Wednesday, 27 November 2019
Gillard, Ms Julia Eileen, AC; Presentation
I am going to table a document, which is a letter from the Prime Minister to you, Mr Speaker, a copy of which I've also provided to you.
The letter does correct the record regarding the attribution of a statement, being a statement setting out the fact of an investigation with respect to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was in existence at the relevant time. I would note that that does not change the fact which remains, that there was such an investigation with respect to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in existence, but I will simply table that document.
I will just ask the Leader of the Opposition to resume his seat. Obviously, this places the chair in a difficult position. The minister, as I know the Leader of the Opposition will appreciate, is perfectly entitled to table any document. The minister is perfectly entitled to table any document, and to do so without leave, which he's done. That document, which you'll see, I haven't read yet; it's just before me now. As a courtesy he writes to me with respect to question time today, so that document's now been tabled. As I said yesterday, as much as it pains me, I can't allow a precedent for indulgences to be followed. Perhaps the best course—
Mr Albanese interjecting—
Yes, I know you are. Obviously, it's open to the Leader of the Opposition to take other action, as indeed he did yesterday. What I suggest now is that the letter's been tabled, the Leader of the Opposition has a copy of it and I can't grant him indulgence to continue the debate of question time, no matter what the circumstances. What I'd really need to do is probably just move to the next item. The Leader of the Opposition.
If need be, I will move that so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition to respond to the actions of the Leader of the House in tabling the letter from the Prime Minister.
No, I'm moving:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition from responding to the actions of the Leader of the House in tabling the letter from the Prime Minister.
What we saw today is a misleading—
I will make a very brief statement for the clarity of members with respect to what's happening with the tabling of the document. What the Leader of the House has done is table a letter to me from the Prime Minister. He provided it to me, as I said, just prior to tabling. Obviously, in terms of adding to an answer, it can be done after question time or between items of business. It can indeed be done by writing to the Clerk, as Practice points out on page 566, in which case it would be treated as a question on notice. I'm just assuring the House: obviously, if I'd received the letter earlier, I would have taken steps to ensure it was tabled, but the Leader of the House has tabled it. I just wanted to make sure that there wasn't any confusion on that matter.
I have a question to you arising from that. House of Representatives Practice would ensure that the normal practice would be that, if there has been a misleading of the parliament, the person who has done the misleading would correct the record. The Prime Minister has absolutely legitimate reasons for not being here, which is why my motion asked him to correct the record at 9.30 am tomorrow morning. Is it permissible for the tabling of a correction of a misleading of parliament to be done by another minister other than the person who has misled the parliament—in this case, the Prime Minister, in a very clear, extensive misleading. The letter is all—
No, we're not going to debate the matter. I will give the Leader of the Opposition the benefit of my opinion, because I've been thinking about it through the course of the divisions. Without trying to be difficult, let me go back. There are two things here. A minister or Prime Minister can correct an answer during question time—
Mr Albanese interjecting—
Given we have an audience, I might as well go through it once! I know the bits you know, but I think it's important that other members understand too. A minister or a Prime Minister can correct an answer during question time at the end of question time or between items of business throughout the course of the day. Alternatively—and the Practice does make this clear, and it does use that word—additional or corrected information may be given in writing to the Clerk, in which case it's treated as a question on notice. What that would mean, and I know the Clerk's listening, is that, had that course occurred, and I'm just making this factual point, that would have occurred sometime later—I think on tomorrow's Notice Paper. Can a minister, indeed the Leader of the House or a duty minister, table any document without leave? They can. There is a letter that has come to me that the Leader of the House has decided to table, so that's perfectly in order. When it comes to accusations of deliberately misleading the House, that can only be done by substantive motion. The correction is there as a tabled document.
The only other ways it could have been done, obviously, are in person—and you're telling me for the first time that the Prime Minister has engagements preventing him being here. I don't have his diary, but you've said that that's why your motion stipulated 9.30. The only alternative would have been to have written to the Clerk. That's been done many times before—that's in Practiceand it still would have ended up within this House, albeit at a later time, I have to say. I am just assuming that the letter to me and its being tabled was to provide it as soon as possible. That's what I'm assuming. The Leader of the Opposition is right—normally, members don't write to me—but the document has been tabled. The only point I wanted to make was that I didn't want members to think I'd had a letter and not acted upon. It was literally, as the Leader of the House knows, handed to me about 30 seconds before he tabled it. That's fine, as long as the House has it. My interests are in making sure the House has the information before it.
I accept fully that you have behaved flawlessly in terms of the actions which you took. The question here is that this isn't just a correcting of the record; this is a mislead that occurred—an accusation made that something was said against a former Prime Minister. It's very serious, and—
The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. I've granted indulgence on this. Normally, I have to say, I wouldn't be taking questions on the matter, but I'm doing it because I've made a statement. In fact, the standing orders make clear that I can be asked questions of administration, not with rulings. I don't want to end it in a blunt fashion, but I'm just allowing this course as I have up till now. My answer to the Leader of the Opposition is that I'm not going to get into debates. He's making assertions and he's got plenty of opportunities to prosecute those through various means while the House is sitting. That's all I can say.
Just briefly and finally, the opposition would expect the Prime Minister himself to correct the record at 9.30 tomorrow morning as a courtesy to the House, given that there's a concession in that letter that the House has indeed been misled.