Senate debates

Thursday, 22 March 2012


Privileges Committee; Report

3:32 pm

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the 151st report of the Committee of Privileges, entitled Possible imposition of a penalty on, or interference with, a witness before the Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

by leave—I move:

That the Senate endorse the findings at paragraph 1.73 of the report and the conclusion, at paragraph 1.74, that a contempt should not be found in regard to the matter referred.

The committee reports to the Senate on a matter arising from the removal of a person from positions held in an organisation after he gave evidence as a representative of that organisation at an in camera hearing of the Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee in March of last year.

The committee regards the protection of persons providing information to the Senate and, in particular, of witnesses before parliamentary committees as the most important duty of the Senate in determining possible contempts. Any suggestion that a penalty has been imposed upon a witness as a result of giving evidence to a parliamentary committee is therefore treated with the utmost seriousness.

The committee's attention was drawn to a number of actions which are capable of being treated by the Senate as contempts. However, the committee has been unable to conclusively establish the facts of the matter, which primarily turn on the content of a private conversation. In those circumstances, the committee cannot recommend that a contempt be found. The committee considers, however, that the combination of events involved contributed to an atmosphere in which the witness might, with good justification, have been concerned that action was being taken against him because of his evidence. While not recommending that a contempt be found, the committee considers that the organisation involved should formally apologise to the witness for the way in which this matter was handled.

Mr Deputy President, you might note that I am tabling this report as the deputy chair of the Committee of Privileges because, as I am sure you know, we have recently had a change in membership of the committee. I do take this opportunity on behalf of the committee to thank the outgoing chair, Senator Johnston, for his exemplary work in chairing the Committee of Privileges, and doing so in a very cooperative and non-partisan fashion that, of course, is the very strong tradition of the committee. I would also take the opportunity to welcome Senator Humphries to the committee and note that, at a meeting earlier today, Senator Humphries was elected as the committee's new chair—so I do not think you will be seeing me do this again very often as the committee's deputy chair.

The effect of the motion that I have moved is for the Senate to endorse the committee's findings on this matter and its conclusion that a contempt not be found, and I commend the motion to the Senate. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.