Citizen’s right of reply

Submissions from persons referred to in debate

A person who has been referred to in a debate in the House may make a submission, claiming that he or she has been adversely affected in reputation or in respect of dealings or associations with others, or injured in occupation, trade, office or financial credit, or that his or her privacy has been unreasonably invaded, by reason of that reference, and requesting that an appropriate response be incorporated in the parliamentary record. Submissions must be sent to the Speaker.[296] If the Speaker is satisfied that the matter is not obviously trivial, or frivolous, vexatious or offensive, and that it is practicable for the committee to consider the submission under the procedure adopted, he or she must refer it to the Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests. The Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests may decide not to consider a submission if it considers that the submission is not sufficiently serious or that it is frivolous, vexatious or offensive. Such a decision must be reported to the House.

When it considers a submission, the Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests:

  • may confer with the person who has lodged it, and the Member(s) who referred to the person;
  • may meet in private session;
  • may not consider or judge the truth of any statements made in the House or in the submission;
  • may not publish the submission or its proceedings in relation to the submission, but may present minutes of its proceedings and all or part of the submission to the House.

In a report under the procedure the committee can only recommend that a response by the person, in terms agreed by the person and the committee and specified in the report, be published by the House and incorporated in Hansard, or that no further action be taken by the House or the committee. The committee may not make any other recommendation. A recommended response must be succinct and strictly relevant to the questions in issue and must not contain anything offensive in character. A recommended response must not contain any matter the publication of which would unreasonably adversely affect or injure a person, or unreasonably invade a person’s privacy; nor may it contain material which would unreasonably add to or aggravate any such adverse effect.[297]

The Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests is authorised to agree to guidelines and procedures, not inconsistent with the resolution establishing the procedure, to apply to the consideration of submissions. Guidelines adopted in 1997,[298] revised in October 2003,[299] provide that:

  • an application must be received within 3 months of the making of the statement to which the person wishes to respond unless, because of exceptional circumstances, the committee agrees to consider an application received later;
  • applications should only be considered from natural persons, they should not be considered if lodged by or on behalf of corporations, businesses, firms, organisations or institutions;
  • applications should only be considered from persons who are Australian citizens or residents;
  • an application must demonstrate that a person, who is named, or readily identified, has been subject to clear, direct and personal attack or criticism, and has been damaged as a result;
  • applications must be concise, be in the character of a refutation or explanation only and must be confined to showing the statement complained of and the person's response and must not contain any offensive material;
  • applications concerning statements made in the Federation Chamber may be considered;
  • applications should not be considered from persons who wish to respond to a statement or remarks made in connection with the proceedings of a standing or select committee—such persons should contact the committee direct on the matter; and
  • in considering applications, the committee will have regard to the existence of other remedies that may be available to a person referred to in the House and whether they have been exercised.

The first committee recommendation for the incorporation of a response in Hansard was made in November 2003 and adopted by the House.[300] Neither the recommendation, nor the agreement of the House to the question ‘That the report be adopted’ and the subsequent incorporation, can be taken as implying that either the committee or the House agrees with the content of the response.