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Wednesday, 25 May 1983
Page: 783


Senator DURACK —by leave-Allegations made yesterday by a Mr Volkman before the Stewart Royal Commission into the Activities of Nugan Hand, to the effect that he had been intimidated from the highest level have been widely reported in the media both last night and today. His allegations have involved the Leader of the National Party, Mr Anthony, and the honourable member for Farrer, Mr Fife. However, it appears that the allegations of intimidation have been directed principally at myself as a result of a prosecution brought by me against Mr Volkman and others when I was Attorney-General. Similar allegations were made by the present Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) in the House of Representatives last October and November. At the time, I was convalescing and I was unable to answer them. I completely repudiate these allegations which make the gravest reflections upon me.

The facts are these: Mr Volkman and four others were charged with conspiring together and with one other person in 1979 to export Australian native birds, which are a prohibited export. Conspiracy charges were laid under section 86 of the Crimes Act and, in the circumstances, carried a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment. Committal proceedings on the conspiracy charges were heard before a magistrate in Sydney in 1980. At the end of the proceedings, the magistrate found a prima facie case against all defendants but declined to commit them for trial.

On 13 July 1981, acting on firm advice from a most experienced senior counsel, Mr R. J. Marr, Q.C., I signed an ex officio indictment against all defendants. This was not the only case in which an ex officio indictment was presented by me when I was Attorney-General. One consequence that can follow an ex officio indictment-namely, that the accused does not have the benefits that go with committal proceedings-did not apply in the case of Mr Volkman.

On 10 May 1982, one of the accused pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge. He was subsequently released on a bond to be of good behaviour for three years and he had to pay a fine of $1,000. The trial of the remaining accused, including Mr Volkman, commenced on 10 May 1982 but, on the application of the accused, the jury was discharged before the trial was completed. The retrial of the accused commenced on 13 September 1982 and concluded on 12 October 1982. At the close of the Crown case, the trial judge directed that one of the accused be acquitted but found that there was a case to answer in respect of the remaining accused, including Mr Volkman. After deliberating for six and a half hours the jury returned verdicts of not guilty against the remaining accused, again including Mr Volkman. The charges against the accused were serious and it was clearly proper for the prosecution to be brought. My decision to proceed with the trial was made on the advice of senior counsel. The trial judge ruled that there was a case for Mr Volkman to answer. I utterly repudiate the allegation of malice by me in the prosecution of Mr Volkman.