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SA legislation could put an end to parliament -

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SA legislation could put an end to parliamentary privilege

Reporter: Mike Sexton

KERRY O'BRIEN: It was an unprecedented showdown in the South Australian parliament which saw
Speaker Peter Lewis resign yesterday rather than face an historic no-confidence motion. Three years
ago, the former Liberal MP turned Independent gave Labor the numbers to form government and
received the plum Speaker's post. Over the past month, Mr Lewis shocked the state by alleging that
a serving MP is a paedophile, alienating MPs on both sides of the chamber and leading to his
political downfall. But the Rann government has gone further, introducing legislation intended to
remove Mr Lewis's parliamentary privilege. The move, designed to gag Mr Lewis on this issue, has
constitutional experts warning that it posed a threat to one of the very foundations of the
Westminster system - the freedom of an MP to speak without fear or favour. This report from Mike
Sexton.

MIKE SEXTON: Peter Lewis was still wearing his horse hair and robes as he strode out of the South
Australian Parliament yesterday afternoon, and made the short walk to government house to resign.

REPORTER #1: Do you feel you may have lost the confidence of the people of South Australia, those
who elected you?

PETER LEWIS: Not at all.

REPORTER #2: How are you feeling right now?

PETER LEWIS: Happy.

MIKE SEXTON: After three years as Speaker of the House, the one-time Liberal backbencher and now
independent MP quit in the face of an historic vote of no confidence.

MIKE RANN, SA PREMIER: The speaker did the right thing in stepping down. It was clear that he
didn't have the confidence of members of parliament. That was made clear by both major parties.

MIKE SEXTON: The dramatic decision came after weeks of controversy over Mr Lewis's allegations that
a serving MP is a paedophile; claims he repeated earlier in the day on ABC Radio.

PETER LEWIS: I'm telling you quite simply that more than one person has come to my office
complaining about the acts of a member of parliament as a paedophile. And that came as a hell of a
shock.

MIKE RANN: Mr Lewis has made a series of statements and allegations over the past three or four
weeks and so have others, and there's been - first of all there was a video, then there wasn't a
video. Now we're told there's no video by Mr Lewis. So why were these allegations made?

MIKE SEXTON: The allegations came from the work of two long-time anti-child abuse campaigners,
Wendy Utting and Barry Stanfield, who have used Mr Lewis's office to interview alleged victims of
abuse. Police had already investigated allegations about the MP in 2003 and found no evidence. But
they've reopened the case.

DAVID BEVAN, ABC POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: On discussions that we've had with Mal Hyde, the Police
Commissioner, it seems that they are extremely frustrated at the lack of hard evidence.

MIKE SEXTON: On Friday, Mr Stanfield and Ms Utting took matters into their own hands, releasing the
names of not only the MP, but a former politician and two serving police officers. The action lead
to yesterday's bipartisan move to boot Mr Lewis out of office.

MIKE RANN: There is a hell of a difference between a smear and the truth. That's the difference. I
mean, there can be no cover-ups. We will not tolerate a cover-up on this.

MIKE SEXTON: With the new speaker, Independent Bob Such, in the chair, Premier Mike Rann moved to
gag Mr Lewis by introducing an extraordinary new bill waiving parliamentary privilege for
allegations of sexual misconduct or related criminal misconduct. If passed, the law would have not
only allowed police to enter parliament and search for evidence, but also gag anyone from naming
names.

MIKE RANN: We have clear legal advice from all the relevant legal authorities saying it is sound.
The parliament is the master of its own destiny. We simply have to amend the Act to allow them in.

PROFESSOR GEORGE WILLIAMS, FACULTY OF LAW, UNSW: I'm not aware of any legislation like this before
in Australia. That's because this privilege goes back hundreds of years, it hasn't been suspended
in this way in this country before and parliaments have normally been very circumspect about doing
so because of how important free speech is to our political system.

MIKE SEXTON: George Williams specialises in Constitutional Law at the University of New South
Wales. He believes the legislation would have set a precedent in waiving the right of MPs to use
parliament to speak freely.

PROFESSOR GEORGE WILLIAMS: Once a precedent like this has been set, it does open up more
possibilities for the privilege to be wound back. It does open up the possibility that other
examples of speech will be seen as inappropriate within the system. Other parliaments may follow
suit. I certainly hope they don't.

MIKE RANN: No, it's not a scary precedent at all. There's nothing to stop anyone from doing
anything if it's true. I mean, if it's true then there's no problem with defamation, no problem for
the media, no problem for anyone making the allegation.

MIKE SEXTON: This afternoon the legislation was effectively killed when the Australian Democrats
said they would join the Liberals and defeat the Bill in the Upper House.

SANDRA KANCK, AUSTRALIAN DEMOCRATS LEADER: We've come to the conclusion that the principle of
parliamentary privilege that has operated for 400 years is too important to suspend for this
legislation.

MIKE SEXTON: Peter Lewis says he won't be using privilege to name anyone. But he's also made it
clear he isn't going quietly. Late this afternoon he arrived unannounced at a press conference to
heckle Attorney-General Michael Atkinson.

PETER LEWIS: I wouldn't deny justice in that way.

MIKE SEXTON: Eventually Mr Atkinson gave up, leaving Mr Lewis with the last word.

PETER LEWIS: Now where's the shame in that? Who's the wimp here? Somebody's been hidden behind some
ripper kits with respects to Dr Spooner.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Mike Sexton with that report.