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This website contains names and images of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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The Murphy inquiries revolutionised the Senate’s approach to safeguarding the integrity of its committee hearings. Two serious issues arose during and in the aftermath of the inquiries. The first issue, the unauthorised publication of confidential evidence in a newspaper, was ‘one of the most serious matters of parliamentary privilege ever to arise in the Senate’.

In a second breach, in camera evidence given before both committees was allowed by the trial judges to be used in subsequent court proceedings against Murphy. Since the committees had not published or disclosed the evidence, the Senate’s view was that the court did not have the right even to possess the evidence.

The misuse of parliamentary evidence led the Parliament to pass the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987, clarifying the scope of protections for those giving evidence.

Senator Lionel Murphy, 8 March 1974, Australian Information Service.

Lionel Murphy’s complex legacy encompasses both public scandal and parliamentary reform. Determined to make the Senate more effective and accountable, Murphy was instrumental in establishing the legislative and general purpose standing committee system.

Murphy’s greatest legislative achievements during his time in the Senate were the passing of the Death Penalty Abolition Bill 1970 and the Family Law Bill 1974, as well as abolishing appeals to the Privy council, removing censorship, reforming corporations and trade practices law, protecting the environment and outlawing racial and other discrimination.

Before he left the Senate to take up his High Court appointment in 1975, Murphy also established a systematic legal aid service in Australian courts, as well as the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Geoff Pryor, ‘Today’s cartoon–Senate approved’, Canberra Times, 24 May 1985, nla.obj-156553817

Response by cartoonist Geoff Pryor to the Senate Privileges Committee finding that John Fairfax and Sons Ltd were in ‘serious contempt’ by the publication in the National Times of in camera evidence given before the Senate select committee investigating Justice Lionel Murphy.

A staff officer in the Australian Military Forces, ca1920, State Library of South Australia, PRG 280/1/24/339

The select committees into Lionel Murphy were the first concerning the conduct of an individual since the 1939 Select Committee on the Discharge of Captain T.P. Conway from the Australian Military Forces. Over the Senate’s first 40 years, nearly half of all select committee inquiries were held on the conduct or treatment of individuals. Former Clerk of the Senate Rosemary Laing has highlighted this ‘surprising’ figure, remarking that it is ‘a sign that we perhaps take for granted the now well-established role of the Ombudsman’.

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14th edition, 2016