Thursday, 14 February 2019
Statement by the President
Members of Parliament: Staff
As I indicated at the end of question time, I have a statement to make regarding the incident last night that was reported.
As noted about the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 in Odgers' Australian Senate Practice at page 100:
Section 15 of the 1987 Act declares, for the avoidance of doubt, that, subject to the law relating to parliamentary powers and immunities, a law in force in the Australian Capital Territory applies in the parliamentary precincts according to its tenor.
That law is modified to a degree by the law protecting parliamentary proceedings and the exercise by the houses of their powers. Otherwise, ACT law applies within this building, as it would anywhere else in the territory. In short, the ordinary law of the land applies in respect of the investigation and prosecution of any alleged offence. Setting aside the ordinary law, the Parliamentary Precincts Act 1988 makes it clear that the Presiding Officers jointly have management and control of the precincts, subject to any relevant order of either house. It is through this power to manage and control the precincts that the Presiding Officers are jointly responsible for the security arrangements which apply to Parliament House and, moreover, responsible for the safety and security of those who work in or visit this place. Under those arrangements, it is appropriate that I investigate any incident which affects the safety and security of people in Parliament House. Our security arrangements and policies also provide for appropriate assistance to be provided to the AFP and other agencies investigating any alleged breaches of the law.
While this provides the legal framework to act, as President of the Senate I have a wider obligation. Senators must be free to go about their work in this building. This privilege and protection is not limited to simple proceedings in the chamber. Passholders are granted access to the building upon certain conditions around behaviour, amongst others. These conditions are in place to protect all occupants of this building and facilitate the work of senators and members.
The video footage that I have reviewed records the reported incident between Senator Burston and Mr James Ashby last night. It shows inappropriate behaviour by a passholder towards a senator. Accordingly, I have exercised my authority to revoke Mr James Ashby of his pass to access the building and prohibit him from re-entering the building for the time being. This does not affect his employment, which is not a matter for the Presiding Officers.
As I outlined earlier, this action does not in any way prejudice any other legal or other proceedings that may be undertaken or initiated by the parties involved. Given the seriousness of the incident and the evidence immediately available to me, I believe immediate action is necessary and warranted. If further information comes to my attention, this decision can be revisited and any subsequent legal action will be taken into account. I have sought the concurrence of the Speaker, and the Speaker has agreed to this course of action.