Privilege resolutions - responses to questions raised in debate on 25 February 1988

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Parliamentary Privilege

Responses to questions raised in debate on 25 February 1988

(1) Senator Puplick asked (Hansard p. 634) whether there would be any difference between publication of a response by a person named in the Senate and incorporation of the response in Hansard. The only difference between the 2 methods is that when a document is ordered to be published by resolution of the Senate copies are distributed by the Table Office to the normal list of recipients or other inquirers, but the text does not appear in Hansard. It is envisaged that in particular circumstances, e.g., if a response were of considerable length or, possibly, a considerable time had elapsed since the debate in the Senate, the Senate may think it appropriate that the response be published rather than incorporated in Hansard.

(2) Senator Puplick asked (Hansard p. 634) whether a response published or incorporated in Hansard would attract absolute privilege. A response published or incorporated would attract absolute privilege; that is why the rules provided that a response be succinct and strictly relevant and not contain anything offensive in character.

(3) Senator Cooney asked (Hansard p. 636) about the appropriateness of considering whether a person had a reasonable excuse for committing an act which might be a contempt in relation to such offences as obstructing the Senate in the performance of its functions. Resolution 3 merely indicates that the Senate will consider whether any defence of reasonable excuse is available. Of course, there may be contempts which, by their nature, exclude any defence of reasonable excuse (e.g., threatening a witness), but that does not prevent the Senate from considering whether such a defence is available.

(4) Senator Cooney asked (Hansard p. 637) whether questions as to a witness’s credit would be regarded as relevant to a matter under inquiry by a committee. As Senator Durack pointed out, the question of whether a question is relevant would be determined in the first instance by the committee. A committee may well regard questions as to the credit of a witness as relevant, depending on the circumstances, but it would be for the committee to decide, subject to any direction by the Senate. The same answer applies to a question asked by Senator Harradine (Hansard p. 638) concerning relevance of questions.

(5) Senator Harradine questioned (Hansard pp. 638 and 639) the inclusion of the expression “improperly influence” in the list of matters which may be treated as contempts. Resolution 6, as its terms indicate, is intended to give some guidance as to matters which may be treated as contempts. It is in the nature of the offence concerned that it is not possible to specify in advance all methods of influencing senators which may be regarded as improper. It is analogous to such statutory offences as attempting to pervert the course of justice.

(6) Senator Harradine asked (Hansard p. 638) whether the existence of another remedy for an act which may be held to be a contempt, in the criteria to be taken into account when determining matters relating to contempts, refers to the ability to sue a person for an act which may be held to be a contempt. The criterion does refer to the availability of any civil or criminal remedy, but it does not follow that, as Senator Harradine suggested, no account will be taken of a matter because a civil or criminal remedy is available; it is merely a matter to be considered.

(7) Senator Haines referred (Hansard pp. 639 and 640) to the inclusion in the list of matters which may be treated as contempts of the references to influencing senators and senators seeking benefits in return for the discharge of their parliamentary duties. That these statements may be too broadly worded was suggested in the explanatory notes accompanying the draft resolutions. Again it must be stressed, however, that resolution 6 is simply an indication, for the guidance of the public, of matters which may be treated as contempts. The resolution does not commit the Senate committee to treat any particular matters as contempts, nor does it affect the ability of the Senate to judge particular cases on their merits and according to circumstances. The resolution therefore does not create any difficulties or give rise to any questions which did not exist before the resolution was passed.

 

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