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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4274

Senator LUDWIG (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (10:24 AM) —by leave—I was going to speak on the substantive motion. However, unfortunately, with chamber management the way it is this morning I missed that opportunity. If I can confine my remarks—I may seek an extension—very briefly, it is a short matter and I do not want to put a lot on record about it other than that we are seeking to refer this matter to the Privileges Committee. In answer to Senator Xenophon, we understand that this matter has already been referred by Senator Heffernan in another way to the Privileges Committee for it to be dealt with.

There is a strong precedent for this matter to normally be referred to the Privileges Committee. It is usual for that to be granted to the senator moving the matter to go to privilege. It is a rare occurrence—in fact, I can only think of one occurrence where it has been denied—for the matter not to be referred to the Privileges Committee. The reason is that parliamentary privilege is an ancient and important protection that allows the parliament the ability to operate freely and inquire into what it must. It also exists to ensure the integrity of the parliamentary process by ensuring that parliamentarians and witnesses to parliamentary committees are free to speak and are free from concern. However, parliamentary privilege is just that. It is a privilege that allows us to do our job but it ought not be abused. The Privileges Committee of each house exist both to guard against the breach of parliamentary privilege and to protect against its abuse.

Over the past week, unfortunately, we have seen the most extraordinary series of events that go right to the heart of parliamentary privilege. We have seen allegations of a false Commonwealth document—a forgery it appears, in fact—used to dupe a Senate committee. We have seen testimony given, perhaps based on the same document, that is highly questionable. (Time expired)