Alleged Breach of Privilege - Carmen Rupe

21 May 1975, New Zealand Parliament

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Hon. R. D. MULDOON (Leader of the Opposition)—A point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise the matter that was adverted to a little earlier—the question of certain allegations regarding members of this House made by a person called Carmen. It has been suggested by you that there was no complaint on this matter by the Opposition. According to press statements made by you, the matter was in your hands, and we were content to leave it in your hands, believing that there was not the slightest doubt that you would bring it to the House as a case of breach of privilege. In this morning's Dominion you are reported as having said that you had consulted with the Prime Minister and that “we” had decided to take no further action. I do not know whether that report is correct or not, but that was the report. I suggest to you that at the very least there was a lack of courtesy in not consulting both sides of the House before such a decision was made, but, be that as it may, it is the view of members on this side of the House that the matter should be referred to the Privileges Committee, and I would like your leave to move accordingly. The statement has not been denied; it cannot be denied, because there is an official transcript of what was said, including the statement that one member of this House has engaged in homosexual activity—and that is illegal at present—and that other members are, I think the term used was “bisexual”. If that kind of thing can be said in public without action being taken by this House, I suggest to you that the results will be worse for Parliament than anything I may have been alleged to have written, or than anything resulting from it. The House having now, by the Government majority, taken what I believe to be a political action, I suggest that we look at this other matter again, and that Parliament should decide whether or not there has been a prima facie breach, and whether or not the Privileges Committee should look at that as well. I would like your approval, and I think I have to have your leave, to move that that matter also be referred to the Privileges Committee.

Hon. R. J. TIZARD (Deputy Prime Minister)—I would like to refer you to Standing Order 432. If the matter referred to by the Leader of the Opposition is put before the House, it is up to the Leader of the Opposition to give some clear reference to it. He should give the actual words or actions which he claims to be a breach of privilege. He refers to what he thinks was said. Standing Order 432 refers specifically to a complaint founded on a document. I understand these remarks were made in either a radio or a television programme. I neither heard nor saw any such programme, and in common with many other members of this House I would have some difficulty in voting either way on a matter of which I have no precise knowledge. I think it is perfectly in order for the Leader of the Opposition to raise this matter with proper evidence of the words or actions complained of, but just a vague reference to them, or even to your comments on them, is insufficient for the House to be able to make a decision.

Hon. R. D. MULDOON (Leader of the Opposition)—I think the deputy leader of the Labour Party has a point. He is perfectly justified, and so I will tell Parliament what it is that is complained of. “And, Carmen, you must really be appalled at the supposed—the lack of support for the rights of homosexual law reform in the Houses of Parliament. Do you see some of those people that you know not actively supporting any reform up there?” That is the first point complained about.

Hon. R. J. Tizard–This is a transcript of what?

Hon. R. D. MULDOON.—This is an official transcript of a television interview. “Carmen: I think a lot of them are— are frightened, rather shy; or I think most of them are frightened because I think if they do give their support and be seen on a TV or in the paper, a lot of them would lose their good jobs they are in. Reporter: Are some of our members of Parliament homosexuals? Carmen: I think there's one that I know of. Reporter: And on the bisexuality question? Carmen: Um, there's quite a few.” Those are allegations made about members of this House. Having been said on television, I suggest they are a breach of privilege prima facie—to use the term we are using so much today—and this person should appear before the Privileges Committee. I also suggest that there is a much stronger case for that happening than for what we were dealing with a little earlier this afternoon.

