Punishment of Members
In respect of Members whom the House determines have committed contempts, the House’s power to punish includes commitment or reprimand but has been considered to have a further dimension, namely, suspension for a period from the service of the House.
Action may be taken by the House to discipline its Members for offensive actions or words in the House, but in practice these offences are dealt with as matters of order (offences and penalties under the standing orders) rather than as matters of privilege or contempt. The House has also expressed its opinion on a Member’s conduct by a motion of censure.
Apology by Member
A Member has apologised for remarks reflecting on the Chairman of Committees which were published in a newspaper, and in view of the apology a motion that he be suspended from the service of the House was withdrawn. When (before the enactment of the Parliamentary Privileges Act) a Member reflected on the Speaker outside the House, a motion was moved that the comments constituted a breach of the privileges of the House. The motion was withdrawn by leave when the Member again withdrew the remarks and apologised.
In the Curtin Case (see page 751) a Member apologised for an action the House had resolved was a contempt (disobeying an order of the House). The House resolved to accept the apology and took no further action.
In the McGrath Case (1913) a Member was suspended from the service of the House for a statement made outside the House which reflected on the Speaker. The Member was suspended ‘…for the remainder of the Session unless he sooner unreservedly retracts the words uttered by him at Ballarat …and reflecting on the Speaker, and apologises to the House’. However, in the next Parliament the House resolved to expunge the resolution of suspension from the journals of the House ‘as being subversive of the right of an honourable Member to freely address his constituents’.
In the Tuckey Case (1987) a Member was suspended for seven sitting days, including the day of suspension, following remarks critical of the Speaker made outside the House.
In the Aldred Case (1989) a Member was suspended for two sitting days. The Committee of Privileges had found that the Member had offended against the rules of the House in making certain statements about another Member which the committee concluded should have been put forward in a substantive motion. The House adopted the report and called on the Member to withdraw the allegation and apologise. He declined to do so and was suspended for two sitting days.
Former power of expulsion
The only occasion the House has exercised the power of expulsion was in the Mahon Case (1920) when a Member was expelled for ‘seditious and disloyal utterances’ made outside the House making him, in the judgment of the House, ‘guilty of conduct unfitting him to remain a Member’.
Since the enactment of the Parliamentary Privileges Act neither House has had the power to expel a Member from its membership.