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Bill to clarify Parliamentary privilege introduced

Hon Gerry Brownlee
Leader of the House

11 December 2013 Media Statement

Bill to clarify Parliamentary privilege introduced

Leader of the House Hon Gerry Brownlee today introduced a Bill to make it clear what is covered by parliamentary privilege following a Supreme Court judgement.

“Parliamentary privilege is a frequently misunderstood concept but is an essential part of our democracy”, Mr Brownlee says.

“Privilege enables MPs and others participating in Parliamentary proceedings to say and do things without the fear of people taking them to court. This allows Parliament to legislate, debate matters of public importance and scrutinise the Government.”

The Bill follows a Supreme Court ruling in Attorney-General v Leigh that advice given by a public servant to a Minister as part of their preparation for Parliament’s question time was not covered by absolute privilege.

The Privileges Committee, who considered the ruling, said the court’s interpretation differed from Parliament’s long held view of its privileges, powers and immunities.

They also said it could “damage the House's capacity to function in the public interest and will have a chilling effect on the ability of the House to receive information.”

Mr Brownlee says the Bill will clarify what is covered by parliamentary privilege for “any avoidance of doubt.”

“Being covered by privilege doesn’t mean that people can act irresponsibly or without restraint when they participate in parliamentary proceedings. The House is able to deal with any abuse of its own rules and impose its own punishments, which are commonly requiring an apology, withdrawal of privileges and, in rare cases, a fine.

“If a member of the public considers that their reputation has been damaged by a reference to them in the House, they can ask the Speaker to include a response to it in Parliament’s official record,” Mr Brownlee says.

The Bill also makes a number of other changes, including giving greater certainty to the media and others, as to their legal position when reporting and commenting on Parliamentary proceedings which are broadcast using modern technologies such as web-streaming. It also confirms Parliament’s power to fine for contempt and sets the maximum fine at $1000, which is comparable with most courts.

“This Bill covers various issues of constitutional significance. I encourage anyone with an interest to have their say by making a submission to the select committee that will consider the Bill,” Mr Brownlee says.


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