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Friday, 23 November 1979

Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) - I am pleased that the Opposition is not opposing the Customs Amendment Bill and related Bills. The Opposition has confined itself to the moving of a sunset clause.

That sunset clause is to take effect at the end of February 1980 which means that the Bills would have to be reconsidered within three months. That is a very sudden death for a sunset clause. One wonders what would be the purpose of passing a measure which is to take effect for such a short time, particularly as the Parliament will be in recess for almost all of that time? It is important to realise that the powers contained in this legislation, namely, powers to intercept telephone conversations for investigations into likely narcotic offences, and the installation of listening devices for these same purposes, are powers which have been the subject of a great deal of debate this year in the Parliament. In principle these powers have been acknowledged as necessary for the purposes of such investigations. They are new powers. In the course of the debate this year and in view of the legislation which has been passed, the Parliament has agreed that those powers are necessary for that purpose.

The only purpose of this legislation is to transfer the exercise of those powers from the Narcotics Bureau, which was located in the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs, to the Australian Federal Police. That follows as a result of the recommendations of the Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drugs which was acted upon recently by the Government. The Narcotics Bureau was transferred from the Department of Business and Consumer Affairs and its officers were transferred to the Australian Federal Police. The Narcotics Bureau has been disbanded and the functions of that organisation have been assumed by the Australian Federal Police. Now that is the one and only purpose of this legislation.

The important thing to recognise is that the powers that are being given to the Australian Federal Police through this measure can be exercised only under a warrant obtained by a Federal Court judge or a State Supreme Court judge. Judges of the superior courts of this nation have to give authority to Federal Police who wish to intercept telephones and install listening devices. This is provided for in this measure. I believe that it was most irresponsible of Senator Evans to talk about the Australian Federal Police as being under a cloud. He proceeded to make some critisisms of the Australian Federal Police. Most of the matters to which he referred have not been determined by a court. As far as I am aware they are the subject of evidence or allegations which have been made and which have not been resolved in any court. I consider his wide, general allegation that the Federal Police is under a cloud, is the height of irresponsibility.

Senator Evans - Were we wrong about the Narcotics Bureau?

Senator DURACK - Senator Evansis talking about recommendations in relation to the Narcotics Bureau. The judge was critical of the Narcotics Bureau. One of the major reasons for the recommendation that it be transferred to the police was that the areas of narcotics investigations are right in the heart of criminal activities and criminal elements in the community. That is a proper subject for investigation by the police. Apparently Senator Evans wants the matter of who should exercise these powers to be reconsidered. He has not suggested who should exercise such powers. He has been critical of the Narcotics Bureau and he is now critical of the Australian Federal Police. One begins to wonder whether Senator Evans has faith in anyone. Presumably he has faith in himself. As I have explained, this measure will simply transfer powers from one body which has now been disbanded to the Australian Federal Police. The Parliament has agreed that those powers should be available to people engaged in the investigation of narcotics offences. They can be exercised only on a warrant from superior court judges. I trust that this Bill will have a speedy passage.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

Clauses 1 to 3- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.

Clause 4 ( Use of listening devices).

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