The case of Dr Paul Hutchison reading while driving may remind some of you with a few grey hairs of the furore some years ago over the claims that Richard Prebble had been seen driving while reading – a serious allegation for a Transport Minister as he was at the time. …
It was the subject of a privileges committee hearing though the privileges case was not about the driving perse, but commentary and questions around it. Both Prebble and Radio Windy broadcaster Chris Gollins were “charged” with contempt of Parliament. …
On September 22 1986 Mr Chris Gollins in his regular commentary on Wellington’s Radio Windy stated that the Minister of Transport, the Hon Richard Prebble, had been observed on the previous day driving for a considerable period through Wellington while reading what appeared to be a copy of a Sunday newspaper spread across his steering wheel. …
The Radio Windy commentaries had two immediate consequences. Mr Winston Peters, MP, who had asked the question, raised the Minister’s reply as a matter of privilege on the ground that it had been given with the intention of deliberately misleading the House. At almost the same time, the Minister raised the commentaries as a matter of privilege on the ground that they misrepresented the proceedings of Parliament and reflected on him as a member by libelling him in his capacity as a Member of Parliament.
The committee heard evidence from Mr and Mrs Gollins, senior, the parents of Mr Chris Gollins who had observed Mr Prebble driving on the Sunday, from Mr Chris Gollins and from Mr Prebble. Mrs Prebble, who was a passenger in the car on that day, was unable to appear, but stated by telegram that Mr Prebble had not been reading while he was driving.
The committee has no doubt of the honesty of the evidence given by Mr and Mrs Gollins senior. They were both truthful witnesses endeavouring to assist the committee to the best of their ability. It was in fact only Mrs Gollins who had observed Mr Prebble for any period of time – Mr Gollins having concentrated on his own driving and only having glanced into Mr Prebble’s car while both cars were waiting at a set of traffic lights. Mrs Gollins testified
that she had seen Mr Prebble driving though Wellington central with a newspaper on the steering wheel and that at one point while the car was at a traffic light, he had made what she took to be a remark to Mrs Prebble based on what she had seen in the newspaper.
Mr Prebble strenuously denied that he had been reading the newspaper at any time. He gave evidence that he had purchased groceries and a number of newspapers on the day in question and had placed the newspapers in his lap towards the steering wheel but that he had not read these papers while he was driving the vehicle.
Mrs Gollins rang her son shortly after she arrived at her home that day. This was done in the expectation that Mr Chris Gollins would use the item in his commentary. …However although the first commentary expressly states that Mr Prebble had been observed reading a newspaper while he was driving, it is clear from the evidence that neither at that time or later, did Mr and Mrs Gollins state to their son that Mr Prebble had been reading the newspaper.
This was a conclusion drawn by Mr Chris Gollins, it was not a statement made by the principal witnesses themselves even though Mrs Gollins agreed in evidence that the conclusion was reasonably drawn by her son. Mrs Gollins stated that her son added this conclusion in broadcast on his own initiative.
And the conclusion:
Mr Prebble’s answer to the question in the House was a completely accurate reply and the allegation against him of contempt by lying completely insupportable….A minority of the committee considers that Mr Prebble’s reply was misleading…he was observed driving for a considerable period and a newspaper was spread across the steering wheel. The minority considers that it is a natural inference from the position of the paper that Mr Prebble was reading it at some point on his drive. In these circumstances a minority of the committee would find that Mr Prebble did mislead the House.
It finds [Chris Gollins and Capital City Radio] to have committed a contempt in the broadcast of September 24. The committee believes it was a misunderstanding as to the nature of the Minister’s reply which led Mr Chris Gollins to broadcast the offending remarks….in these circumstances the committee is disposed to recommend to the House that no further action be taken.
Geoffrey Palmer chaired the committee. Also on it were Bill Birch, Michael Cullen, Doug Kidd and Frank O’Flynn.
I presume Kidd and Birch were in the minority. Regardless a fascinating trip down memory lane.