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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21745

The SPEAKER (3:24 PM) —In view of considerable public comment and media speculation about events surrounding the visits to Parliament House by President George W. Bush and President Hu Jintao on 23 and 24 October 2003, I wish to provide the House with my perspective on these events. The House should be aware that on 8 October 2003 the Prime Minister wrote to me advising of the proposed visits and expressing the government's view:

To continue a fitting and dignified convention for honouring guests of special significance, President Bush and President Hu should be invited to address members of both houses of parliament in a formal session in the House of Representatives chamber.

A similar letter was sent to the President of the Senate. I will deal firstly with the visit of President George W. Bush on 23 October 2003. The House, on 8 October 2003, agreed to a government motion that the House invite President George W. Bush to attend and address the House on 23 October 2003, that it invite the Senate to meet with the House in this chamber for that purpose and that at the meeting of the two houses for this purpose:

(a) the Speaker shall preside at the meeting;

(b) the only proceedings shall be welcoming remarks by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and an address by the President of the United States of America, after which the Speaker shall forthwith adjourn the House and declare the meeting concluded; and

(c) the procedures of the House shall apply to the meeting so far as they are applicable ...

The resolution was identical to resolutions of the House in respect of the 1992 visit by President George Bush Sr and the 1996 visit by President Clinton.

The Senate was advised of this resolution by message, which also requested Senate concurrence with its terms and that it take action accordingly. On 9 October 2003 the Senate passed a resolution to the effect that the Senate invite President Bush to address the Senate on 23 October 2003, that the Senate accept the invitation of the House to meet with the House for that purpose and that the Senate `concurs in the provisions of the resolution of the House relating to the conduct of that meeting'. Accordingly, as members will recall, members of the House and Senate assembled in this chamber at 11.15 a.m. on 23 October 2003 and I took the chair in accordance with the resolution agreed by both chambers.

During President Bush's address, as recorded in the proof Votes and Proceedings, at 11.30 a.m. Senator Brown was ordered under standing order 304A to withdraw from the House for one hour for continuing to interject. He refused to withdraw and ignored the Serjeant-at-Arms' direction, on my instruction, to leave the chamber. At 11.48 a.m. Senator Nettle was ordered to withdraw for continuing to interject. She also refused to withdraw and ignored the Serjeant-at-Arms' direction. Members may be unaware that at the same time as the senators' disorderly behaviour, a guest in the southern gallery rose and began to interject. He was immediately removed from the gallery under the arrangements I had authorised previously. I was subsequently advised that this person was a guest of one of the Greens.

After President Bush left the chamber, I named both senators for continuing to defy the chair. In accordance with House practice and procedure, which I remind the House both chambers had agreed would apply, the Leader of the House moved for the suspension of the two senators. This question was put and, as recorded in the proof Votes and Proceedings, was passed by members and senators present. This is not recorded in the proof Journals of the Senate for 23 October 2003. In accordance with House practice, I called the vote on the voices as being in the affirmative. I did not hear any request for a division and at 11.55 a.m. senators Brown and Nettle were suspended for 24 hours under standing order 305. There was no dissent from my ruling.

Later that day I wrote to the President of the Senate confirming the motion endorsed by members and senators present. I advised the President of the provisions of standing order 307, which had the effect of excluding Senator Brown and Senator Nettle from the chamber, all its galleries and any room where the Main Committee was meeting, and that this suspension was for 24 hours from 11.55 a.m. on 23 October 2003. I asked the President to convey this advice to Senators Brown and Nettle, and I table a copy of my letter to the President.

Also on 23 October 2003, the President and I wrote jointly to the Serjeant-at-Arms and the Usher of the Black Rod to confirm the suspension of the senators, to authorise them and officers under their direction to enforce the suspension and to confirm that the senators were not permitted to approach the House of Representatives through the glass link ways and were not permitted to enter the chamber galleries for the period of the suspension. I table a copy of the letter to the Serjeant and the Black Rod by the President and me.

There are two other matters relating to President Bush's visit which I wish to address. Members will be aware that television film coverage of Senators Brown and Nettle in the chamber began appearing nationally and internationally shortly after events in the chamber. This unauthorised footage was taken from the northern gallery by an as yet unidentified US media operator and against my specific and repeated direction that such filming was not permitted. Investigation of this matter is not yet complete but preliminary assessments indicate that, notwithstanding my repeated refusal of requests from the Americans to permit coverage in addition to the nine parliamentary cameras, a camera was brought into the northern gallery and used. I understand that security attendants who saw the camera made the incorrect assumption that it had been authorised.

The other matter relates to events at the rear of the chamber as President Bush was departing. I did not see these events directly as the House had not yet adjourned. I have seen some film coverage of them and would simply make the observation that in the face of the refusal of Senators Brown and Nettle to obey the chair and their clear intention to approach President Bush with some vigour during his movement from the chamber, certain members, senators and chamber staff attempted to secure a clear route for the President.

I turn now to events surrounding the visit of President Hu Jintao on 24 October 2003. There has been some public commentary on the placement of guests of the Greens party members in the enclosed second floor gallery. The fact of the matter is that, having sole responsibility for the management of the House galleries, I made a deliberate decision on Thursday, 23 October 2003, following the unacceptable behaviour of the Greens senators in the chamber and one of their guests in the gallery that day, to ensure that guests of the Greens were unable to interrupt proceedings during the visit of President Hu. I directed that the Greens guests be seated with other overflow guests from the open galleries in the enclosed galleries. I am advised that guests of members and senators from all sides of politics, including guests of ministers, were also seated in the enclosed galleries as part of the overflow from the open galleries. There were approximately 30 people seated in the enclosed galleries. As a result of administrative confusion and divided responsibilities between the visits task force and House staff, it was regrettable that simultaneous translation facilities were not provided in the enclosed galleries. For this, I apologise.

In the days preceding President Hu's visit, the Chinese ambassador expressed to me on several occasions his concern that people may seek to attend President Hu's address using invitations not issued in their names. He strongly urged me to require photographic identification. I declined to do so on the basis that the requirement for photographic identification was not made known in advance to prospective guests and that to require it without notice may prove difficult for guests, particularly children. I assured the ambassador that I would direct that all possible steps be taken to ensure the integrity of the galleries. To further ease the ambassador's concern, I suggested that I would permit several of his embassy staff to assist House staff in identifying people who may not have been the persons for whom invitations were issued. Photographic identification of people so identified would then be requested. I am advised that this process did not result in the identification of any persons holding incorrect invitations.

It has also been publicly asserted that the Chinese foreign minister asked me to remove guests of members or senators from the open galleries. As I have already advised the House, I had decided the day before that guests of the Greens would be seated in the enclosed galleries to prevent any repetition of the unacceptable behaviour during President Bush's visit to the parliament. The Chinese foreign minister did arrive at the entrance to the House of Representatives wing in advance of President Hu on Friday, 24 October 2003. He spoke with me and the President of the Senate. I assured him that all appropriate steps had been taken to enable President Hu to be received with the dignity and courtesy appropriate to a visiting head of state. President Hu arrived shortly thereafter and, as members will recall, his address to the House took place without incident. As any objective reporter would have noted, the short time lapse between the arrival of the Chinese foreign minister and the subsequent arrival of the President of China would have made it impossible for people to have been moved into or out of the galleries before President Hu arrived.

Finally, I wish to commend all the parliamentary staff, security personnel and staff of the visits task force for their outstanding contribution in securing the success of the visits by President Bush and President Hu to the parliament. I particularly thank the chamber staff and members of the Parliamentary Security Service. Under unprecedented circumstances and in the face of some difficulties, they executed their duties magnificently.