The Senate President, Stephen Parry, has made a statement explaining what happened when Senator Pauline Hanson wore a burqa into the chamber.
The incident took place on August 17. Parry explained that Hanson had not jeopardised security since she was already in a secure area of the parliament and called upon security guards to escort her to the chamber.
Parry called for a committee of the Senate to consider amendments to the Standing Orders to give the presiding officers more power to deal with such. situations
- Watch Parry’s statement (6m)
- Listen to Parry (6m)
Hansard transcript of statement by Senator Stephen Parry.
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
Parliament House: Security
Parliament House: Dress Standards
The PRESIDENT (10:01): On Thursday, 17 August, I indicated that I would reflect on matters that arose during question time that day. These reflections were prompted by Senator Hanson’s decision to wear a burqa into the Senate chamber. Wearing this garment completely concealed her identity.
The facts as now known are that after the commencement of question time, Senator Hanson’s office contacted Parliament House security asking for an escort to ensure that Senator Hanson could walk to the Senate chamber from her office without any undue interference from the media. Shortly thereafter, a parliamentary security officer stationed near the Senate entrance observed the media photographing a figure completely concealed in a black burqa. The officer asked if the person concealed was indeed Senator Hanson and Senator Burston clearly indicated it was.
Senator Burston also confirmed Senator Hanson’s identity to a Senate chamber attendant as they entered the chamber together, and this was conveyed to me by the Clerk. If it was not clear who the person was, then I would have requested that the person be removed under the provisions of standing order 175(2)(b) and standing order 175(4). Senators may recall that I stated:
I’ve been advised by the clerk via the attendant that the identity of Senator Hanson was established before she entered the chamber.
Since then I have conducted further investigation, including interviewing two parliamentary security officers directly concerned with the incident and established that they were satisfied of Senator Hanson’s identity, primarily upon the indication by Senator Burston. The word of Senator Burston alone is, in my view, sufficient.
Two key elements have arisen from this. Firstly, the issue of security of the Senate chamber and Parliament House itself. Secondly, the appropriateness of what Senators should wear into the Senate chamber and the ability of the President or Chair to deal with any such issue.
Let me deal quickly with the security matter first. I want it clearly known that at no point was the integrity of the security of Parliament House ever placed at risk by Senator Hanson, or, for that matter, any person. The practice in place is that any senator, member or any other person entering Parliament House is not permitted through the security screening areas unless that person is clearly identified. Senator Hanson entered the building that day in the normal manner. Senator Hanson donned the burqa in her office, within the secure area of the Senate wing, prior to attending the chamber.
Now to the matter relating to the mode of dress in the Senate Chamber. The standing orders do not regulate dress standards. Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice states:
There are no rules laid down by the Senate concerning the dress of senators. The matter of dress is left to the judgment of senators, individually and collectively, subject to any ruling by the President.
That’s from the 14th edition of Odgers, page 182. This statement is based on rulings of presidents and chairs of committees from the 1960s and the 1970s and on a report of the House Committee adopted by the Senate in 1972. The House committee concluded:
… rules relating to dress in the Chamber should not be necessary and that the choice of appropriate clothing should be left to Senators’ discretion.
This remains the current practice today. In fact, I have on more than one occasion, when senators were wearing garments or sporting attire to highlight a cause, indicated to senators that I did not intend to regulate the mode of dress but asked that senators be mindful of what is worn or displayed in the chamber. On other occasions, I have clearly ruled that clothing containing logos or other promotional material cannot be displayed and requested the removal of such.
Of course, it is a matter for the Senate whether there is a need, or not, to change current practice, so I have today written to the Procedure Committee asking that it consider whether this practice should be modified. In the absence of a clear rule against the use of apparel in this way, I have no formal power to deal with incidents like this. I must say, from a personal perspective, that I am disappointed that the Senate will be asked to consider implementing rules rather than rely upon the personal discretion and good judgement of all senators. Even if the Senate were to consider implementing such a rule, the ability of the chair to enforce the order is completely limited. Unlike the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate does not have the ability to independently remove any senator for a breach of the standing orders. This is something that is well known to senators but is not well known outside the Senate. The only course open to any occupant of the chair is to have the matter put to a resolution of the Senate and for the Senate to decide whether to suspend a senator under standing order 203. It was clear to me at the time that, on the last sitting day, I could not possibly have dealt with the matter in any other way because of the absence of any breach of the standing orders and the absence of any authority pursuant to the standing orders to take immediate action. Therefore, I have also asked the Procedure Committee to consider a possible amendment to the standing orders allowing the President or the Deputy President to enforce standing orders by suspending a senator from the chamber for a period of time.
I table my letter to the committee for the information of all senators. The Senate will in due course be informed of any outcomes when the Procedure Committee or I report back to the Senate. The Senate will be the ultimate arbiter as to whether or not any changes, should they be recommended, be adopted. I am sure that the Deputy President, who is Chair of the Procedure Committee, would willingly accept any suggestions or comments from any senator in relation to this matter. In the meantime, I again reiterate that the mode of dress is a matter for all senators but would ask that the respect and dignity of the Senate is forefront in the minds of each and every one of us when making such decisions. I thank senators.