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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 253


Senator HAMER —I direct my question to the Attorney-General. Is it a fact that Mr Justice Stewart of the National Crime Authority has decided not to pass suggested references from the Costigan Commission directly to the intergovernment committee but has instead referred them to a committee of lawyers headed by Mr Phillip Cummins, QC? Does the Attorney-General agree with Mr Fred Sylvester, former Head of the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence , who said on the PM program last night that this was no way to combat organised crime and involved a considerable security risk? Has Mr Justice Stewart sought or been offered any briefing by Mr Commissioner Costigan on uncompleted investigations? Has Mr Commissioner Costigan written to both the Attorney- General and the Prime Minister expressing concern at the way in which the transition from his inquiry to the Crime Authority is being carried out? Will the Attorney-General table any such correspondence to put to rest public disquiet that certain matters under investigation by Mr Costigan might simply disappear and never be heard of again?


Senator GARETH EVANS —It is the case that a team of lawyers working to the three full time commissioners, and headed for the moment by Mr Phillip Cummins, QC, is presently sifting through the compilation of material and the mass of supporting data in the Costigan Commission's records that was put to the new Authority by Mr Costigan. It is not a matter of anybody abdicating responsibility. It is a matter of shaping up a mass of fairly intractable material, some of it of great complexity, into the form of possible references for the new commission. It involves working out that which is appropriate for formal references through the intergovernment committee or by way of direct unilateral reference by the Commonwealth, working out that which is appropriate for further investigation by the Commission and that which perhaps does not justify further investigation. My understanding is that that process, which is obviously long and complicated, is by no means complete but that it is contemplated that a number of matters will be put to the intergovernment committee when it meets in a few weeks time. There is no foundation at all of which I am aware for any suggestion of a lack of co- operation when it comes to briefings either of a general or specific kind by the members of the Authority with the Costigan Commission team. I think it unfortunate that Mr Sylvester and others who appear to have an axe of one kind or another to grind are contributing to public speculation of this kind.

I am not aware of any correspondence addressed to the Prime Minister on the subject of the transition or of any recent correspondence from Mr Costigan to me -that is, apart from his letter transmitting to me the bulk of the material. That is a matter I shall check out to see what might be able to be done about it . I am speaking now as Attorney-General rather than in my capacity as the Minister representing the Special Minister of State. It may be that he as the Minister now in charge of the National Crime Authority has some correspondence bearing on this matter. I shall seek from him further information to see what other relevant correspondence there may be which it may be appropriate to put into the public domain. The transition, so far as I am aware, is working as smoothly as could be expected in a complicated matter of this kind.