HOUSE Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George delivered a stern rebuke on Friday to parliamentarians on leaks of confidential information from joint select committee (JSC) meetings to the media.
Speaking at the start of the sitting Annisette-George referred to standing order 113 (premature publication of evidence) and said proceedings of and evidence taken at a meeting of a select committee or sub-committee and any documents presented to and decisions of such a committee shall not be published by anyone before the committee has presented its report to the House.
"I have noted with great concern that in camera deliberations and decisions of, as well as documents presented to parliamentary committees, have been making their way into the media long before these committees have the opportunity to report to the House."
She said most recently the deliberations of the JSC on Energy Affairs held on October 30, 2019 were divulged to the media without the committee's consent and almost immediately after the committee met.
"The reporting journalist, one who is experienced and is a senior parliamentary reporter, gave not only a detailed account of the committee's in camera deliberations but also reproduced the contents of a letter addressed by a member of the committee to its chairman. In one instance the matter was the front page story of the newspaper."
Annisette-George stressed that premature disclosure of the deliberations and decisions of a committee, or of any documents under consideration, may be treated as contempt.
"I wish to state at the outset that I view this issue very seriously and I expect all members to do the same."
She said the work of parliamentary committees is important and can only be successful if members can function knowing their deliberations conducted away from the public can be kept confidential until the committee chooses to report to the House.
"The unauthorised disclosure of committee evidence, documents and decisions is unacceptable and will only service to undermine and stymie the bipartisan work of our committees."
Annisette-George said to break the confidentiality is a breach of privilege. She recalled that during the ninth parliament a similar occurrence was deemed to be contempt of this House by a previous committee of privileges.
"I therefore wish to denounce in the strongest possible terms this breach of the standing order and lack of respect for the privileges of the House. The undermining of confidence which will ensure due to unauthorised releases of the committee's in camera deliberations and confidential documents could be extensive and extremely counter productive. I therefore wish to take this opportunity to caution all members of this House – it may be accidental or due to inadvertence, it may be the result of negligence or it may be the deliberate release of information – the growing trend of disclosing, leaking, discussing or sharing committee deliberations, decisions and documents must be discontinued."