Mr HARRISON (Hawke's Bay)—I support the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition that you should give your approval to this question being referred to the Privileges Committee as well. Perhaps you may be prepared to defer your judgment on it until tomorrow. This matter arose at a time when the House was not in a position to draw it to your attention. However, it was drawn to your attention, I believe by the Prime Minister—or perhaps you saw it yourself. You rightly took the opportunity of having the matter investigated. According to the press report you were provided with a transcript of the television programme, and you used that as the basis for deciding whether this person, Carmen, should be brought before the House on a matter of breach of privilege. We understand, from the report in this morning's Dominion, that you consulted with the Prime Minister, but I see nothing in the Dominion report to suggest that you consulted with the Leader of the Opposition. There are members on both sides of this House who could have some concern at the sort of statements that have been made by Carmen on the television programme. I suggest that it would have been fairer to members on both sides of the House had you consulted not just the Prime Minister but the Leader of the Opposition as well before coming to your conclusion on whether or not there was a prima facie case for Carmen to answer in regard to a breach of privilege. I suggest that this action could be seen by some people as a useful precedent. They may wish to cast slurs on Parliament or on individual members, and it could be a case of “Oh, well, so long as the Government is not referred to directly, it will be all right”, and they may get away with it. I am not sure that what the Dominion reports is correct, but in the final paragraph we read, “Though some aspects of it concerned us, particularly the loaded questions which the interviewer put to Carmen, we have decided that no action will be taken.” By “we” the article meant—and I presume you, too, Mr Speaker, meant this—that you and the Prime Minister between you had decided on this. Since the Leader of the Opposition was not consulted at that time, I do suggest that a good case has been put forward by him now, and I urge you to give full consideration to the case he has made that Carmen should be brought before the Privileges Committee.

Right Hon. W. E. ROWLING (Prime Minister)—I think I should comment here because of the statement in this morning's paper and the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition. First, I wish to make it clear that I did not see the programme in question, but you, Mr Speaker, were good enough to refer to me a transcript of the programme to see whether I, as an individual member, thought perhaps there had been a breach of privilege. There is certainly a good deal of innuendo in the comments, some of which have just been related to us by the Leader of the Opposition. They were in my view very shrewdly put together, in a way to preclude any possibility of identification; they were simply comments that had a blanket effect in respect of Parliament. The transcript I saw went on to indicate that the person being interviewed is writing a book, and it seemed to me that there was a very strong possibility that this was part and parcel of a rather well put together publicity campaign in order to launch the book. I took the view, right'y or wrongly, that it was not part of Parliament's job to assist in any promotional exercise in something of this nature. That certainly was a major factor in the consideration of my saying to you, Mr Speaker, that I thought there was no advantage to Parliament—and I am conscious of and very jealous of the rights of Parliament—in taking action in relation to that text. I agree that it is a matter of judgment, but, having read the text as a whole, I could not help but be left with a feeling —and other members may have seen the possibility—that this was not a total exercise but part of an exercise and part of a promotional campaign into which we very easily could be absorbed. If the publication goes ahead and there is something just a little more specific, then the matter will be clear-cut, no question about that. What happened on this occasion seems to me to be not too materially different from a newspaper item that I recall a few, but not many, years ago; I cannot say what year it was. The question of homosexual law was under discussion in this House and a certain well known newspaper came out with the proposition that since there was alleged to be a certain percentage of the New Zealand population who in one way or another were involved in homosexual pursuits, therefore, by definition, there were a certain number of members of Parliament who were similarly involved.

Hon. Members—That was quite different.

Right Hon. W. E. ROWLING—I do not recall a matter of privilege having been raised on that occasion, though I do recall some members being very angry about the implications. Although honourable members have interjected that that instance was quite different, it seems to me that in fact there is a considerable parallel, because in the present instance we have a blanket innuendo, as there was on that previous occasion.

Right Hon. Sir JOHN MARSHALL (Karori)—The Prime Minister reminds me of the actual incident. This was at the time evidence was being given before a select committee by a person who made the general observation that, on the basis of averages, about four members of this House would be homosexuals. That was reported in the Evening Post with a headline that four members of Parliament were homosexuals. The point was raised as a matter of privilege by the then Leader of the Opposition, the late Mr Kirk, and I think I was Leader of the House at the time. It was submitted that there was a prima facie case, and the then Speaker accepted it as such. The matter was submitted to the Privileges Committee, of which I was a member, and we had the editor of the Evening Post before that committee. He made an apology, and that apology was accepted. The case under discussion is a comparable one. In the earlier case, on the motion of the then Leader of the Labour Party, it was considered to be a breach of privilege, and it was dealt with accordingly.

Right Hon. W. E. Rowling—I must confess that my memory let me down. I could recall the matter being discussed, but not its going to the Privileges Committee.

Right Hon. Sir JOHN MARSHALL– That was the situation, and if we are to be consistent and follow precedent, then that would be the case to follow.

