Thursday, 14 February 2019
Statement by the President
Members of Parliament: Staff
As I indicated at the end of question time, I have a statement to make regarding the incident last night that was reported.
As noted about the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 in Odgers' Australian Senate Practice at page 100:
Section 15 of the 1987 Act declares, for the avoidance of doubt, that, subject to the law relating to parliamentary powers and immunities, a law in force in the Australian Capital Territory applies in the parliamentary precincts according to its tenor.
That law is modified to a degree by the law protecting parliamentary proceedings and the exercise by the houses of their powers. Otherwise, ACT law applies within this building, as it would anywhere else in the territory. In short, the ordinary law of the land applies in respect of the investigation and prosecution of any alleged offence. Setting aside the ordinary law, the Parliamentary Precincts Act 1988 makes it clear that the Presiding Officers jointly have management and control of the precincts, subject to any relevant order of either house. It is through this power to manage and control the precincts that the Presiding Officers are jointly responsible for the security arrangements which apply to Parliament House and, moreover, responsible for the safety and security of those who work in or visit this place. Under those arrangements, it is appropriate that I investigate any incident which affects the safety and security of people in Parliament House. Our security arrangements and policies also provide for appropriate assistance to be provided to the AFP and other agencies investigating any alleged breaches of the law.
While this provides the legal framework to act, as President of the Senate I have a wider obligation. Senators must be free to go about their work in this building. This privilege and protection is not limited to simple proceedings in the chamber. Passholders are granted access to the building upon certain conditions around behaviour, amongst others. These conditions are in place to protect all occupants of this building and facilitate the work of senators and members.
The video footage that I have reviewed records the reported incident between Senator Burston and Mr James Ashby last night. It shows inappropriate behaviour by a passholder towards a senator. Accordingly, I have exercised my authority to revoke Mr James Ashby of his pass to access the building and prohibit him from re-entering the building for the time being. This does not affect his employment, which is not a matter for the Presiding Officers.
As I outlined earlier, this action does not in any way prejudice any other legal or other proceedings that may be undertaken or initiated by the parties involved. Given the seriousness of the incident and the evidence immediately available to me, I believe immediate action is necessary and warranted. If further information comes to my attention, this decision can be revisited and any subsequent legal action will be taken into account. I have sought the concurrence of the Speaker, and the Speaker has agreed to this course of action.
Mr President, I want to put on the record how grateful I am for your expedient investigation of this and your determination to revoke the pass of Mr James Ashby under these circumstances. I say that not because I have any malice towards Mr Ashby or anyone else but because I think those who are entrusted with a pass in this place, just as senators are entrusted with free rein across Parliament House, have a special privilege. I think that for any chief of staff or any staff member who accosts a senator in the manner in which it was alleged, there is only one appropriate course of action. I have to say, Mr President, it filled me with dread that this would be referred off to another committee or an investigation or somewhere else, so I want to go on the record and say congratulations to you for your prompt action. The term 'for the time being' concerns me because, unfortunately, Mr Ashby has quite a track record in this place. I hope that 'time being' is a very long time.
Following up on Senator Bernardi, the other aspect of this which I hope you'll be looking into is that video has been taken, by somebody with a pass, of a senator walking through the Great Hall. I think that is a prohibited area, as other corridors are as well. That would seem to have been an impingement, without going into details of the case at this stage. It's almost separate to the later incident.
As I outlined this morning, there are a number of issues here. The application of the media and photography rules was one of them. I reviewed the CCTV footage of this particular incident. I outlined then why I thought immediate action was warranted. The reason I used the term 'for the time being', Senator Bernardi, is it is clear that in the course of less than a working day there may be other facts that come to mind that would lead to me revisit the decision. I am open-minded with respect to that. I thank senators.