Page 139 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 8 December 2004

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evidence that is currently subject to appeal, fine; that would be wrong. But we are not doing that; we are talking about matters of principle in relation to the crucial role of the Attorney-General. He has a role as a politician, but he has another role. Sometimes he needs to go against his own colleagues, because of the nature of his role. It is not a purely political role: he is also the first law officer. The fact that in this instance the attorney is also a witness is crucially important.

This motion is in relation to what he has done as Attorney-General, not as Chief Minister. That might well be very relevant in terms of facts before the coronial inquest—I do not know—or in terms of, say, the appeal to the Supreme Court. What this motion deals with is his role as attorney, and absolutely pertinent to that is the fact that there is no precedent, even if he is a witness, for this happening at all. We say that is even more relevant—and Dr Freckleton and, I think, other people, agree—that there is as much as anything here a conflict of interest. So, Mr Speaker, with respect, we dissent from your ruling and we would ask you to reconsider that; otherwise, it really does completely stymie an important debate in this place.

MR STANHOPE (Ginninderra—Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Environment and Minister for Arts, Heritage and Indigenous Affairs) (11.24): Mr Speaker, the opposition, in its determination to pursue a perceived short-term political gain—in other words, to get into the gutter—really is distorting quite completely and in a most disingenuous way the sub judice rule and your role.

Page 495 of House of Representatives Practice, which I think Mr Seselja relied on in his intervention earlier, contains, of course, more than just the paragraph that Mr Seselja referred to. Why would we be surprised at that? Mr Speaker, House of Representatives Practice, on which you relied, and relied quite rightly in the direction you gave, indicates that the basic features of the sub judice rule are that:

The application of the sub judice convention is subject to the discretion of the Chair at all times.

That is the basis on which it has been applied ever since it was established 160 or 170 years ago in the House of Commons: the chair has the discretion in relation to its application. You have applied your discretion in this case, as you are entitled to do, Mr Speaker. It goes on:

The Chair—

In applying that discretion—

should always have regard to the basic rights and interests of Members in being able to raise and discuss matters of concern in the House. Regard needs to be had to the interests of persons who may be involved in court proceedings and to the separation of responsibilities between the Parliament and the judiciary.

House of Representatives Practice goes on:

As a general rule, matters before the criminal courts should not be referred to from the time a person is charged until a sentence, if any, has been announced; and the

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