Thursday, 28 May 2009
Yesterday the member for Sturt raised, as a matter of privilege, references made by ministers to the role that members have made in making representation about, and being involved in, infrastructure projects in their electorates. The member claimed that members would be intimidated from becoming involved in such activities as a result of the references in the House thus interfering with the performance of their duties as members. The member for Sturt also referred to particular electorates being disadvantaged by the government’s administration of the decision-making about infrastructure projects.
I have had the opportunity to reflect on the matters raised by the member and to refer to precedents. In relation to the first matter raised by the member, the alleged interference with members, a relatively similar matter was raised in 2006. The then Leader of the Opposition and the members for Ballarat and Chisholm raised matters of privilege following references made during question time by the then Minister for Education. The minister had made references to representations she had from opposition members under the Investing in Our Schools Program. The member for Ballarat alleged that the references impeded her ability to communicate with and represent her constituents. In response to this complaint, the Speaker noted that there was no evidence that the references made by the minister were designed to interfere with the ability of members to raise such matters in the future and as a result a prima facie case of a breach of privilege had not been made out. In this case the matters referred to by the member for Sturt may be seen to be part of a similarly robust political debate and, on the information presented, as not constituting improper interference with members continuing to perform their duties in representing their constituents.
In relation to the possible differential treatment of members in relation to infrastructure projects, I refer to my comments about the matter of privilege raised by the member for Sturt earlier this year concerning invitations to members to participate in openings of projects in their electorates. As I noted, these are government programs and are matters for the government to administer. Unless there is evidence that such administration amounts to an improper interference with members performing their duties as members within their electorates, having regard to the precedents in such matters it is not easy to see that a matter of privilege arises. I do not see evidence of such interference in the matters raised by the member for Sturt. For these reasons, and having regard to the long-established policy of restraint in matters of privilege and contempt, I do not consider a prima facie case has been made such as would warrant precedence being given to a motion in respect of this matter.
On indulgence, Mr Speaker: I thank you for the consideration of the matter of privilege which I raised yesterday and I thank you for your speedy response. Before taking the matter any further, I will consider your sage advice and take advice from my colleagues. If we wish to pursue it, we will obviously have the opportunity to do so next week.