The Australian Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987
16.13In Australia, article IX of the Bill of Rights applies to the Commonwealth Parliament by virtue of section 49 of the Australian constitution. In 1985, the issue was raised in connection with the case of R v Murphy.1 Parties in that case were permitted to make use of evidence given (some of it in private and unpublished) to committees of the legislature and witnesses were cross-examined on the evidence they had given to such committees. The court held that the provisions of article IX should be interpreted in the (restricted) sense that the exercise of the freedom of speech given to Members and witnesses may not be challenged by way of court or similar process having legal consequences for such persons because they had exercised that freedom. In other words, article IX was restricted to preventing parliamentary proceedings from being the cause of an action: it did not inhibit proceedings from being used in support of an action. The effect of the judgment was substantially reversed by the Australian Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 which in general restored on a statutory basis the previous understanding of the meaning of article IX, defined ‘proceedings in Parliament’ (see paras 13.10 –13.15 ) and made certain provisions regarding the extent to which courts might concern themselves with such proceedings.
In 1995, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council concluded that the Australian Act ‘declares what had been previously regarded as the effect of article IX’ and the relevant subsection of s 16 of that Act (see para 3.11, fn 5) ‘is the true principle to be applied’.2