Cardinal Pell was referred to the Privileges Committee of the New South Wales Legislative Council for comments he made during the debate on the Human Cloning Bill earlier this year.
Answering questions at a press conference June 5, Cardinal Pell pointed out that “Catholic politicians who vote for this legislation must realize that their voting has consequences for their place in the life of the Church.”
Cardinal Pell’s comments were referred to the Privileges Committee on June 6.
In its report to the state’s upper house, the Privileges Committee has found there is no contempt of Parliament in Cardinal Pell’s remarks, and has recommended that no further action be taken.
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This response is written at the invitation of the Privileges Committee of the Legislative Council of the Parliament of New South Wales.
I understand that the Privileges Committee is to inquire and report on whether public comments made by me constitute a contempt of Parliament. The terms of reference of the Committee refer to comments by me contained in:
1. A written media statement issued by the Bishops of New South Wales on June 4, 2007 to which I was a signatory, and
2. Comments attributed to me in articles published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph on June 6, 2007.
It is important to note at the outset that I issued the Bishops’ statement and participated in the press conference as a part of a public debate on the Human Cloning Bill then before the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. Along with other citizens I enjoy the right to comment on proposed laws on my own behalf and on behalf of the community I represent. That is the essence of democracy. Therefore it seems to me to be an extraordinary step for the Legislative Council to require a citizen to justify his contribution to the debate or risk a finding of contempt. Before returning to this point however, a brief comment on the public debate which took place on the Human Cloning Bill may be useful.
Public debate on legislation before Parliament
On 6 June 2007 by the Honourable Richard Torbay MP, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, referred to my comments in the following terms:
High profile and eminent people often make comments on legislation before Parliament. That is the nature of a democratic society, which enables people of all persuasions to voice their views.
Public debate about legislation before the Parliament does not necessarily insult the House or its Members. Comments directed at Members could be construed as reflecting on the character or conduct of Members in Parliament. However, for such comments to be a breach of privilege they must have dire consequences for Members, such as impeding Members in their duties in the House.
I consider in this case that the comments made about the legislation before the House have been made as part of the public debate on a controversial issue and have not affected the rights of Members to express their views and vote as they deem appropriate.
The Speaker’s words would be equally applicable to comments attributed to the convenor of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research Australia also contained in the Sydney Morning Herald of 6 June 2007:
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research Australia said there would be electoral consequences for politicians who did not vote in support of research that could offer potential therapy for spinal cord injury, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease, and juvenile diabetes.
‘There are patients and their families who are also constituency members and will not vote for them when the next election comes along’, said the advocacy group’s convenor, Joanna Knott.
As I understand it no allegation of contempt has been made, nor is being contemplated, in relation to the comments by the convenor of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research Australia.
20 August 2007