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Use of social media by MPs in the Chamber



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Use of social media by MPs in the Chamber

Posted 24/09/2014 by Brenton Holmes

On 12 March 2013, the then Manager of Opposition Business (Christopher Pyne MP) asked

Speaker Anna Burke to make a ruling on a tweet by Member for Bendigo, Steve Gibbons

during question time, asking for the Member to withdraw. Mr Gibbons had tweeted:

@SteveGibbonsMP ‘Looks like @tonyabbottmhr has

contracted out his nasty side to interjectors in the public

gallery. A new low even for the Libs!’.

Mr Gibbons had tweeted this after two people had been ejected from the public gallery in

succession, for interjecting during Question Time.

The following day Speaker Anna Burke responded, stating that it was outside her role and

responsibilities to monitor private communications or the use of social media ‘when it is

thought that they have come from the chamber’. Speaker Burke added that restricting

Twitter usage in the chamber would mean a blanket ban on hand-held electronic devices

from the chamber, which would be undesirable.

Members are reminded that any comments made on social

media, even if made from the chamber precincts, are not

covered by parliamentary privilege. While I cannot

reasonably adjudicate on members’ private

communications, I remind members they should have

regard to the perceptions the wider community will have of

any comment that is made by them, including via social

media. They should also be conscious of their relationships

with other members and seek to have a level of discourse

that enables civil relationships to be maintained between

members.

Finally, I inform the House that any use of social media by

members reflecting on any occupant of the chair that

comes to my attention, would be dealt with as any other

comment made outside the House that reflects on the

chair: as an important matter of order. I thank you for your

attention.

On 27 February 2014, the House Procedure Committee commenced an inquiry into the use

of electronic devices in the House of Representatives Chamber and Federation Chamber. The

move followed the introduction by the Prime Minister of a strict edict to Coalition staffers

not to engage in political commentary on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

The committee's chairman, Don Randall MP (Liberal) said ‘it was necessary to review how

MPs use mobile phones and other electronic devices’. The Committee considered it was

timely to examine the regulatory framework on the use of electronic devices by Members in

the House of Representatives Chamber and the Federation Chamber.

Submissions were received from Hon Christopher Pyne MP, Leader of the House; Mr David

Elder, Clerk of the House of Representatives; Shadow Attorney-General Hon Mark Dreyfus

QC MP, and Mr Tim Watts MP (ALP).

The report was tabled on 24 September 2014. The Committee recommended that the House

consider and adopt a resolution in the following terms:

That the House:

1. permits Members’ use of electronic devices in the Chamber, Federation Chamber and

committees, provided that:

a. use of any device should avoid interference or distraction to

other Members, either visually or audibly, and should not interfere

with proceedings - in particular, phone calls are not permitted and

devices should be operated in silent mode

b. devices are not permitted to record the proceedings (either by

audio or visual means)

c. communication on social media regarding private meetings of

committees or in camera hearings will be considered a potential

breach of privilege

d. use of devices should be as unobtrusive as possible and should

be directly related to the Members’ parliamentary duties; and

2. notes:

a. that communication via electronic devices, whether in the

Chamber or not, is unlikely to be covered by parliamentary

privilege; and

b. reflections on the Chair by Members made on social media may

be treated as matters of order just as any such reflections made

inside or outside the Chamber.

In short, the issue has not yet been settled.

Tags:

• social media

• Members of Parliament