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Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Page: 2056

Senator HILL —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I remind the minister that a week ago he assured the Senate that Mr Keating was not seeking to delay the promised inquiry into the ministerial conduct of Mr Griffiths and that such an inquiry would soon be established. I remind the minister also that on Sunday Mr Keating referred to `residual matters' which still need to be determined before he could act on the Griffiths affair. I therefore ask the minister: what are the residual matters to which Mr Keating referred? When will the inquiry be set up? Does the minister not now agree that, as two people close to Mr Griffiths have been charged, it is in everyone's interests that the outstanding issues concerning Mr Griffiths's ministerial conduct be resolved as soon as possible?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is certainly in everybody's interests—not least those of Mr Griffiths—that any outstanding question marks be removed. As compared with the situation as I had it in mind when I spoke in this place last week, the problem is that there has now been a move, as Senator Hill intimated, to launch a prosecution not just against Mr Lennox but also against Ms Harrison. Associated with that is the further problem of some advice being received from the prosecution authorities that under the circumstances there may be difficulty in seeking evidence from not only the people who are the subject of the prosecutions but also perhaps Mr Griffiths himself as a potential key witness in those prosecutions. Working out the implications of that for the inquiry—an inquiry that everyone wants to see speeding on its way and addressing these other issues about the handling of bank accounts, ministerial propriety and so on—has been made rather more complicated by that development.

  I hope and expect that these complications will be able to be untangled literally within the next day or so in the context of the announcements that will need to be made about the reshaping of the ministry. That is a matter for the Prime Minister. At this stage I am not able to give those opposite a precise indication as to just when the announcement about the Griffiths inquiry will be made but, as I say, I certainly hope and expect that it will be made in the next day or so.

Senator HILL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. That answer seems to raise some further questions. I take it that the government still intends to hold this inquiry and that what we are now seeing, in the circumstances of a reshuffle, is not an element of doubt coming into the matter as to whether or not the inquiry will be necessary. Presuming that it is still the government's intention to hold the inquiry, what can the minister tell us about who will in fact be conducting it and what its terms of reference will be?

Senator GARETH EVANS —That is a matter for the Prime Minister to announce when he is able to do so. There is no doubt about the fact that an inquiry will be held. The only doubt is as to whether it is possible to set in train the active performance of that inquiry in an environment where there may be real practical legal difficulties in the judgment of the DPP about seeking evidence by whomever is doing the inquiry, not only from other parties but from Mr Griffiths himself.

Senator Hill —What does it have to do with the reshuffle?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Senator Hill will just have to wait and see. I do not know whether it will be possible, but I hope that it will be in the next day or so, in order to clarify the total situation about the timing and so on that are associated with these various events.