Senate debates

Monday, 24 June 2013


Privileges Committee; Report

5:48 pm

Photo of Gary HumphriesGary Humphries (ACT, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Materiel) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I incorporate into Hansard the tabling statements for two reports of the Committee of Privileges. I apologise that I was not here earlier to do that when the reports were tabled.

The statements read as follows—

Mr President, I present the 153rd report of the Committee of Privileges, entitled Guidance for officers giving evidence and providing information.

Mr President, in 2010, the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, as part of its inquiry into events on HMAS Success, reported concerns about directives (known as 'DEFGRAMS') requiring ministerial approval of Defence involvement in parliamentary committees and clearance of all material to be provided to committee inquiries by Defence personnel.

The references committee was concerned that the DEFGRAMS had the potential to interfere with witnesses appearing before its inquiry. The DEFGRAMS themselves referred to guidance contained in the government guidelines for official witnesses before parliamentary committees and the references committee recommended an inquiry into the adequacy of the government guidelines.

The current guidelines have been in place since 1989. The main purpose of the inquiry was to assess the adequacy and appropriateness of the guidelines and how well they assisted officials in understanding their rights and obligations when appearing as witnesses before parliamentary committees.

In many ways this purpose has been overtaken by the preparation of a proposed new version of the guidelines. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet provided a supplementary submission last year containing proposed revised guidelines, and indicated its intention to finalise them after the committee reports.

Rather than dwell on the 1989 guidelines, the committee instead took the opportunity to assess how well the proposed revised guidelines dealt with the matters which prompted the inquiry. The committee also assessed the revised guidelines against other matters of Senate practice and procedure. In doing so, the committee was assisted by the submissions made by a number of other people and organisations, all of whom I'd like to thank.

The committee welcomes the revision of the guidelines and thanks the department for providing the revised guidelines and for the opportunity to comment on them. They represent a substantial improvement on the 1989 guidelines, both in scope and in content.

Recognising that the guidelines provide the main source of government advice to officials about their interactions with Senate committees and, more generally, with the Senate, the committee looks forward to their implementation. The committee also trusts that the other sources of advice and guidance referred to in submissions to the inquiry will then be updated to take into account the revision of the government guidelines and the commentary in this report.

Mr President, I present the 154th report of the Committee of Privileges, entitled Persons referred to in the Senate—Ms Deborah Hegarty and Mr Peter Ross Hegarty.

That the report be adopted.

This report is the 64th in a series of reports recommending that a right of reply be afforded to persons who claim to have been adversely affected by being referred to in the Senate, either by name or in such a way as to be readily identified.

On 20 June 2013, the President received a submission from Ms Deborah Hegarty relating to a speech made by Senator Furner during the adjournment debate on 14 May 2013. The President referred the submission to the committee under Privilege Resolution 5.

The committee considered the submission at its meeting on 20 June 2013 and recommends that the proposed response be incorporated in Hansard.

The committee reminds the Senate that in matters of this nature it does not judge the truth or otherwise of statements made by honourable senators or the persons referred to. Rather, it ensures that these persons' submissions, and ultimately the responses it recommends, accord with the criteria set out in Privilege Resolution 5.