Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Word of the Day: Privilege

This report in the Melbourne Hun makes interesting reading:

A STATE MP yesterday sought to use parliamentary privilege to have his evidence against a friend thrown out.

Parliamentary secretary for innovation and industry Matt Viney appeared in the County Court as the key witness in a case against Frankston councillor Mark Conroy.

Cr Conroy has appealed against his conviction and $500 fine for divulging confidential information about a shopping centre development to Mr Viney in a September 2001 telephone conversation.

The prosecution case rests on the evidence of Mr Viney, Upper House member for Chelsea Province and Mr Conroy's friend.

After Mr Viney gave evidence against Cr Conroy, Mr Viney's barrister, Barney Cooney, told Judge Fred Davey that his client's evidence should be ruled inadmissible because it fell under parliamentary privilege.

A quick check of the MacQuarie Dictionary suggests that Matt Viney's understanding of parliamentary privilege might be a little eccentric to say the least. The MacQuarie has a fair bit to offer on privilege in general:

1. a right or immunity enjoyed by a person or persons beyond the common advantages of others. 2. a special right or immunity granted to persons in authority or office; a prerogative. 3. a prerogative, advantage, or opportunity enjoyed by someone in a favoured position (as distinguished from a right). 4. a grant to an individual, a company, etc., of a special right or immunity, sometimes in derogation of the common right. 5. the principle or condition of enjoying special rights or immunities. 6. any of the more sacred and vital rights common to all citizens under a modern constitution.

It also runs to a definition of parliamentary privilege:

... the sum of the special rights enjoyed by each house of parliament collectively and by the members of each house individually, necessary for the discharge of the functions of parliament without hindrance and without fear of prosecution.

Finally, there's breach of privilege:

... an abuse of any of the privileges accorded to members of parliament.

Nowhere can I find anything which supports Matt Viney's understanding of parliamentary privilege, which I would render as:

on the parliamentary record but incriminating to a mate and therefore inadmissible in a court of law.

Perhaps Ken Parish or one of the other Oz bloggers with legal expertise might be able to explain where the MacQuarie got it wrong.

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