Wednesday, 4 May 2016
Privileges and Members' Interests Committee; Report
That this House:
(1) agrees with the recommendation of the report of the Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests presented on 17 March 2016 about whether the former member for Dobell, Mr Craig Thomson, deliberately misled the House;
(2) finds Mr Craig Thomson, the former member for Dobell, guilty of a contempt of the House in that, in the course of his statement to the House on 21 May 2012, as the then member for Dobell, he deliberately misled the House; and
(3) reprimands Mr Thomson for his conduct.
On 17 March 2016, as committee chair I presented to the House a report from the Committee of Privileges and Members' Interests as to whether the former member for Dobell, Mr Craig Thomson, deliberately misled the House on 21 May 2012, having regard to the findings against Mr Thomson made by the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 18 February 2014.
The committee recommended that the House find Mr Thomson guilty of contempt of the House because his statement of 21 May 2012 contained factually incorrect material which he must have known was incorrect and because Mr Thomson's conduct amounted to improper interference with the free exercise of the House of its authority or functions. The committee also recommended that the House reprimand Mr Thomson for his conduct. This motion gives effect to the committee's recommendations, and I commend it to the House.
I second the motion. I would like to put on the record the appreciation of all the committee members of this very difficult issue. When it was moved in the House by the Leader of the House he said:
I simply place on record for the House today that we think deliberately lying to the House is something that the whole parliament should want to deal with and deal with very severely if we are to maintain a reputation, as any parliament, of putting the truth ahead of the personal political salvation of one member of parliament by lying.
I think the entire committee struggled with this issue because it is a fairly momentous occasion to find someone in contempt of this parliament. But everybody came to that unanimous conclusion.
We sought to deal with it in a sympathetic manner to the individual at hand, regardless of what we thought of the individual given his circumstances. We put this above politics, because a parliament is above politics. Some of my learned colleagues could not leave behind their legal hats. We did need to continue to remind them that we are parliamentarians; we are not a court of law. I think it has been summed up very well in the report when it says:
A member’s right to freedom of speech is an important privilege which enables the House to function properly. The Parliamentary Privileges Act confirms the exemption of members from legal action founded on what they say during proceedings, but not from their responsibility to appropriately exercise that right. If members’ freedom of speech is to be respected by the community, then members must exercise responsibility when they draw on that privilege.
I thank the House.
Question agreed to.