a minority report undisclosed to majority senators—language which would not be admissible in this chamber were it subject to debate.

Of course, the other fact—and it is a fact—is that what the unparliamentary language was about, what it was meant to convey, was untrue and it was meant to paint a picture which was not accurate. It was done so on the basis of trying to discredit a considered report by the majority and it resorted to colourful language to attract newspaper headlines but it was devoid of content or merit from any other point of view. I think it should be deplored for that aspect, but I do note your ruling, Mr President, and I thank you for it.