Access to proceedings

Parliament conducts its business, with the rarest exceptions, in public. This is now taken for granted but it has not always been the case over the long history of Parliament. In the 18th century the UK House of Commons declared the publication of any of its debates a breach of privilege and exercised its power to imprison those who committed such breaches. The House of Commons at first was seeking, among other things, to maintain its independence by keeping its debates secret from the monarch. By the 18th century its motive was possibly reluctance to be held accountable to public opinion. It also had cause for concern because of the notorious inaccuracy of reports of its debates which were based on notes taken by reporters, contrary to the orders of the House. However, reports persisted and by the end of the 18th century they were openly tolerated.[66]

In Australia the transcript of proceedings has always been publicly available. The parliamentary debates—generally known as Hansard—are described in the chapter on ‘Documents’. People may view the proceedings of the House from the public galleries (see page 114). Many thousands of people visit the House of Representatives public galleries during the sittings each year, although mostly as tourists making single visits. In recent years the House itself has endeavoured to make itself more accessible to the public through its publications and web site (see page 124). For most people however, the important sources of information about events in the House are reports by the media; and radio and television coverage of proceedings.

Relations with the media

Important and useful though they may be, broadcasts and Hansard reports of parliamentary proceedings reach a relatively small proportion of the population. Undoubtedly most people rely on media reports for information about proceedings in the Parliament, and about the actions and policies of the Government. The effectiveness of parliamentary democracy is therefore in large part dependent on fair and accurate reporting.

Since its establishment the Commonwealth Parliament has acknowledged the importance of the media. This recognition is exemplified in the setting aside of galleries from which members of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery may view parliamentary proceedings and the provision of office space and access to other facilities in Parliament House. Because, with some exceptions, newspaper and television organisations do not maintain offices in Canberra other than those provided in Parliament House, their staff operate from Parliament House on a full-time basis for the reporting of Canberra and district news, parliamentary or otherwise. Ministers as well as Members also work principally from their Parliament House offices when in Canberra. The result of this proximity, which is unusual in other Parliaments, is a degree of formal and informal interaction.

The Presiding Officers have the right to control access to Parliament House by media representatives. Although the Parliament has facilitated media access, this access is ultimately conditional on the observation of rules or guidelines approved by the Presiding Officers that members of the Press Gallery are expected to observe. As well as covering broadcasting, filming and photography, discussed in more detail later in this chapter, the rules define areas where media related activity such as photography is not permitted and dress standards in the press galleries, among other things.[67]

The Presiding Officers’ control of media access was demonstrated in the House in 1980 when members of the Press Gallery, in the context of an industrial dispute involving journalists, declared certain journalists not to be members of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery and asked for their passes to be withdrawn. The Speaker stated that he held the view that the democratic process required that the House be available for observation by all who could fit into the public galleries and by all who could come into the media gallery for the purpose of reporting its proceedings: under no circumstances would he take action to prevent any media representative whom he judged to be qualified and competent to report the proceedings of the House from coming there to report them.[68] Misconduct by members of the Press Gallery has resulted in passes being withdrawn.[69] For example, in 1971 a serious disturbance was caused by a journalist who interjected from the Press Gallery with the words ‘you liar’ while the Prime Minister was speaking. The Leader of the Opposition later moved for the suspension of standing orders to enable him to move a motion to bring the offender before the Bar. The Prime Minister having received an apology, the motion was withdrawn. The Speaker stated that he had ordered the journalist’s removal from the Press Gallery and the withdrawal of his pass. The Speaker later reported that he had received a letter from the journalist apologising for his conduct and that his pass had been restored.[70]

Breaches of the rules by media personnel outside the Chamber may also lead to the withdrawal of press passes (see page 124).

Broadcasting of proceedings

Radio broadcasts

The radio broadcasting of proceedings commenced on 10 July 1946 in the House of Representatives. The Parliament of Australia was the second national Parliament of the Commonwealth to introduce the broadcasting of its proceedings, the radio broadcast of proceedings in New Zealand having commenced in 1936.

