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Tuesday, 23 August 1994
Page: 88


Senator BOLKUS (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs) (6.46 p.m.) —The government opposes the Democrats' amendment No. 1, for a number of reasons. Though I understand the motivation of Senator Spindler in this matter, I think it is worth recognising that this amendment is to subclause (a). Clause 8 sets out a number of matters that must be taken into account when assessing a witness for placement. It does not preclude other matters being taken into account. The role of the commissioner in this context is fundamentally important. That role is to provide protection to the witnesses placed on the program, not to assess the veracity of their evidence. It is not the commissioner's role to assess the reliability of a witness. The AFP general orders and police instructions relating to procedures for assessment for placement require the AFP to seek the advice from the relevant director of public prosecutions as to the nature of the evidence and the importance of the witness.

  As I stressed, it is not the practice of the AFP to rely upon the police case officer's assessment of the witness. A witness may have made a convincing statement in writing, but it may become obvious that he or she is an unreliable witness only after cross-examination. Moreover, in all these cases and in all aspects of criminal law, the reliability of a witness and his or her evidence is ultimately a matter for the jury to determine. Although I can understand what Senator Spindler is trying to do, what he is in fact doing is giving the commissioner a role which is not part of the purpose of the legislation. That sort of argument follows in respect to Senator Spindler's other proposed new paragraphs in clause 8(3). As a consequence, we do not support the amendment.

  Amendment negatived.