In 1689 parliamentary privilege under the Bill of Rights was established so kings couldn’t accuse parliamentarians of treason and execute them when they refused to raise taxes for royals – it was not so Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle could call a man a rapist.
It was established centuries before cameras, television and social media as legal status protection for lawmakers to discuss laws.
Not as it was used on this occasion as a media prop for a political opponent to destroy the integrity of an innocent person.
It was not to throw around criminal accusations that would otherwise have people in jail.
Not naming Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen on the floor for the rape accusation that he has since been cleared of is not a defence.
Did she allow police time to investigate the allegation? No.
When her allegation was proved incorrect, did she correct the record? No. Is the privileges committee investigating it? No. Did the House discipline her in any way? No.
If you agree then senator David Leyonhjelm was out of line to tell Sarah Hanson-Young in the parliament to “stop shagging men”, then, to be consistent, you would agree Ms Doyle needs to apologise and resign.
Ms Doyle didn’t use privilege for its intended purpose –— discussing a matter of law for the day. She was getting a media headline in cahoots with the ABC. That same principle would apply to the Speaker in the chair who failed to act, whose only responsibility was to ensure that privilege is not debased.
Liberal MP Felicity Wilson should resign from her Speaker’s duties for failing to rule it out of order.
The role of the Speaker is to treat parliament as the institution of the people, not the plaything of the parliamentarians.
Known as the “coward’s castle”, privilege enables things to be said without being sued; however, if the national Parliamentary Privilege Act is as thin as the Federal Court found in Leyonhjelm v Hanson-Young, then it comes back to the adopted Bill of Rights 1689.
When the former senator argued last month the court had no justification for finding he had defamed Senator Hanson-Young for repeating things he said in the parliament, he lost his appeal.
MPs cannot accuse each other of improper motives.
One of the most common insults to pull them up on is calling their opponent a liar. Rape, being a criminal offence, is a big one with devastating consequences for the accused.
An imputation of improper motive doesn’t have to be levelled at a named individual to be out of order.
Ms Doyle said: “This man who raped her is a government member of this chamber.”
That is a statement, not an allegation, in an orchestrated campaign and an abuse of the parliament to do it.
Inside the chamber, displaying signs is not permitted, taking photos is not permitted, but calling someone a rapist in the NSW parliament so far is.
Unlike other Australian parliaments, the NSW parliament has never passed legislation conferring the powers, privileges and immunities of the House of Commons.
Anyone who has been sued for what they have said in the House with such an act argues privilege isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The precedent of Mr Leyonhjelm, sued for repeating what he said under parliamentary privilege, and Mr Johnsen, blown out of office on claims uttered under privilege found to have no validity, should terrify all parliamentarians and the public. What Ms Doyle said about Mr Johnsen she could have said about you. You must have a robust debate in the parliament but the movement meant to empower victims has a real possibility of sorting grudges. Me Too has become Screw You. Now we have real victims who fear telling their stories because they will be weaponised for political gain from a faux-earnest face. Parliamentary privilege does not protect people who provide information to MPs.
The sex worker who accused Mr Johnsen of rape could now in theory be open to legal recourse. Ms Doyle used this to blow Mr Johnsen out of a job, triggering the Upper Hunter by-election, which ended up handing the Nationals a bigger margin. Ultimately, she succeeded in doing what the NSW Labor Right couldn’t – blowing Jodi McKay out of leadership and herself out of a shadow ministry. Some 400 years later, this exceptional right has come far in time and purpose from its design. Next time you hear a salacious slur in the chambers, think of the motive. Privilege was supposed to be for protection, not assassination.