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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 3457

Mr GIBBONS (Bendigo) (10:43): On behalf of the chair of the Standing Committee on Regional Australia, the member for New England, I rise to present to the House the committee's report on its investigation into a possible contempt of the parliament that was first raised on 11 February 2013 concerning an article by Mr Andrew Probyn that appear in the West Australian newspaper containing details of an unpublished committee report. I seek leave to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Mr GIBBONS: The committee considered two matters: whether the disclosure led to a potential or substantial interference with the functioning of the committee and the source of the disclosure. On the first matter, the committee concluded that the capacity of members to work collaboratively and the ability to conduct private proceedings in an open and frank matter had potentially been interfered with. For an individual to take it upon themselves to disclose a confidential committee report undermines the integrity of the committee system. The committee also noted concerns that the consistent reporting of confidential committee reports in the 43rd Australian Parliament has all but eliminated the practice of committees issuing embargoed reports, limiting the capacity of the media to publish in an informed way the important work of committees.

On the second matter, the committee sought assurances by statutory declaration from all members, their staff and staff of the secretariat that they did not release details of the report to Mr Probyn. All declarations bar one confirmed that the individual did not release details of the report to Mr Probyn or any other unauthorised person. However, Mr Tehan's declaration stated that he did not disclose details of the report to Mr Probyn but that he had consulted with a third party in the preparation of his dissent. Mr Tehan has apologised to the committee for his actions.

The committee also questioned Mr Probyn as to his source and he refused to reveal his source, citing professional journalist ethics. Nonetheless, the committee notes the Standing Committee on Privileges and Members' Interests report of August 2012 that found the publisher of unauthorised material to also be culpable for the publication of that material. While it is up to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to make determination about further action on this matter, in light of the facts of this case and the views expressed by Mr Probyn and his legal counsel as outlined in this report, the Regional Australia Committee has expressed serious concerns about the attitude of journalists and publishers towards the rules of the House.

Finally, the committee has concluded that it would be beneficial for further action to be taken on this matter as it must be made clear to the Parliamentary Press Gallery the seriousness with which the House takes the publication of unauthorised disclosures. For this reason, the committee has recommended that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Privileges and Members' Interests. The committee has also recommended that the House adopt the Privileges Committee August 2012 report in order to give effect to its important recommendations aimed at assisting the House and its committees with these matters and better education of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Mr Deputy Speaker, the committee asks you to examine and consider this report.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.