Wednesday, 4 May 2016
Privileges Committee; Report
I present the 162nd report of the committee, entitled 'Possible false or misleading evidence before the former Nauru select committee'. I also table a volume of documents received by the committee.
Ordered that the report be printed.
That the Senate adopt the recommendation at paragraph 4.14 of the report that no contempt be found in respect of the matters referred.
The Senate Privilege Resolutions contain a prohibition on witnesses giving false or misleading evidence to the Senate and its committees. The rationale for this prohibition is clear. Committees rely upon the integrity of the evidence presented to them. If the evidence is deceptive or misleading, the value of the inquiry process is compromised.
The committee was asked to investigate concerns that false or misleading evidence may have been given to the former Select Committee on the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru.
Two matters were referred.
The first relates to conflicting accounts of surveillance of Senator Hanson-Young undertaken by employees of Wilson Security during her visit to Nauru in December 2013, a matter which has been canvassed in media reports.
According to the evidence considered by the select committee there are two different explanations of the surveillance: the first, that it had been wide-ranging and was authorised by Wilson Security managers; the second, that it was more limited in scope and had no such authorisation.
This matter is the principal focus of the report; however, the committee was unable to gather sufficient cogent evidence to finally establish the facts. The committee determined that it should not make findings against any person on the basis of evidence it is not properly able to test and, therefore, recommends that no contempt be found.
The second matter, relating to video footage of a disturbance at the regional processing centre, was raised after witnesses gave incorrect evidence, which they were slow to correct.
The further response provided to the Privileges Committee clarifies the matter, and the committee accepts on the evidence before it that the errors in the earlier evidence were inadvertent.
Accepting that the witnesses did not knowingly provide misleading evidence, the committee again recommends that no contempt be found.
The report makes some further observations about the surveillance matter. The committee was asked to investigate evidence given about the surveillance, not the surveillance itself.
Any improper interference with the functions, authority or duty of the Senate, its committees or senators may be dealt with as a contempt if it meets the threshold test in the Parliamentary Privileges Act.
There is no doubt that—in other circumstances—it would be open to the Senate to treat the covert surveillance of a senator as a possible contempt.
In this matter, however, there are significant jurisdictional difficulties which arise from the surveillance having occurred in a foreign country. Parliamentary privilege is not generally understood to have any extraterritorial application.
Regardless of the applicability of privilege, however, the committee considers that it is incumbent on those who undertake any role connected with government activities—for instance, the contractors in this matter—to deal appropriately with the Senate, its committees and its members. This includes bringing any improper conduct that interferes with the functions of the Senate or the duties of senators to the attention of the relevant authorities, the Senate or the senator concerned.
The motion I have moved provides for the Senate to adopt the committee's recommendation that no contempt be found, and I commend it to the Senate.
Question agreed to.
Mr Acting Deputy President, I am just wondering whether this will go on into the future parliament, in terms of what happens with this. I am thinking particularly of Senator Hanson-Young being able to respond at some stage.