Compulsory radio broadcasts are made and controlled under the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946, which directs the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) to broadcast the proceedings of the House of Representatives or the Senate, or of a joint sitting pursuant to section 57 of the Constitution or to any Act. In November 1988 a network was established to carry the broadcast of proceedings and related material only. In 1994 the content of the network was expanded into a 24 hour news service on which the parliamentary broadcast has priority.[71]

In addition to the official ABC radio broadcast, since November 1988 all radio stations or networks have been permitted to broadcast recorded excerpts from proceedings, subject to conditions determined by the Broadcasting Committee (see below).

Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings

A Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings is appointed in each Parliament pursuant to the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946. The Act provides for the committee to:

  • consider and specify in a report to each House the general principles upon which there should be determined the days upon which, and the periods during which, the proceedings of the Senate and the House should be broadcast;
  • determine the days upon which, and the periods during which, the proceedings of either House should be broadcast, in accordance with the general principles specified by the committee and adopted by each House; and
  • determine the days upon which, and the periods during which, the proceedings of a joint sitting should be broadcast.

The committee also determines the conditions under which re-broadcasts may be made of excerpts of proceedings.

The general principles and standing determinations relating to radio broadcasting and the conditions for broadcasting of excerpts are accessible on the committee’s website.

The committee has a limited role in relation to the televising of proceedings, as the Act covers televising of joint sittings only.[72] The committee may:

  • require the ABC to televise, in whole or in part, the proceedings of a joint sitting; and
  • determine the conditions applying to a telecast of a recording of the proceedings of a joint sitting.

The committee has also provided informal advice to the Presiding Officers on rules for media related activity in Parliament House and the precincts.

Televising

Access to the proceedings of the House for televising has been permitted since 1991.[73] The televised proceedings of the House and the Federation Chamber, as well as some of the public hearings of parliamentary committees, are broadcast live on ParlTV[74] within Parliament House (and externally to government departments) and over the internet.[75] This official broadcast is also available for the use of the television networks. The live proceedings are currently broadcast nationally by A-PAC (Australia’s Public Affairs Channel).[76] Question Time is televised live by the ABC.[77]

Resolution on broadcasting of proceedings

On 9 December 2013 the House adopted the following resolution authorising and setting conditions for the broadcasting and re-broadcasting of proceedings:[78]

1 Provision of broadcast
  1. The House authorises the broadcast and re-broadcast of the proceedings and excerpts of proceedings of the House, its committees and of the Federation Chamber in accordance with this resolution.
  2. The House authorises the provision of sound and vision coverage of proceedings of the House, its committees, and of the Federation Chamber, including records of past proceedings, through the House Monitoring Service and through the Parliament of Australia website.
  3. Access to the House Monitoring Service sound and vision coverage of the proceedings of the House, its committees and the Federation Chamber is provided to persons and organisations as determined by the Speaker, on terms and conditions determined by the Speaker which must not be inconsistent with this resolution.
  4. The Speaker shall report to the House on persons and organisations in receipt of the service and on any terms and conditions determined under paragraph 1(c).
  5. Use of sound and vision coverage of proceedings of the House, its committees and the Federation Chamber, including records of past proceedings, published on the Parliament of Australia website is subject to conditions of use determined by the Speaker.

2 Broadcast of House of Representatives and Federation Chamber proceedings—House Monitoring Service

Access to proceedings provided through the House Monitoring Service is subject to compliance with the following conditions:

  1. Only the following broadcast material shall be used:
    1. switched sound and vision feed of the House of Representatives, its committees and the Federation Chamber provided by the Parliament that is produced for broadcast, re-broadcast and archiving; and
    2. official broadcast material supplied by authorised parliamentary staff.
  2. Broadcast material shall be used only for the purposes of fair and accurate reports of proceedings, and shall not be used for:
    1. political party advertising or election campaigns; or
    2. commercial sponsorship or commercial advertising.
  3. Reports of proceedings shall be such as to provide a balanced presentation of differing views.
  4. Excerpts of proceedings which are subsequently withdrawn may be broadcast only if the withdrawal is also reported.
  5. The instructions of the Speaker or his or her delegates, which are not inconsistent with these conditions or the rules applying to the broadcasting of committee proceedings, shall be observed.

