Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 1 Hansard (10 February) . . Page.. 3..
MR HARGREAVES (continuing):
I move this motion, not with any pleasure, but rather with some regret. First, a snapshot of the facts is necessary for members to gain an appreciation of this issue and the gravity of its implications. In bringing this matter forward, I considered the events, the perceptions and not only the issue of an inquiry which had been threatened, but also the more serious issue of a possible contempt of the Assembly. In other words, I separated the specific issues of the inquiry and the effect of the event on the integrity of the parliament.
Mr Speaker, in arriving at a decision to seek your ruling on whether the matter warranted precedence, I spoke to the clerk and sought his informal advice on whether, according to standing orders and House of Representatives practices, the actions of the chair of the Standing Committee on Planning and Environment presented a prima facie case of contempt. The clerk advised me to put the case to the Speaker and it would follow that the Speaker would seek his advice on the matter of precedence. I assume that, since you have determined that it does warrant precedence, sufficient concern exists to have the matter considered by a select committee on privileges.
The essence of the issue is that, after an inquiry had been adopted by the Standing Committee on Planning and the Environment that was to consider whether a cut-price supermarket should be allowed in the precinct of the Belconnen markets, the chair of that standing committee distributed flyers at the markets which contained the following words in the third passage, "I would like to see...Aldi and the Belconnen markets working well together, to benefit traders and customers."These words indicate a preference for such a supermarket presence before conclusions were reached by the committee.
The flyer also contained the words:
Many of you will have signed petitions asking the Assembly to let Aldi build this supermarket. As a result, the Planning and Environment Committee, which I chair, is holding an inquiry into the decisions that have-
I emphasise the next few words-
obstructed this project, threatening the long-term future of the Belconnen Markets.
These words indicate the strength of the chair's preference for the outcome of the inquiry, and the use of such strong language indicates that she had adopted a position contrary to that of the government. It can be argued that members of standing committees in the course of an inquiry should present an unbiased outlook and indicate to the community that the committee's considerations will be independent and unbiased. The use of the chair's position in this passage indicates to the public that she would use her seniority on the committee to influence the result.
The following words also appeared in the flyer:
To help bring Aldi to the Markets, write to
Planning and Environment Committee
GPO Box 1020 Canberra 2601.