Wednesday, 3 February 2021
Questions without Notice
Law Enforcement Committee
My question is to the member for Hughes in his capacity as Chair of the Joint Committee on Law Enforcement. I refer to the committee's current inquiry into criminal activity in law enforcement during COVID-19. When will the committee's report be tabled, and has the member for Hughes recused himself from this inquiry, given his public comments trivialising the attack on the US Capitol by right-wing domestic terrorists who injured and killed law enforcement personnel?
The Leader of the House on a point of order?
Opposition members interjecting—
Members on my left! I'd just say to the member for Bruce: you're now warned. To others contributing to a wall of noise: you're not allowing things to proceed. The Leader of the House is entitled to the call, as is the Manager of Opposition Business.
The limitations on asking a question of a committee chair are narrow and well known. Page 552 of Practice says:
A question to a committee chair asking when a report would be tabled has been permitted.
So the first part of that question I think would be in order. It continues:
A question asking if a committee had been requested to inquire into a certain matter has not been permitted.
Extrapolating from that limitation, it's quite clear that the second part of that question is not in order.
To the point of order, Mr Speaker: obviously, I agree with the first point that the Leader of the House made, about the reference to tabling being in order. Where he says 'reference to what the inquiry can go into and matters to be considered by an inquiry', that's not what the question refers to. The question refers to, as you'll find on page 550 of Practice, the page before the one that the Leader of the House was on: 'can be confined to matters of timing and procedure.' Whether or not the chair of a committee recuses themself is a clear matter of procedure. The question simply provides, because it is essential for the context, given the statements that that member has made publicly, there is a clear context for him to recuse himself when he's dealing with an inquiry into criminal activity and law enforcement.
Indeed. It says:
The Speaker has ruled out of order a question to a chair which asked that the committee examine certain matters. Questions concerning statements by a committee chair are not permitted—
That is clearly part and parcel of the second part of that question. No matter how they wish to try and dress that up otherwise, the second part of that question is clearly not in order.
I'll rule on this very quickly. The principles around these questions, as both the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business have outlined and we've had cause to outline in the past, are that to a private member who's the chair of a committee, the opportunities to question are very limited and narrow, and they really do go to timing and procedure. What flows from that is, really, not an ability to talk at great length other than to just provide the information on timing and procedure. I am going to rule the question in order. Certainly the second part is very arguable, I agree with that. The second part is arguable, but it is still a matter of procedure. It's a very straightforward question really that, for the benefit of all members, goes to when the report will be tabled and whether or not the chair has taken action or not. So it's really quite straightforward. I'd just say to the member for Hughes: you're going to have to wait a second, because it's important for how our committees operate. The question does, certainly the statements within the question—
Opposition members interjecting—
Members on my left! The member for Gorton—the member for Rankin will leave under 94(a). I'm trying to rule on the matter, okay?
An opposition member interjecting—
No, it's just a constant clatter of interjections.
The member for Rankin then left the chamber.
There are parts of the question that I know the opposition's relating to the in-order parts of the question that should be ignored, which are about his previous statements. That's absolutely right. The Leader of the House is right about that. What the question cannot ask the chair of a committee to do is to go to committee proceedings that have not been reported to the House. So I'm making that clear for the benefit of all members, particularly for the member who I'm now calling to answer the question, the member for Hughes.
To the member for Macnamara, I welcome your interest in the law enforcement committee's work. The committee, yes, is conducting an inquiry, and we've received many very informed submissions. We've yet to set a date for reporting, but I look forward to sitting down with the deputy chair of the committee, the member for Cowan, and we'll work that out and we'll inform you in due course.