Can you really say that? The power of parliamentary privilege explained

<pre><pre>Can you really say that? The power of parliamentary privilege explained

Interior Minister Peter Dutton made some extraordinary claims about the man he once entrusted to head Australia's border watchdog, Roman Quaedvlieg.

"He was a man who had prepared a girl 30 years younger than him," Dutton told parliament on Tuesday.

The comments provoked Mr. Quaedvlieg's outrage. The 53-year-old man was fired after allegedly helping his girlfriend of more than 20 years get a job in the Border Force.

Peter Dutton and Roman Quaedvlieg in 2015.

AAP

"Toilet, are you serious?" Wrote Quaedvlieg on Twitter.

"That has a legislative significance, is that what you meant?" Parliamentary privilege, huh?

Later, he added that he had written to the president of the House to question Mr. Dutton's actions.

"This is not what the privilege is for," he said.

Untouchable

Parliamentary privilege gives politicians the absolute right to say whatever they want in parliament, without any fear of repercussions.

This means that parliamentarians can not be sued for what they say in a defamation case, for example, unlike radio broadcaster Alan Jones, who was ordered to pay a record $ 3.7 million this week to compensate a family that according to him was responsible for 12 deaths in the country. The floods of the Lockyer Valley of 2011.

If Mr. Jones made his comments in the House of Representatives or in the Senate, he would have been safe.

But protection goes further, protecting parliamentarians from secrecy laws and possible criminal prosecutions.

Earlier this year, parliamentarian Andrew Wilkie used the privilege to reveal that the government was conducting a criminal case against a former Australian spy who warned of an operation to prevent the parliament of Timor Leste.

Wilkie also used the power to accuse the Crown casino of manipulating poker machines to increase his profits.

Democratic Senator Derryn Hinch sparked controversy when he appointed several child sex offenders in his first speech to parliament, defying court orders. In fact, Senator Hinch has been convicted and imprisoned for doing the same thing before being elected, outside the privilege umbrella.

Independent Senator Derry Hinch

Independent Senator Derryn Hinch made use of parliamentary privilege in his first speech in the Senate.

AAP

Protection does not only cover politicians. It also applies to witnesses who present evidence to parliamentary committees.

Unlimited?

The protection of privileges is absolute for pollies and witnesses, but not for journalists who report on what they say.

Journalists receive something called "qualified privilege", which allows us to report on procedures, but there are some limits. Reports can not be made for "malice," for example.

Politicians can say whatever they want for any reason.

But protection is linked to parliament itself. Politicians can speak freely within the camera, but not on the street.

Similarly, witnesses who address Senate committees are routinely warned that parliament can not protect them if they speak by phone or Skype from a foreign country.

A right of response

Roman Quaedvlieg has written to the President to complain, starting a process described on page 774 of the House of Representatives practice known as the "right of response of the citizen".

It allows those who feel their reputations have been damaged to complain and ask for a formal response to be included in the record.

These matters are overseen by the powerful standing committee on privileges formed by members of parliament from both the main parties and a minor party.

The speaker should refer the matter to the permanent privilege committee, unless they consider the complaint trivial or vexatious.

The committee can then have private conversations with the complainant and the politician.

It is not allowed to "consider or judge the truth of the statements"; all you can do is recommend that the parliament publish a formal response from the complainant or that it be recorded in the Hansard.

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