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Friday, 24 August 1984
Page: 380

Senator CROWLEY(4.00) —I appreciate that we all have to rush.

Senator Lewis —There is a Press conference.

Senator CROWLEY —That is right; a Press conference is waiting downstairs and I would certainly like to join my colleagues. This report records the process and finding of the Senate Select Committee on the Conduct of a Judge and its findings have been most adequately reported by Senator Tate. I would like to say especially that they serve as a vindication of the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) and the Government who examined this material and further accepted reports on the material from the Special Prosecutor, Mr Temby, before concluding in the same way as the Committee subsequently did. The points raised by Senator Lewis about the Attorney-General's behaviour in this matter are a complete misrepresentation of the Attorney-General's behaviour. He regarded the material with the same seriousness and solemnity as did Committee members and with regard to the need to protect and take care of all people concerned. For the record I would like to say that it is my understanding, and that of most of the Committee , that he behaved entirely appropriately.

Senator Gareth Evans —Thank you.

Senator CROWLEY —Any time. The Committee had the unprecedented task-and it is unprecedented in this country-of possible address for the dismissal of a High Court judge. This was a question going to the heart of the Constitution and to the separateness of the legislature, the Executive and the judiciary. The Committee had the task of examining section 72 of the Constitution as well as the terms of reference given by the Senate, while at the same time establishing a precedent for any such future inquiry. Not only did the Committee address the questions and the material under examination; it also addressed the procedures it adopted at every stage with equal seriousness. Every effort was made to proceed with the utmost thoroughness and all fairness, particularly in view of the gravity of the matter occupying the Committee. The Senate is aware of the extensions of time sought by the Committee. They were sought precisely to allow the comprehensive examination of material and witnesses to occur.

On examination of all the materials, the tapes, transcripts, written matter and witnesses, the Committee has concluded on the evidence before it that it does not find proved misbehaviour by the judge. I am pleased to put my name to that report. It has been a very serious exercise and I suspect that some time in the future, when a book is written about these materials, the minutes of the Committee will prove just as fascinating a piece of research. On one occasion I found myself involved in a gentleman's agreement, but as I took those words to refer to the nature of the agreement rather than the people engaging in such agreement I felt I could reasonably and comfortably concur. I might say that I do not believe that that is the most significant reason that people would look up the minutes for research. The difficulties facing the Committee from time to time were also complicated by the publication of material related to the Committee's work. I simply make mention of that in passing. I do not want to take much time, but I want briefly to give some of my reasons for finally concluding as I did about Mr Briese's evidence. I simply say that facts were being recalled by Mr Briese from over five years back and that there is some difficulty at any time in recalling events from such a time. Secondly, we had to deal with Mr Briese's interpretations of these facts which he clearly stated were changed after he read the transcripts; that is, it is with hindsight that he placed a different view of such events from those he reported to the Committee. Thirdly, he also indicated that at the time he thought there was no sinister interpretation of many of those facts; and that would no doubt account for why he took no action about these matters at the time. I make these comments only to indicate that there were sufficient grounds for doubt on Mr Briese's evidence alone.

Finally, because we are pressed for time, I would like to commend my colleagues on the way they conducted themselves in this difficult and serious task. I can tell the Senate that from time to time various members of the Committee other than myself threw the odd temper tantrum, presumably under the pressure of time constraints and the significant matter to hand. I might add that I resisted the temptation then to ask them whether they were having a period. I particularly commend our Chairman, Senator Michael Tate, who coped with the dual task of the serious matter to hand and the successful functioning of the Committee. As ever, Senator Tate conducted the proceedings with thoroughness and care and throughout provided equable and supportive consideration to the Committee and staff. I place on record my appreciation of his role as Chairman of this Committee. I join others in recording my thanks to the staff for the splendid support they gave, and also to the staff who supported the staff. While we might have complained of writing until 2.30, it needs to be noted that many people were then involved in the shorthand, typing and printing of materials well on into the night after we had finished our business.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.