House debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2018


9:31 am

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

On 29 November the member for Tangney raised as a matter of privilege whether, during the inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the 2016 election, the committee had been provided with false and misleading information by GetUp! such as to substantially obstruct the committee in the performance of its functions in relation to the inquiry. The member for Tangney presented as supporting information a letter from him to the chair of the committee. The member for Tangney indicated that the committee had considered the matter and had concluded that GetUp! had provided false and misleading information to the committee and the provision of the false and misleading information substantially obstructed the committee in the performance of its functions, and authorised the member for Tangney to raise the issue as a matter of privilege in the House.

I have had the opportunity to review the matter raised by the member and the detailed supporting information. I accept that the events outlined in the member for Tangney's letter show that GetUp! appeared to be less than forthcoming with the information in response to the committee's queries and that the information provided did not seem to be consistent. I note in relation to the principal matter on which the committee was seeking information—namely, the results of GetUp!'s 2016 election survey—that ultimately GetUp! provided the full results of the survey in response to a possible summons. I also do not dispute the view expressed by the committee that it considers it has been provided with false and misleading information and that, as a result, its work has been impeded.

The task for me under the standing orders, though, is to determine two issues. The first is whether the matter has been raised at the earliest opportunity. I appreciate that this matter has been on foot for some time, but I understand that the member for Tangney has only just received the committee's view about the matter, and so I accept that it has been raised with me at the earliest opportunity. The second is whether there is a prima facie case of contempt. There is a significant hurdle in section 4 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 as to whether a matter constitutes a contempt. To constitute a contempt, conduct needs to amount, or be intended or likely to amount, to an improper interference with the free exercise by the committee of its authority or functions.

In considering these matters it is important to recognise that the penal jurisdiction of the House is significant, and it should be exercised with restraint. Although I can see that the conduct of GetUp! in response to queries from the committee was unhelpful and at times misleading, it is not clear to me that the conduct was done intentionally to interfere with the committee in a way that was improper. Also, although the committee work was impeded, I do not see that it has prevented the committee from being able to freely perform its functions and exercise its authority and properly report to the House on its inquiry. For these reasons, I do not propose to give precedence to a motion to refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges and Members' Interests. I thank the House.