Senate threatens state boycott

by Chris Griffith
Published 30 July 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Members of a Senate committee have threatened to boycott Queensland's Parliament House as a venue for their public hearings, following Speaker Jim Fouras's refusal to allow television coverage of their proceedings on Friday.

The proposed boycott, by three members of the Senate Select Committee on Unresolved Whistleblower Cases, came in the wake of concern by media organisations and a representation to the hearing by an ABC current affairs reporter over the Speaker's ruling.

The saga began when the Senate committee decided to hold a third public hearing in Brisbane on two controversial local whistleblower cases. Both cases are a source of embarrassment to the Queensland Government and the state's criminal justice authorities.

The first case involves an allegation that in 1990, state cabinet sanctioned the shredding of documents that the government knew were about to be subpoenaed by Peter Coyne, a former manager of the John Oxley Youth Centre. Mr Coyne had notified the government of his intention to take legal action against it.

The second case is the alleged victimisation in 1990 of Gordon Harris, a former police officer who investigated his superior, John Huey. Mr Huey had investigated Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen during the Fitzgerald inquiry.

The Senate committee convened its first two Brisbane hearings at Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices and a hotel, but because of space problems switched venues to a conference room at Queensland's Parliament House for Friday's hearing.

The Committee had allowed total media coverage at the first two hearings, and planned for this to occur on Friday.

However the venue switch brought media coverage under the control of the Queensland Parliament and Speaker Jim Fouras, whose office on Friday informed the media that filming was not allowed -- a view totally at odds with the federal committee's wishes.

Three members of the Senate select committee yesterday attacked Mr Fouras's stand.

Senator Eric Abetz (Lib, Tas) said the ban was "petty".

"Whilst I understand each parliament makes its own rules and laws, I would have thought it courtesy that those rules be varied according to the wishes of the visiting parliamentary committee," he said.

"From now on, Senate committees coming to Queensland are on notice to use other facilities outside parliament -- hotels, council offices, whatever, and that's a great shame.

"It looks suspicously close to an attempt to muzzle TV coverage of the event, as this inquiry has the potential to cause great discomfort to the Goss government and to the administration of the Criminal Justice Commission."

Senator John Herron (Lib, Qld) said the decision was "against the ethos and history of the Senate inquiry process" and Senator Christabel Chamarette (Green, WA) said the committee "should look elsewhere" for a venue.

A 7.30 Report journalist covering the hearing, John Austin, said the ban had prevented the program from broadcasting the giving of evidence by Mr Coyne. Mr Austin said Mr Coyne was subject to an agreement with the state government that prevented him from speaking to the media outside the hearing.

Opposition Leader Rob Borbidge said Mr Fouras's decision was "extraordinary" because the state government had finally agreed in principle to the televising of the Queensland Parliament.

"It would seem Mr Fouras's decision could be interpreted as a bid by the government to reduce interest in the Senate inquiry by banning cameras -- particularly as such filming has occurred in the past in the conference room," Mr Borbidge said.

Mr Fouras could not be contacted for comment.