Tuesday, 18 September 2018
By letter dated 6 September 2018, Senator Anning has raised a matter of privilege concerning his first speech and asked me to consider whether a contempt may have been committed. As I have advised Senator Anning, that is not my role. Where a matter of privilege is raised, my role is to consider whether a motion to refer the matter to the Privileges Committee should have precedence in debate. In doing so, I am guided by the Senate's privilege resolutions.
Senator Anning refers to and attaches a media release announcing that the Premier of Queensland would withdraw funding for staff allocated to members of Katter's Australian Party in the Queensland parliament. He characterises the decision as being 'based upon the contents' of his speech and adds, 'Given the actions of Premier Palaszczuk were taken because I refused to apologise for my speech, and these actions against my party have had an adverse material effect upon me, I believe that the Premier's actions may be in breach of parliamentary privilege.' Senator Anning also drew my attention to two parts of privilege revolution 6 which declare that improper interference with a senator's duties and attempts to influence a senator's conduct by improper means may be dealt with by the Senate as contempts.
In determining whether a motion should be accorded precedence as a matter of privilege, I am bound to have regard only to the two criteria in privilege resolution 4. The first of these criteria seeks to reserve the Senate's contempt powers for matters involving substantial obstruction to Senate and committee processes or to the performance of senators' duties as senators. In my view, on the information provided, it is difficult to demonstrate the requisite connection to Senator Anning's duties as a senator, whatever other connection there may be to his party. This is both because the action taken appears to be connected to his party statements rather than directly to proceedings in the Senate and because it is not explained how the withdrawal of staff resources to Queensland state members of his party affects him in his duties as a senator.
The second criterion, regard for the existence of any other remedy, recognises that the Senate is generally reluctant to deal with conduct as a contempt where another, more appropriate avenue for redress is available. In this case, it appears that the state members directly have referred the matter to the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission and raised it as a matter of privilege in the Queensland parliament. As the Queensland Premier is directly accountable to these entities, these would appear to be more appropriate avenues for the matter to be investigated, noting in particular the comity that exists between the Commonwealth and state institutions of government. Consistent with the approach taken by previous presidents, I have determined that, while this alternative remedy is available, the matter does not meet the second criterion. Accordingly, on the basis of the criteria I am required to consider, I have determined that the matter should not have precedence as a matter of privilege. I table the correspondence.