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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 101

Mr BOWEN (3:34 PM) —Mr Speaker, my question relates to your ruling during question time that the interpretation of the Privacy Act was not seeking a legal opinion. As I brought to your attention earlier, page 543 of House of Representatives Practice states:

Legal opinions, such as the interpretation of a statute ... should not be sought in questions.

Could I also bring your attention to the fact that House of Representatives Practice goes on to approvingly cite Speaker Morrison of the House of Commons, who said:

A Question asking a Minister to interpret the domestic law offends against the rule of Ministerial responsibility, since such interpretation is not the responsibility of a Minister ... But it also offends against the rule that a Question may not ask for a Minister’s opinion.

Mr Speaker, could I ask you to reflect on whether your ruling during question time overturns that longstanding precedent? And, for the benefit of the House, when is interpreting a statute a legal opinion and when is it not?

The SPEAKER —I thank the member for Prospect. I would refer him to the following paragraph on the same page as he just quoted, where it goes on to say:

Questions asking about the extent to which federal legislation would prevail over State legislation or administrative action have been permitted. In addition it has been ruled that in response to a question dealing with the law a Minister may provide any facts, as opposed to legal opinions, the Minister may wish to give. Questions asking whether legislation existed on a specified subject, whether an agency was entitled to take a particular action, whether certain actions were in breach of regulations, whether offences against Commonwealth laws may have been committed, and what the consequences of certain actions had been, have been permitted.