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Tuesday, 23 August 1983
Page: 1

Mr SPEAKER —On 24 June 1983, I approved a request from the then Leader of the House to allow certain Hansard reports of the proceedings of this House to be adduced into evidence and referred to by the Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies-the Hope Royal Commission. Before giving that approval, I satisfied myself that it was in accordance with a similar decision made on 20 July 1982 by my predecessor, Sir Billy Snedden, in respect of the Royal Commission into the Australian Meat Industry and that to refuse the request could cause a delay in the work of the Royal Commission. In my absence overseas, my decision was conveyed by the Deputy Speaker on my behalf to the Leader of the House (Mr Lionel Bowen), the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) and the Manager of the Opposition Business in this House, the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair). In doing so, it was made clear that my approval was given on the understanding that the Royal Commissioner and counsel assisting the Royal Commission were aware of, and would have proper regard to, the limitations imposed by article 9 of the Bill of Rights as applied by section 49 of the Constitution.

On 25 July 1983, I approved a request that certain additional Hansard reports could be adduced into evidence before the Royal Commission and advised the Attorney-General and Manager of Opposition Business in this House of this further approval.

A statement of issues to be resolved in respect of paragraph (c) of the Commission's terms of reference was published on 11 July 1983. When informed of this statement, it appeared to me that certain of those issues posed a potential threat to the privileges of the Parliament in that they purported to question the actions of certain persons in this House which would be an infringement of article 9 of the Bill of Rights. My concern was conveyed to the Royal Commission and on 28 July I was informed that it was proposed to omit one of the issues and to amend others. Nevertheless, the Royal Commissioner was still facing a difficult area in respect of the issue of parliamentary privilege and I considered it prudent that I should engage a solicitor to brief counsel to represent me, as the custodian of the rights of this House, when the question of parliamentary privilege was argued before the Commission. The firm of Stephen Jaques Stone James was engaged and Mr I. M. Wales briefed as junior counsel and the Hon. T. E. F. Hughes, QC, as senior counsel. Having briefed counsel, I informed the staff of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Attorney-General and the Manager of Opposition Business in this House of my action.

The question of parliamentary privilege was argued before the Royal Commission on 1 August and my decision to seek representation was vindicated when counsel representing one of the parties before the Commission stated that:

. . . we want to question ministers about statements made by them in the house . . .

Whilst His Honour immediately indicated that this prima facie would be within the scope of privilege, it was clear that my representation before the Commission and argument put by Mr Hughes on my behalf served to assist in clarification of the application of the law of parliamentary privilege in respect of the matters before the Royal Commission.

I continued to have representation before the Royal Commission through Mr S. L. Walmsley, instructed by Stephen Jaques Stone James, during the examination of the Prime Minister, the former Leader of the House, Mr Young, the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock). Subsequently , the President of the Senate engaged the same firm of solicitors and counsel to represent him on behalf of the Senate during the hearing of evidence by the Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans.

I should say that the somewhat unique action I took was designed to help ensure that no action was taken or decisions made before the Royal Commission which would have the effect of eroding the privileges of this House. Freedom of speech is an essential of a free parliament in a democratic society. To allow any action which would result in members of this House being questioned by outside authorities in respect of statements made by them in this House or their motives in making those statements would amount to a serious weakening of that privilege . Such action is reserved for the House itself. Finally, it must be remembered that the privilege is that of the Parliament as a whole and not that of an individual member or of the collection of members who, for the time being, constitute the membership of the Parliament. For me to have ignored the potential threat to the privilege of this institution would have been a very serious dereliction of my duties and my responsibilities to this House as its Speaker.