Carol Mills breaks silence on row over House of Commons post

She was the subject of an email sent by the clerk of the Senate to the House of Commons, warning against her appointment

The Australian parliamentary officer at the centre of a bitter dispute in Australia and Britain over efforts to appoint her as clerk of the House of Commons has broken her silence about the affair.

Carol Mills, currently the secretary of the Australian department of parliamentary services, was the subject of an extraordinary email sent by the clerk of the Senate to Britain’s House of Commons, warning against her appointment because Mills had “no parliamentary knowledge or experience”.

Mills’s name has been passed to Downing Street, which normally passes recommended names for such appointments to the Queen for her approval, but the controversy over the issue in Britain means it has not yet been approved.

Mills said she was “disappointed to read an email reportedly from the clerk of the Senate, one of my peers at the Parliament of Australia, in the media.”

“It would not be appropriate for me to comment further in a personal capacity at this time. As a senior parliamentary officer, I take seriously my responsibilities to promote and uphold the values and code of conduct articulated in the Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary Service Act 1999,” she said.

In her email, sent to the outgoing clerk of the House of Commons, Sir Robert Rogers, Rosemary Laing raised a highly controversial incident in which the Department of Parliamentary Services confirmed it had used CCTV cameras, which are supposed to be used only for security and to prosecute illegal activity, to retrace the movements of a DPS employee and recorded her pushing an envelope under the door of a senator’s office during a late night visit to parliament house.

The incident has been referred to the Senate privileges committee for inquiry, but in her email, Laing said: “I was surprised that a resignation did not follow.”

Mills said her Department of Parliamentary Services “looks forward to the opportunity to explain to the [privileges] committee the basis of its view that use of the CCTV footage was in fact authorised, and wholly consistent with parliamentary privilege.”

“Until such a time as the committee completes its inquiry and report, it would not be appropriate for DPS to make any public statement on this incident beyond noting that the department does not accept the accuracy of some reports on this matter,” she said.

The incident angered the senator involved, veteran former Labor minister John Faulkner, who said it was “a massive, massive breach of proper process” and amounted to being “spied on”.

Mills conceded in May that “there may have been some inadvertent conflict between staff management issues and the principles of the free use of everything in the building for members and senators”.

The row over attempts by the House of Commons speaker, John Bercow, to appoint Mills to the position continues in Britain where two former Labour foreign secretaries, who served as leaders of the House of Commons under Tony Blair, are supporting a cross-party campaign calling for Mills to face a confirmation hearing before a parliamentary select committee.

Bercow is facing intense pressure over the decision of a six-strong cross-party panel to appoint Mills as clerk and chief executive of the Commons. MPs on all sides of the house believe that, while Mills has strong management experience, she has less experience of overseeing parliamentary procedure and guarding MPs’ privileges.

The concerns at Westminster were fuelled by Laing’s email.

The Guardian has reported that opponents believe their best hope of blocking Mills is for No 10 to delay sending her name to the palace while the privileges committee carries out its inquiry.


Lenore Taylor, Guardian Australia political editor, and Nicholas Watt in London

The GuardianTramp

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