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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2228

Senator HAINES(3.31) —The Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, as has already been pointed out by Senator Durack, has gone some way to addressing the problems of organised crime in this country. The Commission was established as a joint venture, so to speak, by the Commonwealth and Victorian governments in September 1980. It was originally intended to be a limited inquiry, of 12 months duration only, into the activities of one Victorian union, namely, the infamous Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union. That the inquiry eventually developed into a four-year investigation into an extensive range of criminal activities right across Australian society says a great deal about the alarming penetration and entrenchment of organised crime in this country, as indeed does the fact that the National Crime Authority has taken over from the Royal Commission to continue monitoring and investigation of, and, hopefully, prosecutions against, organised crime.

Before presenting its final report on 26 October last year the Commission delivered five interim reports, some of which were debated in this place, dealing with an extraordinary range of criminal activities. As the Minister, Senator Gareth Evans, representing the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen), has pointed out, the Commission has played an invaluable role in heightening our perception of the nature and extent of organised crime, and reminding those people who needed reminding that criminal activity is a complex web affecting all strands of Australian society. Senator Durack, too, acknowledged that the work of the Commission was very valuable indeed. In his final report Commissioner Costigan detailed the various ways in which organised crime operates and urged the introduction of sweeping new powers to combat it. In support of this approach he pointed to what he called the 'constant ravaging' of the public by organised criminals and noted that:

. . . the resources of the police force or any other law-enforcement agency in Australia or any other country, are too limited to permit success.

Anybody who was in this chamber some time ago when what was then known as the National Crimes Commission Conference was taking place could not help but be struck, as indeed I was, by the constant reference of speakers to the paucity of resources Australia-wide in law enforcement agencies and in the police force. The sense of frustration from speakers who were members of the police force was quite intense. Clearly, one of the most important ways of making the fight against organised crime more effective is to increase those resources to a realistic level. As Senator Durack has already pointed out, some of us are pleased to note that this has been done to a certain extent.

Commissioner Costigan's recommended approach to solving the problems of limited resources and inadequate other means of dealing with organised crime required the selection of bigger and more worthwhile targets, rather than simply concentrating on the small fry of organised crime, and a better concentration of resources. Certainly, while we can notch up a few arrests and convictions by concentrating on the small fry, we are faced with the fact that it is impossible to eliminate organised crime until the big men-and they are very largely men-are caught and stopped from engaging in the activities which have such a dramatic and deleterious impact on Australian society as a whole.

While some people may have seen Mr Costigan's key proposals as radical, a rational and detailed assessment of them shows their importance in fighting crime effectively. It is an unfortunate fact of life that criminals have a tendency to have access to better accountants, smarter lawyers and more imaginative minds than governments and parliaments seem to have. Therefore, it is essential that strong and immediate action takes place and that we do a little less talking and a little more doing.

The Commissioner, in his report, exposed the most outrageous and widespread tax fraud that we have ever seen and he recommended a strengthening of the taxation laws. We were reminded yet again by Senator Walsh, in one of his set pieces in Question Time today, that this Senate had been a little loth to support retrospective tax legislation. That, in itself, is hardly an answer either to the increasing deficit or to combatting organised crime through tax legislation. The criminals are up and away, well and truly, before anything retrospective can affect them, and it is only ordinary innocent people who are caught by retrospective legislation. Clearly, we have to close loopholes when they are first used and noticed, and, even better, close avenues for criminal activity via the tax laws before they are used.

In particular, Royal Commissioner Costigan recommended the establishment of a taxation investigation tribunal, a special tax investigator and a port security authority, amendments to criminal legislation and company bankruptcy legislation, and executive and legislative action against union racketeering. It seems rather appalling when we read in the newspaper that Brian Maher is to receive about half a million dollars worth of legal aid to fight against charges of illegal activity. The legislation needs to be attended to so that those sorts of people cannot turn themselves into technical bankrupts and, having drained the taxpayer in one way, can then drain the purse a little more.

The Government has now responded to some of Mr Costigan's recommendations. It has asserted that it is committed to crime fighting. As Senator Durack has indicated, the Government has a tendency to be committed more in talk than in action, but it has taken some steps to put its rhetoric into force. It has detailed the areas in which it claims there has been an adequate response, but, as has been noted by the Opposition already today, some limitations are apparent.

Much has been made by the Government since the report was tabled last year of the abuse of civil liberties. Indeed, we must recognise the fundamental dilemma of balancing civil liberties with effective crime fighting. I am sure this is something that has been considered by Senator Missen.

Senator Missen —Hardly noticeable.

Senator HAINES —Well, some of us do pay attention occasionally to the matters raised by Senator Missen with regard to civil liberties.

Senator Missen —We seek to find out. We cannot find out much in this report about it.

Senator HAINES —Senator Missen might care to raise the matter at some more length in a moment. Notwithstanding the comments from Senator Missen and others about infringements of civil liberties, we should not lose sight of the invasion of civil liberties of the victims of organised crime; for example, the thousands of young people who suffer at the hands of drug traffickers, and the immense damage done to the community as organised crime pervades all areas of community life.

We have to recognise that there is very little point in this Parliament's making laws for the rest of us if the reality is that the country is run by a criminal subculture which is able apparently at will to avoid those very laws and to go on its way, making life miserable for everybody else, and running this country effectively in a way which is beyond the reach of governments and parliaments. I understand that profits of organised crime from drugs, prostitution, tax avoidance and gambling are of the order of $5,000m annually. At this level we are not concerned just with individual offences; we are concerned with the integrity of our judicial and political systems as a whole. We cannot afford to allow the sort of behaviour that has been undertaken by an increasingly significant element of the community to run roughshod over the judicial and political systems in Australia.

One of Mr Costigan's greatest achievements was to demonstrate the interconnected web of organised crime in Australia, indicating that it reaches into every level of our society. He has shown that the planners and major beneficiaries are able to reap the benefits of their criminal activities even though they are far removed from the scene of the crime which is carried out at their command. He has shown that greed can corrupt apparently respectable institutions. Perhaps his most important contribution is his pioneering of the use of sophisticated computer analysis which for the first time has shown the depth of corruption in our society and has opened the way to combat it effectively. Again, of course Senator Missen would say, and I would agree with him, that we have to make absolutely sure that those computerised systems are not used to the detriment of people who are inadvertently caught up in the web and who are perhaps innocently associating with people who have been known as major criminals.

As Senator Durack mentioned, the forthcoming Director of Public Prosecutions legislation and the telecommunications interception legislative amendments, as well as the establishment of the National Crime Authority, go part of the way towards signalling to organised crime that it is not being given a free hand in Australia. It is essential therefore that the Government continue to match its rhetoric and its apparent good intentions with whatever other appropriate actions are necessary before Australia reaches the stage, which it seems the United States of America is perilously close to reaching, of being in the grip of organised crime to such an extent that we are powerless to do anything about it or to break free of it, and to the extent that we offer to future generations life in a society which is controlled by a large corrupt element that is free to do as it pleases and to ignore with impunity the judicial and political systems in this country.