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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 10 Hansard (27 August) . . Page.. 2789 ..

Tuesday, 27 August 2002

MR SPEAKER (Mr Berry) took the chair at 10.30 am and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.

Offensive or disorderly words

MR SPEAKER: Members, on Thursday last, Mr Smyth referred to certain comments made in the chamber by Mr Quinlan on 20 and 21 August. The comments were made in debate on a motion to suspend the standing orders and in answering a question without notice. They related to a function or event in which it was claimed the opposition were involved and where it was alleged that attendees were misinformed on certain matters and were asked to sign waivers. Mr Smyth, in a personal explanation, stated that he had never advised an organisation to use waivers, nor had he or his colleagues in the opposition given out misinformation on the use of waivers.

I have examined the proof transcript of the proceedings referred to by Mr Smyth, together with the relevant provisions of Assembly standing orders. Standing orders 54 and 55 state:

Offensive Words

54. A Member may not use offensive words against the Assembly or any Member thereof or against any member of the judiciary.

Personal Reflections

55. All imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on Members shall be considered highly disorderly.

Standing order 56 also provides that whenever the attention of the Speaker is drawn to words used the Speaker shall determine whether they are offensive or disorderly.

In reaching my decision on this matter, I noted the text of House of Representatives Practice at page 490, which quotes Senate Deputy President Wood, in interpreting a very similar provision, as explaining:

When a man is in political life it is not offensive that things are said about him politically. Offensive means offensive in some personal way. The same view applies to the meaning of "improper motives" and "personal reflections" as used in the standing orders. Here again, when a man is in public life, and a member of this Parliament, he takes upon himself the risk of being criticised in a political way.

Having considered the matter raised by Mr Smyth, I decline to rule that the words used were offensive or disorderly. In doing so, I must advise the Assembly that I am reluctant to get involved in nuances and emphases in what, on the facts available to me, appears to be essentially a political matter. Mr Smyth utilised the provisions of standing order 46 and explained that he personally had not given the advice referred to, and it is also open to him, should he see fit, to seek to move a substantive motion on the matter in the Assembly using the usual procedures.

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