Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2011 Week 13 Hansard (Thursday, 17 November 2011) . . Page.. 5512 ..
nominee for the position of Auditor-General. The committee subsequently received a copy of relevant extracts from the minutes of the committee which, at the request of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, were not authorised for publication.
The committee discussed extensively whether it would hold public hearings. It noted that of the eight previous privileges inquiries the Assembly has conducted since self-government, three had been conducted using only written evidence and five committees had conducted public hearings. As the committee considered that it had sufficient evidence to determine whether a contempt had been committed, it resolved not to hold public hearings.
I think it is worth going to practice and custom in terms of the operation of legislatures, which I think is relevant to this matter and it is listed in the report. The practices and procedures of the legislature are governed by its constitution. In the Assembly’s case, this is the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1989, the standing orders and any other relevant legislation.
However, the legislation and the standing orders cannot hope to cover all aspects of the legislature’s operation. As stated in May:
Even today, however, when more and more detail is written into the standing orders of the House of Commons, much the greater part of that existing practice is still not to be found there.
Therefore, as it says in the report:
… where the law or the standing orders are silent on what should be done recourse is made to practice and precedent.
I think that goes to the very heart of this matter we are looking at. I turn to the matters under investigation. The first matter was:
… the announcement by the Chief Minister, in a press release, of the government’s proposed nominee for the position of Auditor-General …
The committee was asked to investigate whether there had been improper interference with the free exercise of authority by an Assembly committee. Again, referring to Assembly practice on this matter, standing order 278(c) requires any privilege committee to consider whether a person who committed any act which may be held to be in contempt knowingly committed that act or had any reasonable excuse for the commission of that act.
In assessing this issue, the committee considered that whilst the issuing of the press release prior to the finalisation of the consultation process with the relevant committee was unprecedented and unhelpful, there was no evidence before it that suggests the action was an attempt to improperly influence the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
Therefore, having regard to all the evidence before it, the committee considers that the issuing of a press release by the Chief Minister prior to the Standing Committee on