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Parliamentary privilege reform

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Minister for Transport and Communications Deputy Leader of the Senator Gareth Evans Q.C. Government & Manager of Government Business in the Senate

25 February 1988




The Senate has today passed a series of resolutions which

completes an historic package of reform of the law and practice

of parliamentary privilege.

Last year the Parliament passed a Parliamentary Privileges Act

which carried out a number of reforms requiring parliamentary

enactment, including:

. a definition of contempt of Parliament

. abolition of the power of the Houses to punish people for

defamation of members

. abolition of the power of the Houses to expel members.

The resolutions now passed complete the reform package, which

reflects, with some modifications, the recommendations of a Joint

Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege which reported in

1984. The resolutions provide:

. a code of practice to be observed by Senate committees for

the protection of witnesses;

. rigorous procedures to be observed by the Privileges

Committee, when dealing with complaints of contempt of

parliament, to safeguard the rights of witnesses and accused


. criteria to ensure that only serious privilege matters are

raised in the Senate;

. a procedure whereby persons who feel they have been unfairly

attacked in Parliament can have a response placed on the

parliamentary record, subject to certain safeguards;


. a statement of the matters likely to constitute contempt of

the Parliament; and

. a statement of criteria to discourage members from misusing

parliamentary privilege by attacking persons outside


The reform package provides a proper degree of protection for

private citizens in their relations with Parliament, to ensure

that the Houses and their members do not misuse the very wide

powers which are necessary for them to perform their functions.

The most dramatic innovation in the package is the creation for

the first time in Australian parliamentary history of a 'right of

reply' procedure for people who feel they have been unfairly

attacked under cover of privilege.

Without in any way undermining the scope of privilege protection,

which is crucial if Parliamentarians are to be able fearlessly to

perform their traditional functions, this new right of reply

procedure will undoubtedly do much to redress a balance which may

in the past have been a little unfairly tilted against nonĀ­

parliamentarians .

It is expected that the House of Representatives will pass

similar resolutions in the near future.

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