Senate debates

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Privilege

3:05 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the President's statement.

As chair of the Senate Privileges Committee, I welcome your statement and thank you for providing the committee with a briefing on this matter at a meeting this morning. Since its inquiry into an incident involving the improper use of the parliament CCTV system in 2014, the committee has taken a close interest in the administration of security systems in Parliament House and the policies that underpin that administration. In its 160th report on that matter, the committee concluded that the problems with the administration of the code which became subject of the committee's inquiry arose principally through interpretations of the code which gave insufficient weight to the ordinary meaning of its language; interpretations which gave insufficient consideration to the code's security focus and the context in which it was introduced and operates; a disregard for the powers, privileges and immunities of the parliament which necessarily constrained administrative action under the code; and a failure to recognise that decisions about the application of privilege are matters for the parliament, not for parliamentary administration.

In that report on the CCTV matter, the committee called for the CCTV Code of Practice to be revised in a manner which restores the focus on matters of security and safety and emphasises accountability to presiding officers and the parliament, with appropriate regard for the primacy of the powers, privileges and immunities of the houses and their members. Further, after a number of helpful discussions with your predecessor and yourself, the committee formed the more general view that policies for the administration of security and information systems in Parliament House should specify that the administration of the system and the powers given to officers under such policies are subject to the powers, privileges and immunities of a house and their members and indicate that the houses may treat any improper interference with a house, a parliamentary committee or a member or a senator as a contempt.

The committee noted at paragraph 3.43 in its 160th report:

The accountability required in an instrument like the CCTV Code of Practice is not a bureaucratic or technical requirement. The purpose of those accountability requirements is to ensure that decisions are made by the right people, and that they are made in any informed way. The CCTV system is managed by DPS, under the authority of the Presiding Officers, but its operation is necessarily constrained by the powers and immunities of the Houses and their members. When a conflict arises—or appears to arise—between the exercise of an administrative function and any aspect of those powers and immunities, the committee considers that determination of that conflict must begin with accountability to the source of the power being exercised.

I appreciate, Mr President, that you have undertaken to apply these principles in the implementation of an interim policy for the EACS and in developing a final policy in conjunction with a working group of senators and members.

On behalf of the Privileges Committee, I also note and appreciate your willingness to provide reports on requests to access data retained by the EACS to both the Appropriations, Staffing and Security Committee and the Committee of Privileges at the same time as you approve such access. This will ensure that senators are informed of the uses and requests for the data maintained by the system. From the perspective of the opposition, I flag we have identified a number of concerns about the way in which the new swipe-card system was initiated and rolled out. The opposition will be making further comment about those matters when the Senate returns in September.

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