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John Harrison: Why politicians can say whatever they want, with no consequences

John Harrison comments in the Brisbane Times (29.5.16) on the supposed habit of parliamentarians abusing parliamentary privilege to attack opponents and critics. He argues that there should be better enforced constraints on the ‘free speech’ that MPs are afforded in Parliament.

‘Generous retirement benefits apart, members of parliament have a number of other entitlements not available to us ordinary folk. For example, politicians have special privileges in relation to freedom of speech.

‘Parliament is often called ‘cowards castle’. ‘Parliamentary privilege’ enables members of parliament an almost unrestricted entitlement to speak on any matter they wish. Constrained only by Standing Orders, and the wit of the Speaker in enforcing these, members of parliament are essentially privileged to defame others, both inside and outside the chamber.’

Parliamentaty clerk Neil Laurie: In defence of freedom of speech

In a qualified response to Harrison’s commentary, the Clerk of the Queensland Parliament, Neil Laurie, takes the unusual step of penning a ‘right of reply’ piece in the Brisbane Times (1.6.16). In it, he refutes the “misinformation” commonly repeated about MPs abusing their positions and privileges, and points to the several standing orders and regulations that frame and moderate parliamentary debate and parliamentarians’ speech in Queensland.

‘In my almost 15 years as the clerk of the Queensland Parliament, I have never felt the need to write to a newspaper. But John Harrison’s article “Why politicians can say whatever they want, with no consequences”, requires a response.

‘The article seeks to impugn, with inaccurate and irrelevant discourse, the fundamental right of freedom of speech in parliament. I respond not to defend any member of Parliament, but to defend the institution of Parliament itself from the misinformation in the article.’

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