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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17501

Mr TANNER (3:28 PM) —Mr Speaker, I ask you for clarification on the ruling you made on the statements by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations with respect to the member for Reid where you indicated that it was acceptable for him to restate an accusation against the member for Reid that had previously been refuted in a personal explanation on the proviso that he was adducing additional evidence to support that claim. Are you therefore ruling that, if all we are dealing with is a simple repetition of a previous claim that has subsequently been refuted by personal explanation, that will be ruled out of order?

The SPEAKER —I would like in the first instance to refer the member for Melbourne to my fairly extensive statement on this—I am guessing—about two years ago. It was certainly during the period that the member for Fraser was the Manager of Opposition Business. What I indicated then, from memory—and this is certainly my feeling now—is that clearly, once someone has indicated that they have been misrepresented, their word for that ought to be taken and that it ought not to be right to revisit something that is without substance and in some way maligns another person's character.

The bind for the chair, and I indicated this two years ago, is that this is a place of free speech. I have to allow people to say what they genuinely believe to be is a statement of fact or something which can be substantiated. In today's instance, I was trying to be consistent with that because it seemed to me that the minister was endeavouring to indicate what he had said was in some way substantiated. It is a difficulty for the chair. I will endeavour to be as even-handed as possible. I do not believe, as I have indicated before, that where someone has been misrepresented and has indicated that by way of a personal explanation, that that misrepresentation should occur. But, as I am sure the member for Melbourne will concede, neither do I have the right to prevent people from saying whatever they may genuinely believe.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, given your ruling, will you now review the Hansard? I maintain that what you will find is that the minister was, in fact, repeating the same false assertion by Mr Kisrwani that he had requested the member for Reid to do certain things, things that the member for Reid said in his personal explanation to the House yesterday were false and never happened. If the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has in fact repeated these false allegations after a personal explanation by the member for Reid, will you now require the minister to withdraw and apologise?

The SPEAKER —I will review the Hansard—that is the least I can do. Whether or not accusations are true or false is sometimes difficult for the occupier of the chair to determine. As I indicated earlier, the Leader of the House and the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations—in this instance representing the Special Minister of State—had read from a letter which obviously made me feel that he was making a substantially different point. It was for that reason that I had not intervened.

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I simply make the point that it should be impossible to gag debate by way of a personal explanation. If it were possible to gag debate by way of a personal explanation, the minister for immigration would be able to make a personal explanation and there would be no question time for members opposite.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Werriwa and the Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. I do not deny people points of order. In fact, when I feel someone has the call and has done something outside the standing orders, I facilitate them. In this instance, the Leader of the House was making what seemed to me to be a non-provocative point and I was prepared to hear him. I did not hear the latter part of his comment. He had indicated that one should be very wary about gagging debate, the very remark I had made, not as eloquently, earlier myself. Has the minister anything further?

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, you have expressed it very well.

The SPEAKER —If the Manager of Opposition Business has a point of order, I will hear him, but I will not have him interrupting.