Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Privileges and Members' Interests Committee
Mr Speaker, I wish to draw attention to and raise a matter of privilege concerning the report of the Committee of Privileges and Members' Interests that I have just presented. An article appeared on the Guardian website yesterday evening, which contained details of the committee's report and its deliberations. It is clear that this article is the result of the unauthorised disclosure of information contained in the report and the committee's private deliberations. I present a copy of the article, by Paul Karp of the Guardian, titled 'Rules that allowed Christian Porter to keep donors secret should be overhauled, committee finds.' This is a matter of considerable concern to me as chair of the committee. Members will be aware that, under the standing orders and the Parliamentary Privileges Act, unauthorised disclosure of committee documents and proceedings are prohibited and may amount to a contempt of the House where the disclosure causes or is likely to cause substantial interference with the work of the House or the committee system. In accordance with established practice, I intend for the committee to investigate this apparent breach in the first instance and report back to the House.
It is not the title but the task. It is not the office; it's the outcome. Clearly, the Privileges Committee's confidence has been surely offended. This is an important committee of the House where someone has decided to use the committee as a dirty rag and throw it in the bin. The article in the Guardian suggests the committee is partisan. It is not. There has never been a vote held in that committee under my stewardship. Any conversation around the timing and tabling of the report was my error—mine alone, no other's. The walls of the integrity, intention and spirit of the committee have been breached, and I take full responsibility for that breach.
Having regard to the integrity of the work of the committee and its important place in this House, I intend that on the first meeting in the next sitting—that is, the first sitting next year—I will tender my resignation as chair, allowing the Prime Minister of this nation to appoint a chair who will have the confidence of all the committee.
I just want to make some comments about the contribution by the chair of the Privileges Committee. I don't think it's a matter for him to fall on his sword over. I would say to him that I have been on this committee for many years, over various iterations, going back some time, and, I have to say, the committee under the stewardship of the member for Monash has operated in a completely bipartisan way, with cooperation from everyone on the committee, with great respect for the member for Monash's leadership. I have no idea what the explanation is as to why this matter was leaked to the Guardian, but I concur with you, Member for Monash, on its inference around how the committee operates. I think it is appropriate that you raise it with the Speaker as a matter of privilege.
I would ask you most sincerely to reconsider your decision to tender your resignation at the next sitting of the committee. I don't have my other committee comrades from this side of the House in the chamber, but I am certain that I'm speaking on their behalf as well as on behalf of your own party members who are on that committee. Please understand that there is great respect for you in your committee role. This committee, as you rightly pointed out, is a very important committee. It has dealt with a number of very serious allegations, the most recent of which you have tabled today. Those deliberations were held collegiately and were well informed with good advice. I ask you to reconsider your decision. Understand that you have the confidence of the committee.
I wish to associate myself with the remarks of the member for Lingiari and note that the government joins with the opposition in expressing full, complete and absolute confidence in the leadership and work of the member for Monash as the chair of the Privileges Committee. We would equally encourage him to reflect and reconsider. His respect and standing are immense.
Can I add to the words of the member for Lingiari. I speak as the Father of the House in this regard and as a long-term member of the Privileges Committee. What has happened is absolutely regrettable, but it's not the fault of the member for Monash. I would join with and concur with the member for Lingiari, and I am certain I speak for the other coalition members of the Privileges Committee—one of whom is here, the member for North Sydney—in saying that we support the chairmanship of this committee by the member for Monash. I, too, would ask him to reconsider. The member for Monash is one of the most honourable people who sit in this parliament; that is my long experience of him. I don't always agree with him, but I hold him in the utmost respect. His leadership of this committee as chair has been exemplary. As I said, what has regrettably leaked into the media is not his fault in any way. It should not be the burden of him leaving the position he has. He has the utmost respect of the members of the committee.