Monday, 3 June 2013
On 30 May 2013, the Leader of the Nationals raised as a matter of privilege whether the member for New England had abused the privileges of the House in making remarks on 28 May concerning Senator Joyce.
Matters of privilege have been raised regarding the possible misuse of privilege by members making remarks in the House. The judgement in such matters involves a balancing of the right of members to be able to express themselves as they wish and a recognition that the privilege of freedom of speech is very powerful and should be exercised with care by members. This balancing is one largely for the judgement of individual members to make, recognising that anything said in the House will be assessed and judged by the community.
To be pursued as a matter of privilege, by reference to the Committee of Privileges and Members' Interests, there would need to be some prima facie evidence that the references had constituted an improper interference with the work of the House. In my opinion the information provided does not constitute prima facie evidence that a contempt has been committed.
I note that a member of parliament has the opportunity to respond on an equal footing to remarks made about them in the House. I also note that offensive references to senators are not permitted under the standing orders, although no point of order was raised at the time. Private citizens, by means of an application for a right of reply, also are able to respond to remarks they believe have damaged their reputation.