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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9116

Mrs D'ATH (Petrie) (15:12): I present the report of the Privileges and Members' Interests Committee concerning the possible unauthorised disclosure of the internal proceedings of the committee.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.

Mrs D'ATH: by leave—On 24 May 2012 I raised in the House a matter of privilege concerning the apparent unauthorised disclosure of the internal proceedings of the committee's private meeting held on the previous night. The disclosure was in articles by Ms Michelle Grattan in the online version of the Age and in the print edition of the Age of 24 May 2012.

In my statement I expressed disappointment about the disclosure, particularly in light of the discussion the committee had about the importance of confidentiality in the committee's consideration of the sensitive issues it was inquiring into.

I indicated that the committee would pursue the matter internally and report back to the House as necessary. I am now reporting back on behalf of the committee.

The committee has examined this matter in a way consistent with the approach it has advocated for all committees that experience unauthorised disclosures.

The committee has been unable to obtain evidence that might reveal the source or sources of the disclosure.

Each member of the committee and each secretariat staff member has signed a statutory declaration to the effect that they did not disclose the internal proceedings of the meeting of 23 May 2012 to any person who was not authorised to be made aware of those proceedings.

In addition the committee asked the journalist involved, Ms Michelle Grattan, to appear and give evidence in relation to any information she could provide about the source of the disclosure. In her evidence to the committee, Ms Grattan confirmed she was the author of the two articles in question. She also declined to discuss any matters to do with her sources.

In relation to the impact of the disclosure, the committee considers that the particular circumstances make this matter very serious. The meeting from which the disclosure appears to have taken place was the first meeting of the committee after the referral of an inquiry by the House into a matter of great sensitivity. The committee also explicitly discussed at that meeting the importance of confidentiality in relation to its proceedings during the course of the inquiry. The disclosure, therefore, has been damaging to the committee.

The committee makes no formal findings on this matter as it has not been able to identify the source of the disclosure.

However, the committee has a number of observations, and makes two recommendations to the House.

On a number of occasions the committee has expressed its frustration about inquiries it has conducted into unauthorised disclosures of committee information. These of course have been inquiries into disclosures from other committees, not an inquiry into a disclosure from the Committee of Privileges and Members' Interests itself, but the issues are the same.

In earlier reports the committee has acknowledged the difficulty that can be faced in seeking to ascertain the sources of disclosures. Those guilty are unlikely to identify themselves and media representatives can be expected to claim that their professional code of ethics prevents them from revealing the identity of such sources.

The person or persons who disclose information from committee proceedings are the most culpable in these matters. However, the committee reiterates the view it has expressed before that it is also important that, where it is necessary to do so, there is a willingness to proceed against those who knowingly publish material.

The committee recommends, as it has in earlier reports, that the House adopt a resolution relating to unauthorised disclosure. In addition to the terms of previously recommended resolutions, the committee has added specific provisions relating to the publication of unauthorised material and the implications for journalists and the media. The adoption of the resolution will make it clear to journalists and the media which publish unauthorised information that publication is, of itself, potentially a contempt which can be punished by the House with appropriate sanctions.

In addition to the resolution, the committee also recommends that changes be made to the process for the approval of parliamentary press gallery passes to require the pass holder to be aware of the prohibition of unauthorised disclosure of committee proceedings and also that, as part of the approval and renewal processes, the pass holder is informed that a breach can result in sanctions. The committee also notes that there is a role for the press gallery committee, which sponsors the passes of members of the gallery, to advise new members of the gallery about their responsibilities.

Having concluded my remarks on the committee's report, I wish to make some very brief remarks about two matters concerning the Register of Members' Interests that were raised with the committee by the Manager of Opposition Business and the Leader of the House. They concerned the statements of interests of the member for Dobell and the member for Hughes. The committee has considered the matters raised and has obtained information from the members concerned.

The committee has concluded that there are no grounds for it to take further actions.

I conclude by thanking the secretariat for their assistance in preparing the report and their ongoing work with the committee, and I also thank the members and the Deputy Chair of the Privileges and Members' Interests Committee.