Liberal MP Russell Broadbent has announced he will resign as chair of the privileges committee and has called for an investigation into an alleged breach of confidentiality revealing its deliberations on Christian Porter.
On Monday Guardian Australia revealed the powerful parliamentary committee had cleared Porter over his declaration that a trust part-paid his legal fees with money from undisclosed sources. Nevertheless, it concluded rules should be overhauled to uphold the “intent and integrity” of the register of interests.
On Tuesday Broadbent tabled that report and the Guardian story, which he said contained “details of the committee’s report and deliberations”, a matter of “considerable concern” to him as chair.
“It is clear this article is the result of the unauthorised disclosure of information contained in the report and the committee’s private deliberations,” he told the House of Representatives.
Broadbent warned that unauthorised disclosure of committee proceedings is prohibited, and may amount to contempt of the house where it causes or is likely to cause substantial interference with the House or committee system.
He raised the alleged leak “as a matter of privileges”, indicating that he intends to ask the committee “to investigate this apparent breach in the first instance and report back to the House”.
“Clearly the privileges committee confidence has been surely offended.
“This is an important committee of the House, where someone has decided to use the committee as a dirty rag and throw it in the bin.
“The walls of the integrity, intention and spirit of the committee has been breached and I take full responsibility for that breach.”
Broadbent told the House he intends to tender his resignation as chair of the committee at the first meeting in the next sitting of parliament in the new year, “allowing the prime minister … to appoint a chair that will have the confidence of all the committee”.
Warren Snowdon, a Labor member of the committee, told the House he did not think Broadbent needed to “fall on his sword” over the alleged leak.
“I have no idea what the explanation is as to why this matter was leaked into the Guardian,” he said.
Snowdon agreed that it was “appropriate” to raise the alleged leak as a matter of privilege, but asked Broadbent to reconsider his intention to resign.
He cited Labor members’ “great respect” for him and assured Broadbent he had the confidence of the committee.
The health minister, Greg Hunt, confirmed Broadbent has the “full, complete and absolute confidence” of the government and encouraged him to reconsider his resignation.
Liberal Kevin Andrews, the father of the House as its longest-serving MP, said what had happened was “absolutely regrettable” but it was “not the fault” of Broadbent.
Andrews added the Coalition supported Broadbent’s chairmanship, describing him as “one of the most honourable people who sit in the parliament”.
In September Porter updated the register of interests, revealing the trust part-paid his legal fees for his defamation case against the ABC and reporter Louise Milligan.
In October, the Morrison government blocked a move to refer Porter to the privileges committee by asking it to consider the rules on funding legal cases generally. But the committee continued to examine a complaint from the shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, into Porter’s disclosure.
Porter maintains he has properly disclosed his interests in accordance with the rules and the ministerial standards, but he resigned as a minister in September on the basis the issue had become an “unhelpful distraction” for the government.
The register of interest rules require MPs to declare “registrable interests of which the member is aware” including gifts worth more than $750 from official sources or more than $300 from other sources.
But the rules also state that gifts from other sources “need not be registered unless the member judges that an appearance of conflict of interest may be seen to exist”.
The privileges committee report noted that Porter had responded to Dreyfus’s complaint in a letter received on 17 November.
“Having carefully considered the information provided, the committee concludes that the declaration by the member for Pearce was consistent with his obligations,” it said.
“However, the committee considers all members should seek to provide the greatest level of transparency in the disclosure of the source of gifts received by them.”
According to explanatory notes to the rules, members are urged to “bear in mind the purpose and spirit” of the register of interests.
The report noted that guidance but concluded the current arrangements were “inadequate”.
“The committee considers that additional detail within the requirements of the register would assist members in meeting the expectations of the House.
“Therefore, as a result of our deliberations the committee has begun work on changes we believe are necessary to the requirements of the register … in order to ensure the requirements more comprehensively reflect the intent and integrity of the register.”