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Tuesday, 12 May 1987
Page: 2996

Mr TICKNER —Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Mr TICKNER —I thank the House. I am one of the members who have brought forward dissenting reports on the reference to the Committee of Privileges. Although my dissenting report, like the majority report, speaks for itself, there are nevertheless a number of matters that I would like briefly to highlight to the House today. The substance of my dissenting report revolves around a very different view that I have of the role of the Privileges Committee when considering an alleged breach of privilege or contempt. There is no doubt in my mind that the usual summary given of section 49 of the Australian Constitution, to the effect that the Parliament is strictly limited to the powers, privileges and immunities of the House of Commons as at 1 January 1901, is obviously still the case. However, where I differ from the majority report is that I do not believe that a recurrence now or in the future of any act or omission which is the same as or very similar to acts or omissions held by the House of Commons to be contempts in the years before 1901 must be determined in the same way.

In my view it is the power to punish contempts which is inherited, and the application of that power is for the judgment of the House, usually in the light of advice from the Committee of Privileges. It is because I hold that view that I believe, putting it in broad terms, that this House and the Privileges Committee must change with the times and cannot be blind to the very different interpretations of the law of privilege adopted in other jurisdictions, and indeed by the House of Commons. I hold that view above all else because the principles of natural justice still do not operate before the Privileges Committee. Despite the fact that the Parliament has passed the Parliamentary Privileges Bill, the reality is that in relation to matters of parliamentary privilege this House is still in effect the prosecutor, judge and jury in matters of privilege.

Mr Cleeland —And the executioner.

Mr TICKNER —My colleague adds `executioner', which I think I can say is a word that I would have used in my dissenting report had caution not prevailed. It is for that reason that I do believe that we must adopt a view of privilege that is in accordance with community standards.

I believe that the minor reform that has been brought about to the law of privilege by the Parliamentary Privileges Bill is still woefully inadequate and fails to meet at all the concerns that I expressed in my minority report. I hope that this particular reference to the Committee and its report to the House will be the springboard that will ensure the passage of the resolutions that were tabled by the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) in his second reading stage speech on the Parliamentary Privileges Bill because, until this House passes those resolutions, we will not in any way have adequately addressed the concerns of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, chaired by the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender).

I make this very specific point: The Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Telecommunications Interception, Mr Martin, indicated in his evidence that he did not believe that the publication of the resultant revelations would in any way impede a member of the Committee or in any way impede the Committee's work. Thus, as Mr Martin has advised, the matter did not obstruct or impede his Committee and this case would fail the test now applied in the United Kingdom and would not even go to the Committee of Privileges of the House of Commons. I respectfully suggest that so out of touch are we with current practice that the matter would not even have been referred.

It follows from all this that I do not find that the various acts of publications revealing the confidential deliberations constituted contempts by Messrs Greene, Fewster and Cockburn. I do not believe that justice has been delivered to those journalists, as I believe that they have not had adequate legal representation to be able to defend themselves. My view is that it is the person or persons who leaked the information who are at fault and who subsequently have given false evidence on oath or affirmation. Those at fault are not the journalists, who I believe have conducted themselves honestly and with integrity in accordance with the professional rules governing their calling. I note that the House of Commons in the Times case in 1986 passed a resolution that stated in effect:

. . . it would be wrong to punish a journalist merely for doing his job.

I strongly support those sentiments of the House of Commons as recently as 1986. I do not wish to take further time of the House, except to reiterate that, although I respect my colleagues on the Committee, I do hold very strongly the view that the way that the Committee has applied the concept of breach of privilege is an anachronism and I believe that this report ought to be the springboard once and for all for the removal of this blight from our parliamentary landscape.