3 Broadcast of committee proceedings

The following conditions apply to the broadcasting of committee proceedings:

  1. Recording and broadcasting of proceedings of a committee is subject to the authorisation of the committee;
  2. A committee may authorise the broadcasting of only its public proceedings;
  3. Recording and broadcasting of a committee is not permitted during suspensions of proceedings, or following an adjournment of proceedings;
  4. A committee may determine conditions, not inconsistent with this resolution, for the recording and broadcasting of its proceedings, may order that any part of its proceedings not be recorded or broadcast, and may give instructions for the observance of conditions so determined and orders so made. A committee shall report to the House any wilful breach of such conditions, orders or instructions;
  5. Recording and broadcasting of proceedings of a committee shall not interfere with the conduct of those proceedings, shall not encroach into the committee’s work area, or capture documents (either in hard copy or electronic form) in the possession of committee members, witnesses or committee staff;
  6. Broadcasts of proceedings of a committee, including excerpts of committee proceedings, shall be for the purpose only of making fair and accurate reports of those proceedings, and shall not be used for:>
    1. political party advertising or election campaigns; or
    2. commercial sponsorship or commercial advertising;
  7. Where a committee intends to permit the broadcasting of its proceedings, a witness who is to appear in those proceedings shall be given reasonable opportunity, before appearing in the proceedings, to object to the broadcasting of the proceedings and to state the ground of the objection. The committee shall consider any such objection, having regard to the proper protection of the witness and the public interest in the proceedings, and if the committee decides to permit broadcasting of the proceedings notwithstanding the witness’ objection, the witness shall be so informed before appearing in the proceedings.

4 Radio broadcast of parliamentary proceedings by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation—general principles

The House adopts the following general principles agreed to by the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings on 19 March 2013:
  1. Allocation of the broadcast between the Senate and the House of Representatives

The proceedings of Parliament shall be broadcast live whenever a House is sitting. The allocation of broadcasts between the Senate and the House of Representatives will be in accordance with the standing determinations made by the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings. It is anticipated that over time, the coverage of each House will be approximately equal.

  1. Re-broadcast of questions and answers

At the conclusion of the live broadcast of either House, questions without notice and answers thereto from the House not allocated the broadcast shall be re-broadcast.

  1. Unusual or exceptional circumstances
Nothing in these general principles shall prevent the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings from departing from them in unusual or exceptional circumstances.

5 This resolution shall continue in force unless and until amended or rescinded by the House in this or a subsequent Parliament.

Legal aspects

Members are covered by absolute privilege in respect of statements made in the House, whether or not the House is being broadcast. Absolute privilege also attaches to those persons authorised to broadcast or re-broadcast the proceedings by the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946, which provides that:

No action or proceeding, civil or criminal, shall lie against any person for broadcasting or re-broadcasting any portion of the proceedings of either House of the Parliament or of a joint sitting.

The Act does not cover television broadcasts, apart from those of joint sittings made pursuant to the Act. However, it is considered that the televising of House proceedings would be protected by section 10 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act if the broadcast is a ‘fair and accurate report of proceedings’.

Only qualified privilege may be held to attach to the broadcast of excerpts of proceedings, and it may be considered that this situation is appropriate given the fact that those involved in the broadcasting of excerpts act essentially on their own initiative, whereas those involved in the official radio broadcast and re-broadcast of proceedings have no discretion in the matter, being required to perform these functions by the law.

Photographs and films of proceedings

Visitors and members of the public are not permitted to take cameras into the galleries during proceedings. Only parliamentary staff are authorised to film proceedings in the Chamber. In 1992, following the decision by the House to authorise the live televising of its proceedings, the Speaker approved access to certain proceedings for still photography. With the establishment of the Main Committee (now Federation Chamber), similar access was given to its proceedings. Access generally is limited to photographers who are members of the Press Gallery or AUSPIC (the Government Photographic Service). Other photographers require special approval to photograph proceedings. Photographers’ activities are subject to rules issued by the Speaker[79] and access to the gallery by the photographer and/or the media organisation concerned may be withdrawn for non-compliance with the rules.

