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Wednesday, 8 December 1971
Page: 4347

Mr McIVOR (Gellibrand) - As a member of the Committee that took part in the framing of this report 1 want to say firstly that it is of great satisfaction to me to note the interest that the report of the Privileges Committee, relating to an article published in the 'Daily Telegraph' of 27th August 1971, has engendered in this House. It is also of great satisfaction to me to know that the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Alan Fraser) and 1 can agree absolutely on one important subject - that is, the functions and powers of the Privileges Committee in this day and age. It may interest the honourable member for Eden-Monaro to know that, immediately the Privileges Committee report on what we now know as the Uren case was made public, I approached the honourable member for Reid and appealed to him, as an executive member of my Party, to bring before that executive my misgivings on the guidelines the Committee had to follow in order to reach a decision. I pointed out that these guidelines had been operative since Federation and were laid down long before Federation.

For these reasons I argued that the House of Representatives should set up a select committee to investigate and recommend to this House more modern and more satisfactory guidelines which the Committee could use to arrive at decisions. I regret that the suggestions were not acted upon. The Uren case is now past and so is the case relating to the letter in the 'Australian' newspaper. So it is with the arrival in this House of the 'Daily Telegraph' case that there arises, not for the first lime, a request to examine the procedures of the Committee under question, in spite of the fact that since March 1945 to the present day about 30 cases have been before that Committee.

I highlight a particular instance of the difficulties which confront this Committee. During the hearing on the Uren case the Committee had before it 2 lawyers - one from the Attorney-General's Department and one from the Austraiian National University. One was quite definite that a breach of privilege had been committed. The decision of the other, to me, did not convey yea or nay. I am sure "hat the honourable menner for Reid

Having said that, I now turn io the report before the House. In reference to the decision of the Committee I wau to say that, faced with the same evidence and working within the same guidelines, I could not in any shape or form or at any time depart from the decisions or decision to which I was a party.

After having read the evidence, and read it again, and read it a third time, and not being able to find a single sentence that could vindicate any truth in the article as to the event it described, I could come to no other conclusion, after reference to the guidelines, than that the article constituted a breach of privilege or a contempt, and I maintained this attitude throughout t'.e whole weary proceedings of the investigation. I said early in the proceedings that I thought the whole thing was blown up out of all proportion, but the matter having been referred to (he Committee that Committee had no other option but to take every available step to bring down a decision. Not one word or thought of mine could be construed as being personal or inspired by personalities. In consideration of the article the man, Alan Reid, never entered my thoughts. The article was my first consideration. Matters arising f,Orr the article were the second consideration. The decision reached marks the action taken on these matters. 1 refer now to that part of the proceedings that has caused some heated debate. That is the decision reached on "?7th October referred to on page M7 of the report. Concerning this decision, it is common knowledge that some person or persons committed a grave breach of privilege by disclosing this decision before it had been ratified in the draft report submitted to the Committee. The report emphasises this very clearly. Now let me explain the advice and the direction given to members of the Committee by the Chairman prior to discussing and ratifying the report. Firstly, the Chairman informed the Committee that he must read every paragraph of the report. Having read the paragraph the Chairman then moved:

That the paragraph stand as part of the report.'

However, before proceeding to read the paragraph the- Chairman informed the Committee that a member can move for the omission of the paragraph or move an amendment to the paragraph or move for the substitution of other words in the paragraph.

Now this was the stage that had been reached when a desire was expressed to recommit the decision of 27th October. As indicated in the report I moved accordingly and my motion was carried by one vote. I might say that at no time was I convinced that the decision reached on 27th October was the correct one. In fact, I called it irresponsible, and I still call it irresponsible in the face of the evidence before us. In my opinion, this information should discount the unofficial report that a Anal decision had been made. Quite definitely this was not the case. Referring to the one vote one way or the other. 1 desire. to say on a committee constituted as this Committee is, decisions would more often be made on that basis. The votes taken during the proceedings indicate this. 1 come now to that part of the evidence submitted by Mr Reid relating to the unknown journalist who submitted information to him on the article he wrote. I have a great deal of respect for the ability of Mr Reid and with the knowledge that Mr Reid is a parliamentary reporter of many years standing I found it hard to believe that he did not know or would not know the journalist who was supposed to give him the information. That is No. 1, as it were. It has been asserted that Mr Reid wrote the article believing it to be correct. On this score let me say this: There was not a great deal of effort needed by Mr Reid to ascertain the truth of the matter. Mr Reid had only to ask the Deputy Speaker or any of (he officers present on the occasion to ascertain the truth. This procedure would have been better by far than putting the Committee and his Parliament to the intensive investigation that has been carried out on this matter.

I said at the opening of my remarks that I carried no banner for anyone in these proceedings. My attitude was completely impartial. I also said that after giving full consideration to the guidelines laid down by Mr Pettifer I could nol in true conscience come to any other decision than the one to which I was party. These are the guidelines: Firstly, a writing which reflects on the character or proceedings of the House or its members; I say that it did. Secondly, a publication of proceedings of the House which is false or perverted or partial and injurious; I say it was. Finally, a misrepresentation of the proceedings of members in the Parliament; T say it was.

I now refer to what created a great deal of debate by the Committee, that is, the choice of words which were so much discussed by the Committee. In relation to this I found difficulty in knowing when an inaccurate statement becomes a false statement. When it becomes false, when does it become untruthful? So again I had to rest on the guidelines laid down in the report by Mr Pettifer.

Much has been said about precedent. In this regard, I say: 'If we set up a precedent to turn a blind eye to matters of this kind then I am afraid we make rods for our own backs'. If untruthful statements are to be called inaccurate statements for the purpose of lessening the offence, then the public has the right to treat us with distrust and scorn. Frankly I could not be party to measures of this kind. I say further that to bring down a verdict other than the verdict that was ratified would have been to disgracefully humiliate the Deputy Speaker and the officers present at the time of the incident. I have no desire to hurt anyone nor have I any desire to take part in another inquiry by the Privileges Committee under the same conditions as those that applied to the 3 inquiries with which I have been concerned in the past weeks. Further, I think it is wrong to place the onus on the shoulders of officers of this

Parliament to set the guidelines inside which the Committee must operate. That is the duty and responsibility of this Parliament.

In no circumstances should further investigations be made by the Privileges Committee until this Parliament has modernised the proceedings and reshaped them in such a manner as to remove from the shoulders of the officers of the Parliament the necessity to set down guidelines and directions for the Committee. We should protect the members of the Parliament serving on that Committee from the unfair criticism that the present procedures invite and give to each and everyone appearing before the Committee a much broader opportunity to place evidence before it. I congratulate the Chairman for his patience and tolerance during this lengthy and somewhat protracted hearing. I close by saying that any judge or jury faced with this case and presented with the same evidence could not in true justice bring down any other verdict than the verdict contained in the report before the House.

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