Tuesday, 27 November 2012
In the last sitting week the Manager of Opposition Business raised as a matter of privilege two claims that the House had been misled. One concerned an answer that had been given by the Treasurer; the other concerned a statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence. I have been able to speak to the Manager of Opposition Business about these matters but I should also report back to the House on them.
There is no doubt that a member found to have deliberately misled the House can be found to have committed a contempt. Although many such complaints have been made in the past, to date no Speaker of the House has found that a prima facie case has been made out, and precedent to enable a motion to be referred has never been given as of right. However, the House recently agreed to refer such a matter in relation to the member for Dobell. I have told the Manager of Opposition Business that on the information available to me the circumstances of the matter which he has raised would not justify departure from the position that has been taken by many of my predecessors.
The second issue was raised yesterday by the honourable member for Wentworth in respect of the term 'mendacious'. The problem with this word is that it can mean false or untrue, but it can also mean lying. I make four points. First, like all Speakers I judge these matters not only on the actual words used but having regard to the circumstances and the context in which they are used. Secondly, members may not accuse each other of lying. Accordingly, if a sharp accusation is directed to a member in terms such as 'You are mendacious,' I would regard it as unparliamentary.
Opposition members interjecting—
You can laugh all you like but this is the standard that has been set over many years. In other circumstances the word might be allowed; for example, the statement 'That is mendacious' or a reference to the government's or opposition's mendacity might be tolerated. Third, I repeat that I will not issue a list of words that may not be used. Such a list is unhelpful and does not recognise the importance of tone and context.
Finally, I assure the House that I applaud all efforts to improve the civility of our proceedings and I am sure members share this goal. I ask them to exercise restraint in the terms they use about each other.