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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3207

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - I rise because during his remarks the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) made a statement which I think the House must take note. He suggested that the persons responsible for the leaking of this document may have been parliamentary officers or officers of the Joint Committee on Prices. I suggest to the honourable member that whilst the Committee was not able to identify the person who leaked the document, the Committee was fairly substantially of the opinion that it had been leaked by a member of the Committee. I do not think that any member of the Committee was of the opinion that any officer of the Committee or officer of the Parliament had been responsible for this leak. I do not have the transcript of evidence with me, otherwise I would verify the fact that it was indicated that a member of the Committee leaked the information although the name of that member is obviously not available and there is no way in which the Committee would be able to carry out the sort of investigation that would be required to find the name of the person who leaked the information. However, I think it should be made quite clear that there was no evidence before the Committee which would suggest that any officer of the Parliament or of the Committee was responsible for the leaking of the information. Unless it is proved otherwise or substantive evidence can be given otherwise, I think the Parliament has to accept the responsibility and such odium as there is of the fact that a member of the Committee is the most likely person responsible for the leaking of the information. I do not think that it does the cause of anyone any good to try even indirectly to pass the blame on to someone else who is not able to speak in this House.

The honourable member for Gippsland made great play about the dignity of the House. I do not know whether the House does itself justice when it inquires into these matters, but the House has established its own Standing Orders and it certainly would do itself less than justice if it allowed those Standing Orders to be ignored and flouted without taking any action.

I understand that honourable members on both sides of the House, and certainly those in the honourable gentleman's own Party, were fairly insistent that this matter be referred to the Privileges Committee. The honourable member for Gippsland raised a number of other matters that he felt should be the subject of similar inquiries. Standing Orders provide the means by which the honourable member could at any stage initiate those inquiries. If he could make out even a prima facie case of breach of privilege, the Privileges Committee would be obliged, on reference of the matter, to inquire into it. I think it is fairly cheap politics to come into this House and make a speech that has nothing to do with the report of the Privileges Committee. It is, in fact, playing politics to suggest that the Committee could have inquired into something else. 1 repeat, if the honourable member for Gippsland could have made out even a prima facie case he could have had it referred to the Committee. Instead, he has made slighting remarks about the House and the officers of the Parliament.

Mr Anthony - It is easy to make them about members of the Opposition, too.

Mr SCHOLES - If the Leader of the Country Party reads the honourable gentleman's speech he will understand what I am talking about. This particular reference has had an unfortunate ending and I would join other honourable members in expressing my sympathy to the wife and family of Mr Tier. It is extremely unfortunate, indeed tragic, that such an event should occur, and even more unfortunate that it should occur in such circumstances as those that now concern the House. My personal belief is that the House cannot afford to allow its Standing Orders to be flouted, and that it should take action wherever substantial evidence is available. However, that action must be in accordance with the circumstances existing at the time, and I believe that the motion moved by the Minister meets the present circumstances.

Mr NIXON(Gippsalnd) - Mr Speaker. I wish to make a personal explanation.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented

Mr NIXON - Most grievously. The honourable member, for Corio (Mr Scholes) alleged that I was charging parliamentary officers and officers of the Privileges Committee with possibly leaking the contents of the Committee's report. That is far from the truth. What I said in my speech, as the honourable member for Corio will find if he looks at Hansard when it is available, was that I had been told that it appeared in evidence - it has now been shown - that the report had a wider circulation than among members and officers of the Privileges Committee. It was not. my intention to say, nor my thought, that officers of the Parliament or officers of the Committee were guilty of such an act. I do not believe that for one moment. However, as I say, I understand that the report of the Committee was spread much wider than has been suggested, going possibly to the Prime Minister's Department and the Department of Primary Industry, as examples.

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