In 2000 some photographers were banned for two sittings when they photographed events in the public gallery in defiance of express instructions to the contrary. In 2004 photographers from several newspapers were suspended from the galleries for seven sitting days for a similar breach.[80] In 2016 representatives of a news bureau were also banned from the building for a sitting week. All cases involved photographs of disturbances, which the guidelines or rules expressly prohibited (see below).

The use of cameras, including mobile phone cameras,[81] on the floor of the House is not permitted during proceedings.

Televising, recording and photographs of committee proceedings

Generally speaking, committee proceedings may be recorded for broadcasting or televising, and filmed or photographed, with the permission of the committee concerned. This topic is covered in more detail in the Chapter on ‘Committee inquiries’.

Public hearings in Parliament House are regularly televised on ParlTV[82] and webcast on the Parliament’s web site. The signal is available to the networks for re-broadcast.[83]

Photography, filming, etc inside Parliament House

Approval for the taking of photographs or filming in Parliament House rests finally with either or both Presiding Officers. Earlier restrictions on the taking of photographs and filming have been relaxed by the Presiding Officers, the view having been taken that the general viewing, screening, publication and distribution of photographs and films of the Parliament, properly administered and supervised, may lead to a better public understanding of its activities and functioning.

Photography and filming in Parliament House is subject to the rules issued by the Presiding Officers referred to earlier.[84] Visitors to the building are permitted to film in public areas provided the film is for private purposes and is not to be published. However, filming is not permitted of security arrangements, nor in the Chambers during proceedings.

Any breach of the rules is determined by the Presiding Officers on a case by case basis and may result in the withdrawal of press gallery accreditation. In 1976 the accreditation of a press gallery photographer was withdrawn for two weeks because he photographed the Leader of the Opposition in his office after the Leader of the Opposition had given instructions that no photographs were to be taken.[85]

Approval may be granted by the Speaker for official photographs of the Chamber, or other areas of the building under the Speaker’s control, to be used in a publication provided that the source of the photograph is acknowledged. Under no circumstances may photographs or films taken in the Chamber or elsewhere in the building be sold to be used to promote any commercial product through newspaper, television or other advertising media without approval; permission is not normally given.[86]

Promoting community awareness

The Department of the House of Representatives now devotes significant resources to promoting understanding of the role of the House and public awareness of its activities. Educational and promotional activities include:

  • shared funding of the Parliamentary Education Office (see below);
  • school visits to Parliament House program;
  • the House of Representatives web site (see below);
  • the About the House e-newsletter on House activities and committee inquiries;
  • an electronic media alert service;
  • social media channels, such as a Facebook page, Twitter news feed,[87] and YouTube channel;[88]
  • About the House video programs;[89]
  • publications, including a series of Infosheets[90] and a guide to procedures;[91]
  • seminar programs on the work of the House;
  • advertising to encourage public input to committee inquiries; and
  • employment of media liaison staff.

Internet access to the House

Modern technology has given members of the public far easier access to the House and its proceedings than was possible in the past, when information about the House, although public, was not so readily available. The House web site[92] provides access to a wide range of information, including:

  • information about Members, and links to Members’ home pages;
  • the program of business and details of bills before the House;
  • information about committee inquiries and reports;
  • the Hansard record of debates, and the official documents of the House—Votes and Proceedings and Notice Paper;
  • the ‘Live Minutes’ of proceedings;[93]
  • the full range of Department of the House of Representatives publications, such as those noted above, and procedural texts including House of Representatives Practice and the Standing Orders;
  • the live video broadcast of House and Federation Chamber proceedings, and selected public committee hearings; and
  • video and audio recordings of recent proceedings.

Parliamentary Education Office

The Parliamentary Education Office (PEO) was established in 1988 with the objective of increasing the awareness, understanding and appreciation of the significance, functions and procedures of the Australian Parliament. The PEO is administered by the Department of the Senate, with the Department of the House of Representatives making a contribution to its funding.

Through the Education Centre in Parliament House (which includes a committee room modified to represent a parliamentary chamber), the PEO runs a role-play program for visiting students based on simulations of House and Senate chamber and committee proceedings.

The PEO also manages a comprehensive website;[94] produces an extensive range of resources for teachers; undertakes outreach activities around Australia; and supports Senators and Members through the provision of education materials and advice.

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