Fact Sheet G4

Fact Sheet G4: Your Rights if Members mention you in Debate

 

Summary: Members can debate issues freely in the Chamber.  If a member mentions you personally, you may be able to respond in writing.  To apply, you must write to the Speaker and show that the remarks have harmed you. The Speaker reviews your application and can refer it to the Privileges Committee to investigate.  If you are allowed to respond, the Legislative Assembly or Hansard print your reply.

Members’ right to speak freely in debates

How to respond to remarks

Writing to the Speaker

Speaker reviews your application

First review by Privileges Committee

Full review by Privileges Committee

Drafting a response

Privileges Committee’s recommendation

Standing Order 227

 

Members’ right to speak freely in debates

Freedom of speech is one of the most important rights members of Parliament have. They are free to debate in the Chamber, without being legally accountable to anyone they mention by name. This right allows them to debate issues freely without fearing litigation.

However, the right of free speech is balanced with a procedure for responding. If a member refers to you in a debate, you may be able to respond in writing.  The process is often called a citizen’s right of reply, and the rules are set out in Standing Order 227.

How to respond to remarks

Send a letter to the Speaker, asking to make a response. If the Speaker accepts you meet the initial requirements (see 'Writing to the Speaker' below), he or she sends your application to the Privileges Committee.

The Committee considers your letter, and decides whether to review your application in detail.  If it does a full review, the Committee either recommends the Legislative Assembly takes no further action, or the publication of your response.

The Assembly decides whether or not to accept the Committee’s recommendations.

We now explain the process in detail.

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Writing to the Speaker

To apply, you must be named in, or be easily identified from, a member’s speech in the Chamber. The member must refer to you personally. You cannot apply on behalf of corporations, businesses, firms, organisations or institutions.   

Send your letter to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Parliament House, Spring Street, East Melbourne, Vic 3002.

In your letter you must claim that, as a result of the remarks, you have suffered at least one of:

• an adverse impact on your reputation, or in your dealings or associations with others

• injury to your occupation, trade, office or financial credit

• unreasonable invasion of your privacy.

You must apply within six months of the remarks being made.  If exceptional circumstances cause you to apply late (for example, serious illness or absence abroad), explain the reasons in your letter. 

Speaker reviews your application

The Speaker checks your application is not trivial, frivolous or vexatious and that it is practical for the Privileges Committee to consider it.

If the Speaker decides not to refer your application to the Committee, he or she writes to tell you.  You cannot appeal the decision.

If the Speaker sends your application to the Committee, the Committee’s secretary contacts you to explain the next steps.

First review by Privileges Committee

The Committee meets privately to consider applications.  First, it decides if the issue is serious enough for a full review, or if your application is frivolous, vexatious or offensive.

If the Committee decides not to do a full review, it reports its decision to the Legislative Assembly.

The Committee’s secretary tells you the Committee’s decision. You cannot appeal the decision.

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Full review by Privileges Committee

If the Committee agrees to a full review, it might ask you to draft a response.  This does not mean the Committee supports your application.  The draft helps members make a decision.

The secretary will advise you how to prepare your draft (see 'Drafting a response' below).  This is an important document and you must include everything relevant in it.

The Committee is not a tribunal.  Therefore, it does not consider who is ‘right or wrong’, or investigate any allegations. Also, the Committee does not judge the truth of either the member’s comments, or your response.

The process tries to put you in the same position as if you had taken part in the debate.  In that situation, you could have disputed the remarks. Publishing a response is the equivalent of you replying to the remarks in a debate.

Usually the Committee makes a decision based on your application, draft response and any other details you provide. It can ask you and the member concerned to give evidence, but this is unusual.

Drafting a response

The Privileges Committee’s secretary explains how to draft a response.  The Committee reviews the draft and may ask you to change it.  It only recommends publication of a response it approves.

Your response must not be longer than 400 words, usually 1–3 pages.  Do not attach any appendices or supporting documents to it.

Use moderate and appropriate language. The Committee understands that you may not be familiar with parliamentary language.  The secretary will explain any technical issues to you.

You can also send the Committee evidence of the effect the remarks have had on you, for example, a copy of a newspaper article.  However, the evidence must be relevant to your application.

Privileges Committee’s recommendation

After it has made a decision, the Committee presents a report to the Legislative Assembly.  It can include transcripts of evidence and all, or part, of your application in the report. Apart from this, it cannot publish your application.

In the report the Committee can only recommend:

• the Assembly takes no further action, or

• publication of your response, either in the Committee’s report or in Hansard.

The Committee tables the report and the Assembly may consider the recommendations, and decide whether to accept them.   

Visit our website to view the report or contact the Assembly Procedure Office on 03 9651 8563 for a copy.

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