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Wednesday, 11 September 1985
Page: 459


Senator HAINES(3.22) —Mr President, I begin by endorsing the comments made by Senator Durack commending you for the actions you have taken and the attempts you have made in the past few months to protect the traditional privileges of the Senate and the Parliament as a whole. I have worked fairly closely with you for some time. You undertook with tremendous dignity and great impartiality what was essentially a difficult task for you personally and a sensitive task politically. For that the Senate should thank you most sincerely.

Like Senator Durack, I do not want to debate the decision made by Mr Justice Cantor. However, you raise in your statement some fairly massive questions with regard to privilege and you comment that, essentially, there has been placed in jeopardy the protection of witnesses at what the Senate could certainly regard as a valuable contribution to the parliamentary process, that is appearances at committee hearings. That decision has also placed in question the protection of the rights of honourable members and senators with regard to what we say in this place. In fact it raises the whole problem of the possible denial of parliamentary privilege.

Senator Durack said towards the end of his comments that there is some urgency in the steps that we must now take. It may well be that ultimately this place-and quite soon I would hope-decides to refer this whole matter to the Privileges Committee or to expedite legislation to correct what appears to be a quite untenable position that we now find ourselves in. It is ironic that the reason the Senate established the second inquiry in the form that it did was that the Government would not legislate or introduce the necessary legislation to protect witnesses appearing before the impartial inquiry that some of us in this place first wanted. To then find that the evidence of people making submissions to the Committee was not granted the privilege that we had assumed it would be given is, indeed, ironic.

Therefore, I conclude by saying that I certainly endorse your comment that you regard the judgment as having a serious impact on the freedom of speech of honourable members and senators and I am pleased that the Speaker in the House of Representatives has agreed with you. I can only repeat that it is a matter of urgency that some steps, whether it be reference to the Privileges Committee or action through legislation, must be taken fairly soon or members will find themselves in a most awkward position when it comes to making comments from the floor of this chamber and in the other place.