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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 77

Mr HARTSUYKER (5:30 PM) —I grieve today and call on my fellow members of this House to remind themselves of the opportunity afforded to them and the obligations placed upon them by the institution of parliamentary privilege. In the time available to me, I would like to reflect on the institution of privilege and the way that institution has been abused by the member for New England and to ask what his actions say about him. First, let me remind you why we enjoy the protection of privilege and of its proper purpose. House of Representatives Practice tells us:

... parliamentary privilege refers to the special rights and immunities which belong to the Houses, their committees and their Members, and which are considered essential for the proper operation of the Parliament.

Privileges are not enjoyed by members in their personal capacities; they are enjoyed by the House in its corporate capacity and by its members on behalf of the citizens they represent. House of Representatives Practice remarks that the privilege of freedom of speech has been described as the ‘most valuable and most essential’ of the privileges we enjoy and as ‘the only privilege of substance enjoyed by members of parliament’. Without wishing to dwell on history—it is after all a current abuse that concerns me—it is worth pointing out that our freedom of speech stems from the Bill of Rights 1688, which stated:

... the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.

So, if we as members of this House are aware of a wrongdoing, we have the freedom to expose it without fear of prosecution and then to have it properly left up to other authorities to investigate and to take appropriate action against the person or persons named in this House. This is not something to be trifled with or lightly invoked. Few people have this privilege. It is not for personal use. It is accorded to us only to ensure that parliament does its job and only in our capacity as representatives of our constituents. Of course, with freedom comes responsibility. I make no apology for again quoting House of Representatives Practice. Perhaps some of us should read it more often. It says that the very significance of the privilege of freedom of speech:

... is such, where the reputation or welfare of persons may be an issue, that it should be used judiciously. If a Member is of the opinion that it is in the public interest to disclose such allegations, he or she should make all reasonable inquiries as to the truth of the allegations.

Let me repeat: where the reputation of persons may be an issue, it should be used judiciously. That brings me to my second point: the allegations made in this House by the member for New England last November to the effect that an attempt had been made to bribe him. He alleged that he was offered a diplomatic post or trade appointment if he did not stand for his seat. That offer was made to him, he alleged, by Tamworth businessman Greg Maguire on behalf of the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, and Senator Sandy Macdonald. Was the reputation of persons an issue here? Most definitely. Would those remarks, if made outside the House, have exposed the member for New England to an action for libel? Almost certainly.

Mr Price —Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, I raise a point of order. I am very reluctant to interrupt the honourable member but, under standing orders, he is not able to reflect on a member. Rather, he needs to move a substantive motion if that is his desire. Mr Deputy Speaker, I would ask that you listen very carefully to what the honourable member is saying and ensure that no other member of this House is adversely reflected upon.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Thank you. I am listening very carefully to the member for Cowper.

Mr HARTSUYKER —Was the privilege used judiciously in this case? Certainly not. But then the member for New England is not known for his judicious remarks. In the context of the Telstra debate—

Mr Price —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I think the member for Cowper is establishing well and truly that he is reflecting on the member for New England and his motives. If he wishes to do so, he is entitled to do so in the House, but he must use the proper forms of the House. He cannot do it by way of a speech in the grievance debate. He needs to move a substantive motion to that effect.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The Chief Opposition Whip has raised the issue of the member for Cowper reflecting on the member for New England. I ask him, in his continuation of the grievance debate, to bear that in mind.

Mr HARTSUYKER —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. To continue, I certainly wish to consider the investigation that was conducted by the Australian Federal Police. That investigation found that there were no grounds to support certain allegations that were made in this House. Papers were passed to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, who concluded:

... none of the versions of the conversations related by any of the witnesses can amount to an “offer to give or confer” a benefit. Further there is no evidence in this material of Mr Maguire having conspired with any other person to make an offer to Mr Windsor.

There was no evidence—I repeat: there was no evidence—and the case was closed. The Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee also examined the allegations as part of its inquiry into Regional Partnerships. I quote from the committee report:

Without compelling and incontrovertible evidence, a committee of the Senate cannot make an adverse finding against a Senator or Member who has denied the allegations made against him. In the case of the alleged inducement, the evidence is not sufficient for this Committee to depart from that principle.

That was the majority report. The government senators, on the other hand, concluded that:

There is also absolutely no evidence to support the allegation that the Honourable John Anderson, then Deputy Prime Minister, and Senator Sandy Macdonald offered an inducement to Mr Windsor not to stand at the 2004 federal election.

So the Director of Public Prosecutions concluded that there is no evidence of conspiracy, the majority Senate committee found no ‘compelling’ or ‘incontrovertible’ evidence, and the government senators found no evidence to support the allegations. And what was the member’s reaction when the lack of evidence was pointed out? Following the Senate inquiry, he said he was vindicated—a most interesting conclusion to bring.

I think it is important in relation to the allegations made that we reflect a moment on the character of one of the members who was the subject of certain allegations. This brings me to the proceedings in the House on 23 June and what was said about the Hon. John Anderson on his retirement from the frontbench. I would like to quote the Prime Minister, who said:

I have said on a number of occasions that I have not met a person with greater integrity in public life, and I am very proud to repeat that comment today.

The Prime Minister also said that John Anderson is:

... a man for whom I have a profound personal regard and affection.

The Minister for Health and Ageing said of Mr Anderson:

... he is a man whose transparent decency has often inspired us, and sometimes shamed us, into better reflecting our best selves.

The member for Banks said:

I think he is a reflection of all that is good in this place.

That tribute is all the more impressive because it comes from the other side of the chamber. There we have some idea of the reputation of the member for Gwydir, a reputation that was at stake when those allegations were made by the member for New England. Let me remind you of that phrase from the House of Representatives Practice about the use of privilege:

... where the reputation ... of persons may be an issue, ... it should be used judiciously.

Did the member for New England use the privilege of free speech judiciously? I think not. He had no evidence but he went ahead anyway. He abused the privilege of free speech—

Mr Price —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Firstly, there is a convention in this place that, if you are attacking or speaking adversely about another member, you do them the courtesy of letting them know. Secondly, the member for Cowper is again reflecting on the member for New England. You must uphold the standing orders—and I am sure you will, Mr Deputy Speaker. The member for Cowper cannot reflect in that way on the honourable member for New England.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I thank the Chief Opposition Whip. In his concluding remarks the member for Cowper will ensure that he does not reflect on the member for New England. I ask that he uphold the very principles of privilege in this House of which he is talking in this grievance debate.

Mr HARTSUYKER —I will conclude, as time is running out, by reaffirming the fact that it is important that privilege be used in representing our constituents, rather than for private purposes. It is important that privilege be used from the viewpoint of assisting this House to do its job, rather than for any other purpose. I think that in the time available to me I have sufficiently highlighted that, in the case that I drew attention to, I do not believe that was the case. I think we need to reflect on the use of privilege. I believe that the use of privilege is something that has to be treasured by members of parliament, and that is something that I do not think has always been the case in this place.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Order! The time for the grievance debate has expired. The debate is interrupted and I put the question:

That grievances be noted.

Question agreed to.