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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7683


Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (10:26 AM) —I think I can answer that. I have outlined to the committee the situation, which the parliamentary privileges legislation sets out very clearly. There is no need for it to be set out in this bill. A member of parliament can claim parliamentary privilege for statements made in relation to parliamentary proceedings. But if I, as a member of parliament, am involved in a planned terrorist activity or in terrorist plans, in no way does parliamentary privilege cover the blowing up of a bridge or terrorist activity. Nor should it. I hope Senator Brown is not saying that we should in some way provide for that.

There is no sinister aspect in a member of parliament being subject to these laws just like any other Australian, because what we are saying here is that all Australians are subject to the law and that if any member of parliament has been involved in any suspected terrorist activity then like any other citizen they are subject to the law. But what I did outline was the situation where a member of parliament has said something in parliament on a matter. Then, of course, the question of parliamentary privilege does apply, and the vexed question always arises. You have the O'Chee case, where a question was asked and there was material in relation to that question put forward not in the chamber, as I recall, but outside it. The question was as to the extent of parliamentary privilege attaching to that. Senator O'Chee said that that was privileged at the time because it was material in preparation for proceedings in parliament, namely a question during question time. But really I think that the first issue deals with a warrant being taken out against a member of parliament—yes, that can be done. Of course it can be done and should be done if that member of parliament is able to assist in inquiries into suspected terrorist activity. The questions that can then be put to that member of parliament are as would be put to anyone else in intelligence gathering over serious issues. I can say I would find it very hard to imagine where parliamentary privilege would attach to any situation where a member of parliament could give information relating to terrorist activity.