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Monday, 16 September 1985
Page: 547

Senator JESSOP —My question is directed to you, Mr President. I ask: Has your attention been drawn to a leading article in today's Australian headed: `An interference with Parliament's freedom'? It states:

The freedom of Parliament to conduct its proceedings without the supervision or interference of any outside authority . . . is one of the foundations of our democracy.

Reference was made in that article to the excellent statement made by you last week dealing with decisions made in the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

Senator Withers —You should compress it. Your question is too long.

Senator JESSOP —I do not need Senator Withers's help on this very important question. In view of the recent judgment of Mr Justice Cantor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, supported, in principle, by his colleague Mr Justice Maxwell, relating to the cross-examination in courts of witnesses who have appeared before parliamentary committees, do you see any problems arising from the acceptance of Dr Edelsten to the invitation by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts for him to appear before that Committee? Do you regard this as a pertinent example of the difficulties which inevitably will be faced by committees if the judgment of Mr Justice Cantor were to apply to parliamentary proceedings? Clearly, in relation to the Bill of Rights, it is within your responsibility to deal with this matter.

The PRESIDENT —I thank the honourable senator for his question because, as everyone would realise from the statement that I made to the Senate last Thursday and the debate that ensued, the matter is one of significance not only so far as my office as President of the Senate is concerned but indeed also so far as the Senate itself and the institution of Parliament are involved. The question asked by Senator Jessop touches on one of the problems referred to in my statement to the Senate last week. I shall give consideration to the points that Senator Jessop has made and if I think that I should add something further to the statement that I made to the Parliament last Thursday I shall do so. So far as the person to whom Senator Jessop has referred is concerned, whose name was also mentioned in this Parliament last week, I noted that the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee was in attendance when I presented my statement and during the course of the debate on parliamentary privilege. Doubtless he would have taken cognisance of my statement and the ensuing debate.

I hope that all chairmen of parliamentary committees will give consideration to the contents of my statement and to the debate. I can add nothing to what I have said although I appreciate the point expressed by Senator Jessop in his question. The point made in the Australian editorial is one of great significance to the Senate and to the Parliament and I will seek further advice from my advisers on the subject.