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    19   PRIVILEGE—STATEMENT BY SPEAKER

The Deputy Speaker made the following statement, on behalf of the Speaker:

Last Thursday, the Honourable Member for North Sydney raised a matter of privilege following a request that had been made during Question Time for the Deputy Prime Minister to present a document.

Standing order 201 provides that if a Minister quotes from a document relating to public affairs a Member may ask for it to be presented, and the document must be presented unless the Minister states that it is confidential. The practice of the House is that when a request for presentation is made the Speaker first asks the Minister whether he or she has read from the document. The Speaker always accepts the Minister’s response as the Speaker is not in a position to determine whether in fact a Minister has been reading from a document or not. If the answer is “no”, that ends the matter; if the answer is “yes”, the Speaker then asks whether the document is confidential. Again, the Speaker always accepts the Minister’s response as the Speaker is not in a position to determine whether or not a document is confidential or not. More detail on this practice is given in House of Representatives Practice , 6th edition, p 606.

On 22 May, on my behalf, Madam Deputy Speaker read out a statement about the consideration of claims that a Member had deliberately misled the House. The statement read in part:

        To establish that contempt has been committed it would need to be shown that:

(1)   a statement had in fact been misleading;

(2)   the member knew at the time the statement was incorrect; and

(3)   the misleading had been deliberate.

        There needs to be prima facie evidence of these matters to establish a case for precedence to be given to a motion.

        … the matter of deliberately misleading the House is a very serious one and rightly there should be prima facie evidence that the House has been misled and that the misleading has been deliberate.

I have examined the Hansard record of the matter now in question and the photograph presented by the Honourable Member.

Although different in its particulars, this complaint has elements in common with other claims that have been made that a Member has deliberately misled the House.

As explained to the House on 22 May, claims of this kind have been raised as matters of privilege or contempt on a number of occasions, but no Speaker has ever given precedence to allow such a matter to be referred to the Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests. This position is consistent with the policy of restraint in the exercise of the penal jurisdiction that has been cited many times by Speakers, and by the Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests, since the review of the law of privilege and contempt that was conducted in 1982-84.

It is always open to the House to refer a matter to the Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests. The Speaker’s role is to determine whether priority over other business should be given to motions for referral. In terms of the approach to such matters in the past, it is clear to me that the present complaint would not require a departure from the approach that has been taken by successive Speakers to such complaints.