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Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 17 - Witnesses

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Former members of other Houses as witnesses

This probable immunity of members of other houses does not apply to former members. During the course of an inquiry by the Select Committee on Certain Foreign Ownership Decisions in relation to the Print Media in 1994, evidence was taken from two former Treasurers and a former Prime Minister, all of whom had ceased to be members of the House of Representatives. One former Treasurer appeared voluntarily but the other two former members appeared only in response to summonses. The former Prime Minister subsequently reappeared before the committee voluntarily.

In 2002, in the context of the Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident, which investigated, amongst other things, the role of ministers and former ministers in election publicity about refugees, a claim was raised by the Clerk of the House of Representatives that former House of Representatives ministers, and ministerial staff (see below), possess some kind of immunity against being summoned by a Senate committee. This was based on a notion of a supposed exclusive right of the House, and inability of the Senate, to hold ministers accountable, a notion which, given rigid executive government control of the House, amounts to a rejection of parliamentary accountability. Advice provided by the Clerk of the Senate and a senior barrister experienced in parliamentary privilege law and litigation made it clear that there is no constitutional or legal basis for any such immunity. The claim was not accepted by any members of the committee, although they disagreed about whether a former minister should be summoned.[54]

54. Report , 23/10/2002, PP 498/2002; SD, 23/10/2002, pp. 5756-7.