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Thursday, 30 September 1999
Page: 9267

Senator PAYNE —My question without notice is to the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Vanstone. Would the minister please advise the Senate of the appropriate course of action a senator should take if they believe that they have material that is relevant to a criminal investigation?

Senator VANSTONE (Justice and Customs) —I thank Senator Payne for her question. As all senators should understand, there is a longstanding convention that debate on court cases and criminal investigations has to be treated very carefully in this chamber where there is a chance that the debate might in one way or another prejudice either proceedings that are before a court or an investigation that is under way. The reason for this is very simple.

Senator Conroy —It's not, and that's the problem.

Senator VANSTONE —I acknowledge Senator Conroy's interjection, but I am not confident that he is necessarily correct. He might like to check that before he interjects along those lines again. Senators have long recognised that debate on a matter that is either before a court or under an investigation could have some influence, especially in relation to an investigation. There may be matters pertaining to that investigation not understood by senators when they wade into deeper water than they appreciate they are in. Debate about matters under active criminal investigation is avoided and should be avoided to ensure that the investigation is not influenced, damaged or put at risk by some stupid senator wanting to grab themselves a headline.

It is important that this be understood by senators. Apart from not wanting to put an investigation or a proceeding at risk, these matters are avoided or treated extremely carefully because the rest of us do not want to give the perception that senators, or members of parliament, would attempt to influence either investigations or the conduct of proceedings.

Senator Conroy —Give them the funds they need.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, cease interjecting!

Senator VANSTONE —Senator Conroy's outburst yesterday shows no respect for the conventions of parliament or, for that matter, for the opportunities he is given.

Senator Conroy —You hypocrite!

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Conroy, you will withdraw that remark.

Senator Conroy —I withdraw.

The PRESIDENT —Stand up and withdraw it, Senator.

Senator Conroy —I withdraw.

Senator VANSTONE —If Senator Conroy believes the statements he made yesterday, the appropriate course of action for him is to provide any evidence he has to the National Crime Authority. Of course, if Senator Conroy is not confident of everything he said yesterday—

Senator Faulkner —Madam President, I rise on a point of order. In answering this dorothy dix question, Senator Vanstone has consistently not addressed the chair, and she has not even attempted to address the chair. It does appear, in fact, as though she is trying to address Senator Conroy across the chamber. She ought to address the Senate through you, and I would ask you to rule in favour of this point of order.

The PRESIDENT —I believe Senator Vanstone is addressing the chair, but she is not helped by Senator Conroy persistently interjecting. I do suggest that Senator Conroy not interject and that the minister ignore him in any event.

Senator Alston —He doesn't understand the difference between first and second person.

Senator VANSTONE —If Senator Faulkner needs some help with grammar, I can recommend a very good book for him. The Deluxe Transitive Vampire would be of great assistance to him. I am sure it would be. The Deluxe Transitive Vampire is a book even he could understand!

The PRESIDENT —Senator Vanstone, you must direct your remarks through the chair.

Senator VANSTONE —I was, Madam President. I was simply informing you that, if he needed help, I would be happy to give it. If Senator Conroy is not confident of the material he raised in this place, he should never have raised it. Parliamentary privilege is not a licence to come in here and say what you like with no responsibility whatsoever. It does not mean that and it never has meant that.

In any event, the only thing that Senator Conroy has achieved by raising the issue is to create the appearance that parliament is to be used in one way or another to try to influence either investigations or, for that matter, proceedings that might be on foot. This is not his first time. This gentleman—if he can be called that—is a serial offender. Even I know the Labor Party took him off the National Crime Authority committee. Why do you think his mates took him off the National Crime Authority committee? We all know the answer to that.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is too much shouting in the chamber.

Senator VANSTONE —There were some vicious rumours that the Labor Party thought he was leaking material from the National Crime Authority committee, which would be surely beneath such a senator. All we have here is a rogue senator trying to grab a headline. If Senator Faulkner cannot exercise proper leadership, as he never demonstrates in this place, and pull him into line, Senator Ray will take you on his knee and give you a smack. (Time expired)