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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29455

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (12:13 PM) —I present a supplementary explanatory memorandum to the Australian Federal Police and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 and move government amendment (1) as circulated:

(1) Schedule 1, item 27A, page 24 (lines 12 to 19), omit the item.

As I indicated in my summing up speech, the non-government parties made one amendment to the bill in the Senate. This amendment would insert a new subsection 22(1)(a) into the Australian Federal Police Act 1979. Section 22(1) of the AFP Act provides for the termination of appointment of the commissioner or a deputy commissioner for misbehaviour or physical or mental incapacity.

The amendment was inserted to clarify that an expression of an honestly held opinion by the commissioner or a deputy commissioner does not constitute misbehaviour for the purposes of section 22(1) if the commissioner or deputy commissioner believes that it is in the public interest to communicate that opinion, whether publicly or privately. However, the government does not support this amendment, because it would create a statutory exemption to the grounds for termination for misbehaviour based on the purely subjective belief of the person expressing the opinion. The government amendment will omit this item from the bill.

High standards are expected of people who hold public office. An exemption such as this could create potentially serious problems if the commissioner or a deputy commissioner expressed an opinion which he or she honestly held and believed was in the public interest but which was totally inappropriate. This could include, for example, expressing an honestly held belief that was racist or showed prejudice. The meaning of `misbehaviour' in provisions dealing with the termination of public officials should not be limited in this way. Indeed, other Commonwealth termination-of-appointment provisions do not define or qualify misbehaviour. Mere expression of an opinion would not amount to misbehaviour; it would require more—for example, the commission of an offence by making disclosures that are prohibited by law or the breach of binding standards of conduct. There is no point in permitting something that is not prohibited in the first place. On that basis, I commend the government amendment to the chamber.

Question agreed to.

Bill, as amended, agreed to.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House with an amendment.