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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 1523

Senator BRANDIS (9:31 AM) —I seek leave to make a five-minute statement about proceedings in the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee last week.

Leave granted.

Senator BRANDIS —On 16 March 2011, during the course of a hearing of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, I described the conduct of the Speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly as impertinent. Mr Rattenbury, the Speaker, was a witness before the committee. The chair of the committee, Senator Crossin, referred to you, Mr President, the question of whether in doing so I breached standing order 193(3). By a letter to Senator Crossin on 21 March, you indicated that in your view the words ‘impertinent’ and ‘impertinence’ were a breach of standing order 193(3). In view of your ruling, I unreservedly withdraw those words.

In doing so, may I add this. I have, since inspecting your letter, caused some research to be conducted into the use of those words in the Senate. Since the time of the election of the Howard government in March 1996, the words ‘impertinent’ or ‘impertinence’ have been used in the chamber by honourable senators on six occasions, without objection, under the presidencies of President Reid, President Calvert and indeed yourself. They have also been used on six occasions, without objection, in the proceedings of Senate committees. On one of those occasions, on 28 March 2006, the author of the word was Senator Bob Brown, who described the conduct of other members of parliament as an impertinence. That was not objected to, nor was it the subject of an adverse ruling by the chair. Nor is there any suggestion in the practice books, either Odgers’ or Harris’s House of Representatives Practice, that the words ‘impertinent’ or ‘impertinence’ fall beyond the proper conduct of a parliamentary exchange.

Mr President, none of those precedents are considered by you in your letter of 21 March. In view of the fact that the dictionary defines ‘impertinent’ to mean—

Senator Jacinta Collins —What you’re doing!

Senator Abetz —Withdraw it!

Senator BRANDIS —irrelevant, intrusive, out of place, absurd, lacking proper respect—

Senator Jacinta Collins —I withdraw. I don’t have his pattern of behaviour.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Brandis is entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator BRANDIS —it would be very surprising to the opposition indeed if, on a considered view of the matter, it was prohibited in a parliamentary forum for a member of parliament to accuse another of conduct that was irrelevant, intrusive, out of place, absurd, insolent or lacking proper respect. Mr President, in view of that and in view of the fact that your letter of 21 March does not advert to the 12 precedents in the last 15 years where the term has not been objected to and has been regarded as unexceptionable, might I respectfully request you to reconsider the matter in light of those precedents?