Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 12 Hansard (18 November) . . Page.. 4178 ..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
says about what he has learnt from it, but that does not take away from the seriousness of this particular matter. I want to impress that upon members of the Assembly.
MS TUCKER (11.36): When I was reading this committee report, I was reminded again of the work that we did in the previous Privileges Committee, to which Mr Stefaniak just referred, on the definition of contempt. While I understand that it was the unanimous view of the committee that Mr Corbell was in contempt, I am not sure that I would have agreed with that. However, I can understand why they came to that decision.
One of the things that came out really clearly when we had to deal with this issue before were the questions of intention, seriousness and "improper interference with the free exercise by a House or a committee of its authority or functions". The Parliamentary Privileges Act says:
Conduct (including the use of words) does not constitute an offence against a House unless it amounts, or is intended or likely to amount, to an improper interference with the free exercise by a House or a committee of its authority or functions, or with the free performance by a member of the member's duties as a member.
The argument that I imagine the committee has supported is that refusing to answer a question was an improper interference with a committee, which I can accept. However, there is not a lot of argument in the report actually supporting recommendation 2 and, as I understand it, Mr Corbell said that the information would be made available later, so he was not preventing the information from reaching the committee.
I am not suggesting that was appropriate, but I think it is something to be taken into account when making a judgment about culpability for contempt. The House of Representatives Practice goes on to say that:
Provision should be taken into account at all stages in the consideration of possible contempts. It is important to recognise that the Act does not codify or enumerate acts or omissions that may be held to constitute contempts.
The houses of the Commonwealth parliament, while treating contempt seriously, have tended to exercise their powers with great circumspection. The Senate Privileges Committee has generally confined its investigations to "serious matters potentially involving significant obstruction of the Senate", and now regards a culpable intention on the part of the person concerned as essential for the establishment of contempt.
When we had the privileges inquiry looking into the other matter, to which Mr Stefaniak referred, of the staff member accessing emails, printing them, circulating them and so on, the culpable intention on the part of the person was something on which the committee spent a lot of time deliberating. They decided that they could establish that culpable intention was there. I don't see that you could actually argue that for Mr Corbell because there was no culpable intention to avoid providing the information to the committee. He said that he would, as I understand it, but that he was going to release it in a different form. If I have misunderstood that, I am sure someone will correct me, but that is my understanding.
I agree that Mr Corbell was not respectful of the committee process and I think that the Assembly does have a responsibility to make a statement about that fact. I believe that