Privileges Committees; What are they?
Privileges Committees are present in both houses of parliament. In the House of Representatives, there is the Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests, while in the senate we have the Senate Standing Committee of Privileges.
Privilege Committees in Practice
Parliamentary Privilege is the exemption from civil or criminal liability through judicial accountability in order to enhance parliamentarians’ freedom of speech to ensure better representation.
- Privileges committees act as tribunals within parliament and have the power to sanction a member found to have breached the privilege
- Could once expel members, but can now only reprimand and discipline
- Lacks impartiality and independence, often contaminated by political interests of major parties
e.g. ALP back-bencher Craig Thompson in 2013 made a speech in the HoR claiming that former members of the Health Services Union had ‘set him up’ and named them, and could not be actioned against legally. An inquiry into the privileges committee lapsed due to the 2013 election, where Thompson lost his seat. In 2016 the privileges committee came to the conclusion to reprimand him, but he was no longer a member of parliament.
Members’ and Senators’ Interests Committee
Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests ( in the House of Representatives)
Senate Standing Committee of Interests (in the Senate)
- Purpose is to make members’ financial interests transparent
- Committee can investigate any member whose private interests may conflict with their public duties