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Friday, 13 September 1985
Page: 535


The PRESIDENT —On Tuesday, 20 August 1985, I presented to the Senate the conditions, determined by the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings, for granting access to proceedings of the two Houses of the Parliament for the purpose of recording and broadcasting excerpts. During debate on the statement Senator Peter Rae referred to condition No. 8, which states:

`Qualified privilege only shall apply to broadcasters in the use of excerpts.'.

Senator Rae requested elaboration of this condition and noted:

There are differences in relation to State defamation law and the meaning of `qualified privilege' does differ.

Condition No. 8 is not really a condition properly so called, but expresses the Committee's opinion as to the state of the law. The Committee cannot declare or change the law in relation to the privilege attaching to the broadcasting or televising of excerpts; nor can either House by itself declare or change the law. The condition was included by the Committee to indicate to broadcasters making use of excerpts the state of the law. It is clear that absolute privilege attaches to senators making speeches in the Senate, by virtue of section 49 of the Constitution. Absolute privilege also attaches, under the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946, to the broadcasting or rebroadcasting of any portion of the proceedings which the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is required to make under that Act. The publication of Hansard by the Government Printer also attracts absolute privilege.

The publication of extracts from debates, however, attracts only qualified privilege, and in this regard, in the view of the Committee, broadcasters using excerpts will be in exactly the same position as newspapers. The Committee considers that this is appropriate, and that the protection of qualified privilege is sufficient for the broadcasting of excerpts. It is to be noted that the corresponding committee of the British Parliament came to the same conclusion. The Committee considered that absolute privilege is appropriate only where a broadcaster is required to broadcast proceedings, as is the case with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The conditions which I presented on 20 August were determined by the Committee after discussions with representatives of the media following the presentation of proposed conditions on 27 May 1985. It is true, as Senator Rae states, that the law relating to qualified privilege differs from State to State, in the absence of uniform defamation laws. The Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege recommended that legislation be enacted to provide, amongst other things, uniform qualified privilege for the reporting of parliamentary proceedings throughout Australia. The Broadcasting Committee was aware of this problem of the lack of uniformity in the law, and took this matter into consideration when determining the conditions.