Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021


Community Affairs References Committee

12:01 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (President) Share this | Hansard source

By letter dated 25 November 2021, the Chair of the Community Affairs References Committee, Senator Rice, has raised a matter of privilege connected to the committee's inquiry into Centrelink's income compliance program. The letter outlines numerous occasions on which the Minister for Government Services and her predecessor have declined to provide information sought by the committee and ordered by the Senate to be produced. In doing so, the chair notes the government's continued reliance on public interest immunity claims that have been explicitly rejected by the committee and by the Senate. On behalf of the committee, Senator Rice seeks to have the minister's refusal to comply with the Senate's orders dealt with as a matter of privilege and referred to the Privileges Committee for inquiry as a possible contempt.

While the Senate has generally preferred political or procedural remedies in disputes over documents, it may also seek to enforce its orders through its contempt jurisdiction. Senators will be aware that two such matters have been referred to the Privileges Committee this year. When a matter of privilege is raised, my role is to consider whether it should have precedence in debate. In making that determination, I am bound to consider only the criteria in privilege resolution 4, which seeks to reserve the Senate's contempt powers for matters involving substantial obstruction of Senate and committee processes or of senators performing their duties. They also recognise that the Senate is generally reluctant to deal with conduct as a contempt where there is a another, more appropriate avenue for redress available. The Senate has declared that disobedience of lawful Senate orders and refusal to produce documents so ordered may be dealt with as a contempt, as may conduct interfering with the work of Senate committees. Only the Senate can remedy such conduct, so in my view both criteria are met. I therefore determine that I should grant the matter precedence in debate. The question of whether the matter warrants investigation as a possible contempt is not a question for me. It is for the Senate to determine whether the matter should be progressed by way of a referral to the Privileges Committee or whether another remedy should be pursued. I table correspondence and call Senator Rice to give notice of motion in respect to the matter.


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