House debates

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Statement by the Speaker

12:01 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have three short statements to make before we go to government business. The first relates to the seizure of material under a search warrant. On 23 August, in accordance with the AFP guidelines for the execution of search warrants where parliamentary privilege may be involved, I was notified by the Australian Federal Police that it was intending to execute a search warrant on the Department of Parliamentary Services at Parliament House on Wednesday, 24 August in relation to an investigation into unauthorised disclosure of Commonwealth information. I attach a copy of the MOU under which the guideline was made, and the guideline, for the information of the House.

I understand the search warrant was executed on 24 August and, as a result, a range of material was seized. From the perspective of the House, the member for Blaxland has made a claim that material that has been seized is protected by parliamentary privilege. As a consequence, this material is now held securely in the office of the Clerk of the House. The member for Blaxland is seeking a ruling from the House in relation to his claim for parliamentary privilege, as is provided under the guideline.

This is the first occasion on which a ruling has been sought from the House under the guideline. It will be a matter for the House as to how it will determine its position on the documents. I will undertake consultations to determine the way in which the matter will be dealt with.

On a second matter, yesterday the Manager of Opposition Business raised a matter of privilege relating to an online report from The Daily Telegraph of supposed directions given by the Leader of the House. I do not see any privilege issues raised by the matter which the Manager of Opposition Business has put forward. I remind members that privilege relates to the special rights and immunities of the houses, their committees and members to ensure the parliament is able to operate without improper interference.

Finally, I have a statement on the development of an electronic petitions website and system. In October 2015, I informed the House that the Department of the House of Representatives and the Department of Parliamentary Services were to develop an electronic petitions website and system for the House.

I now inform the House that the e-petitions system and website have been developed. The system and website have not been activated as the House will need to consider amendments to the standing orders to allow the establishment of an e-petitions system. I understand those amendments are part of a package of changes to standing orders to be considered by the House shortly.

The system as developed will be accessible from the House of Representatives website. It will enable members of the public to enter and sign petitions online and track the progress of any petition as it is presented, referred and responded to. This new development will update the petitions system and make it easier for members of the public to petition the House.