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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2644

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(4.34) —I do not want to pursue this debate any longer than necessary, but that is the worst explanation the Attorney -General (Senator Gareth Evans) has given so far. The Attorney-General said that the people who, in his opinion, have appropriate qualifications are, under this legislation entitled, independently with a quorum of one, to take evidence, recognise the draconian provisions contained within the Authority and make some very real and vital decision about the liberty and freedom of individuals. If the Attorney-General is seriously concerned about protecting the individual's freedom and liberty the problem could be easily overcome by simply expanding the Authority to five members with a quorum of two and ensuring that one of those on the Authority taking evidence is a lawyer.

The Government is asking us to accept that the composition of the Authority ultimately may be sensible and reasonable and that common sense will prevail. But under the present proposals that will be very hard to achieve. If the Government is serious about civil liberties, I cannot see any reason why it cannot have some inbuilt provisions in the Bill which will give a vital guarantee. By simply having one person with significant legal qualifications as one of those taking all the evidence at all the hearings, and by having a quorum of two instead of one at any hearing it can give this vital guarantee. That can easily be done by having five members on the Authority.

Senator Gareth Evans —Numbers do not guarantee quality; numbers do not guarantee expertise. Your amendment is not in terms of any of those things; it deals only with numerical criteria. It does not follow.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I am sure the Attorney-General is not suggesting that there are not five people in the Commonwealth of Australia with adequate expertise. The purpose of expanding the number to five is to ensure that there are five quality people; that there will be continuity; that there will be a quorum of two; and that one of those people, presumably, will be a lawyer of some note who will be able to deal with the harsh realities of what will be a quasi court room in making these determinations. For the Attorney-General to say to us that it will all work out well in the final analysis, that it will come out in the wash and that common sense will prevail is not a good form of protection of civil liberties. I am disappointed not only with the Attorney- General's logic or his explanation but also his position on the civil liberties of people who may be directly or peripherally involved. I know the Attorney- General well enough to know that he has not yet seriously intended to try to give us a persuasive argument for his point of view.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Durack's amendment to Senator Gareth Evans's amendment) be left out.