Hon. J. B. GORDON (Clutha)—I have a few comments to add to what the Prime Minister has said. There is a quite definite distinction between what he said and the attitude of the Opposition on this matter. I did not see the original programme, but within quarter of an hour I learned of it on the telephone, and it was considered that there had been an implication that could impugn every single member of this House. At that stage I took steps on behalf of the Opposition. I approached the then Acting Leader of the Opposition to arrange for this side of the House to receive a transcript of the programme. the one to which my leader has just referred. About 3 or 4 days later, as a result of our investigations, we were told that you were inquiring into it on our behalf. I cannot vouch that those were the exact words, because they came to me secondhand, but we understood vou were looking into the matter. We had been told that in a semi-official capacity. On that basis the matter rested, and it was not until this morning that we found a decision conveyed to all members of Parliament. The allegation in the transcript “somewhere in the House” is all-embracing and we are equally implicated. On that basis alone the criterion for sending the matter to the Privileges Committee is much more acute than in the case outlined by the member for Karori. Another point to be borne in mind— and it was raised by the Deputy Prime Minister—is whether Standing Order 432 enables us to send this matter to the Privileges Committee. Probably his argument was annulled by the Leader of the Opposition reading the actual transcript, which I understand you yourself have seen. I also took that inference from this morning's Dominion. When the Deputy Prime Minister was quoting from Standing Order 432 he did not refer to publication, but such publication would have wide effect upon the public. It was implied that someone in this House was guilty of an improper practice. Indeed, as has been pointed out, at the moment it is illegal practice. The aspersion was cast right across this House. As I have already said, we in the Opposition initiated our own inquiries, and, incidentally, we were so concerned that I believe we paid for our own transcript. But, quite appropriately, we left it to you to take action. We rested our faith on you. The first we heard of the result of that was this morning. We believe we are entitled to be defended and heard from our side on a case before the Privileges Committee. Frankly, I was gravely disturbed when I was phoned within a quarter of an hour of that programme taking place, and I took the matter up with the responsible person on our side. We were led to believe the matter was in good hands, and we trust it can go to the Privileges Committee.

Hon. G. F. Gair—Mr Speaker

Mr SPEAKER—I am quite prepared to rule on the matter, and I hope members will be satisfied. It is quite a while since the incident occurred. I do not want to quote Standing Orders about time, because we provide reasonable time and members could have thought the matter was in my hands. On that ground I accept that the timing is correct. I was concerned when I heard garbled versions of what had been said, and I thought it my duty to obtain a transcript of what had been said. It took some time to get, but I did obtain a copy, although I did not know that members of the Opposition also had a copy. The Prime Minister was out of the country at the time, and I considered I should not deal with the matter but should leave it until his return and refer it to him. I was not asked by the Prime Minister to obtain the transcript; I did that on behalf of the House. The point made that I should have referred the matter to the Opposition is a proper one. I accept the blame and apologise for not doing so. I did not receive any representation from any member of the House. I obtained a copy of the transcript on my own volition as I felt I should look at the matter. I consider that the person asking the questions was as much to blame, but I could be wrong about that. The point is that a member of the House has at the earliest opportunity raised a matter which he considers reflects on members of the House and has asked that the matter be referred to the Privileges Committee. I consider that to be a reasonable request. I was concerned with the matter and was approached by the news media as to what I had done about it. I consulted with the Prime Minister, and the “we” mentioned in the statement this morning should have been “I”, as I had asked for the transcript. I do not want to involve the Prime Minister. I have been asked whether there is a prima facie case for referring the matter to the Privileges Committee. I believe there is a prima facie case. I am quite happy that a member of the House has raised the matter, and this is the way it should be done. At the same time, if the Leader of the Opposition had mentioned it earlier we could have perhaps done this yesterday. But the case has been properly represented to the House. I believe it is the responsibility of the committee, as a prima facie case has been made.

Hon. R. D. MULDOON (Leader of the Opposition)—I move, That this matter be referred to the Privileges Committee. I want to say, Mr Speaker, that I accept your apology, and I can understand the circumstances under which the omission occurred. We took it that you had the matter in your hands. We did not raise the matter with you as we thought it would certainly be so referred. The House was in recess, and it was only the newspaper report this morning that again raised the matter in our minds. We thought it was still under consideration.

Motion agreed to.