Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 12 Hansard (18 November) . . Page.. 4181 ..
MR CORNWELL (continuing):
Mr Quinlan talks about going out into the community and talking to any community group, and how dismissive that group and the community would be of what he regards as a petty matter in this chamber. Mr Quinlan, I agree with you: that group would be dismissive of what they regard as a petty matter in this chamber, because it is no business of groups out there in the community, but it is a matter of great concern to this Assembly and its operations.
We are the guardians of the contempt procedures in this place. If we do not uphold them, how can we expect any community group to bother with the Assembly? If we do not take it seriously, who will? We must also challenge this absurd majority recommendation to take no action on the contempt, because there is an expectation that the Assembly will and it has a responsibility to do so. If we do not, then we are belittling ourselves. We are suggesting that this Assembly is not important enough: you can do pretty much as you like either before the Assembly itself, which is unlikely, or certainly any of its committees.
I know that members of committees take their roles very seriously. Is it fair, is it reasonable and, more to the point, is it right that they should have the ground cut from under them in their committee work simply because the majority of members of this committee have given a clear demonstration that anybody in contempt of a committee of this Assembly will not have to worry about further action being taken? I do not believe that this is the approach that this Assembly should adopt in relation to the community, in relation to members, or in relation to any member of this so-called executive government.
MRS DUNNE (11.52): Mr Speaker, we have come here today presumably to conclude this serious matter that has been hanging over the Assembly and over this minister since June this year. This is a serious matter. Mr Quinlan says it is "a trivial contempt"and other people have said that, as Ms Dundas said in her presentation speech, given the nature of the contempt, it is not a serious matter.
As I think all the members here have demonstrated, there is no degree of contempt: it is either contempt or it is not. As with other things, you are just not a little bit pregnant, you are pregnant. If you have committed contempt, it is just not a little bit of contempt, it is contempt. Ms Tucker realises that. She says that you cannot have serious and non-serious contempt. What we are talking about is contempt; it is not graded or anything like that.
You can work out whether or not it was deliberate. It has been demonstrated here today by the minister's own admission that it was deliberate. It was deliberate and it was done with the clear intention of avoiding questioning on a particular issue when he was before the Estimates Committee on a particular day. This was a deliberate, culpable contempt, with the intention of avoiding questioning.
Mr Speaker, I was a member of the Estimates Committee and I was present at the time when the questions were asked. The response was: "No, you cannot have that. You can have it some other time, a time of my choosing, in a format of my choosing.""Do you have the documents with you today, Minister?""No,"he said, but one of the other officials was quickly going through their papers, rifling them. They had the document.