Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 10 Hansard (Thursday, 27 August 2009) . . Page.. 3783 ..
precedence for Mr Hanson to move a motion, and on 16 June 2009 the matter was referred to the committee for inquiry and report.
I think it is fair to say that privilege matters are often complex and involve balancing the rights of members to perform their duties against the rights of others affected by the work of members. This was the case in this matter. In undertaking the inquiry, the committee initially sought submissions from Mr Hanson and the chief executive of ACT Health upon whose letter Mr Hanson had raised the matter of privilege.
Upon receiving those quite extensive submissions, the committee authorised them for publication only to Mr Cormack and Mr Hanson so that they would each have an opportunity to respond to anything raised in the initial submissions. Both Mr Cormack and Mr Hanson took the opportunity to respond.
As can be seen from the report, the committee had to determine whether Mr Hanson’s privileges had been infringed upon or a contempt had been committed. In assessing that issue, due regard has been paid by the committee to both standing order 278 of the Assembly as well as the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987, the commonwealth act, to which we are tied by virtue of our self-government act. The committee also examined some other similar cases and precedents in other jurisdictions, including the House of Representatives, the Senate, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. And they are set out in the report.
In answering the first question set out in the committee’s terms of reference, namely, whether the letter sent to Mr Hanson by Mr Cormack on 25 May 2009 was a breach of privilege or a contempt, the committee found that there was no evidence before it that suggested that Mr Hanson’s free performance of his duties had been affected by the letter. It was the view of the committee that there was no evidence that Mr Cormack, in writing the letter to Mr Hanson, had the intention to improperly interfere with Mr Hanson’s duties as a member. As these two essential elements of a breach of privilege or a contempt had not been made out, the committee accordingly made a finding that Mr Cormack’s letter did not breach Mr Hanson’s privileges; nor did it amount to a contempt.
The committee was also asked to examine whether the letter sent by Mr Cormack was an appropriate response in the circumstances of Mr Hanson’s press release. The committee had some difficulty in assessing this matter, as it did not want to be seen to endorse the position of either Mr Cormack or Mr Hanson in their dispute concerning the FOI matter that was the subject of the press release and the letter. Accordingly, it made no finding in relation to whether the letter was an appropriate response.
The committee considers that this inquiry has been useful in both heightening awareness about parliamentary privilege and about the appropriate interactions between non-executive MLAs and public servants. Members will see that the committee has made a recommendation that, if agreed to, will help clarify what communication is appropriate.
In conclusion, can I thank my fellow committee members, Mr Corbell and Mr Smyth, for their assistance in this inquiry. I commend the report to the Assembly.