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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1753


Mr DUFFY (Minister for Communications)(4.45) —There are a few matters that I would like to raise on some of the comments that have been put forward by honourable members in the discussion on the estimates of the Department of the Attorney-General. The honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) in contrast to the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGauran) referred to the need for defamation laws which were, in fact, uniform. He indicated the absurdity of the existing situation where there are different laws for all States and the Australian Capital Territory. He then referred to the magistrate' s court and correctly indicated that for the average citizen-in fact, he referred to the vast majority of Australians-the magistrate's court is the area where most people have contact with the law. As he indicated, the practices and procedures are such that they are somewhat inhibiting to many people. He suggested that that was a matter which should be referred to the Law Reform Commission. In fairness to the honourable member for North Sydney, he indicated the constitutional limitations with the Commonwealth Government on that matter. The views of the honourable member for North Sydney will be passed on to the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans). But it must be reinforced that there are limited Commonwealth constitutional powers. The matter could be referred to the Law Reform Commission but would require considerable co-operation and assistance from the State attorneys.

The honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) dealt mainly with matters relating to royal commissions and organised crime. The matters which were directly related to the estimates of the Attorney-General's Department were associated with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. He spent a lot of time on matters which were really the responsibility of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of the Special Minister of State. Nevertheless, we were not concerned about his expressing those views today. One matter has cropped up which I think deserves to be answered. In referring to the annual report of the Special Prosecutor, Mr Redlich, the honourable member mentioned how the Australian Labor Party was dithering on the question of a National Crimes Commission. He said that he had not forgotten that legislation was before the Parliament last year. I can assure the honourable member for Dundas that none of us have forgotten that the legislation for a Crimes Commission was before this Parliament last year. The fact of the matter is that we are not likely to forget it because of the climate and hysteria at the time when the Government was facing an election. It is not that the Government at the moment is dithering about a Crimes Commission, but the Government is concerned about the establishment of a Crimes Commission which will adequately protect civil liberties and significantly will have the co- operation of the States. That is why at the moment further consideration is being given to that matter. It is not a matter of dithering, it is a matter of establishing a Crimes Commission which will, in fact, work. There has been no suggestion from honourable members opposite that unless we have the co-operation of the States a Crimes Commission would work in the way people wanted, having regard to the concerns that honourable members on this side of the House have, and should have, regarding civil liberties aspects.

The honourable member for Gippsland referred mainly to the question of defamation. He was concerned that some defences of defamation would no longer be available. I think that he is jumping the gun, to say the least. The proposed defamation Bill came from the Law Reform Commission and discussions by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. Arising out of that, a precis of those proposals has been issued for circulation. This is what the honourable member for Gippsland was referring to in his speech. I assure the honourable member for Gippsland that there will be adequate opportunity for public comment when the Bill is introduced. The matters raised by him today are the sorts of matters which many people will put forward in the public discussion that will arise in respect of the proposed Bill. At this stage the Government considers that legislation to be extremely important. There will be no rush with the legislation and, after it is introduced, there will be adequate time for consideration of the sorts of matters of concern put forward by the honourable member and of other issues.

I think it should be said in respect of the other matters raised by the honourable member for Gippsland that the subject of contempt of court has recently been referred to the Law Reform Commission for a complete review. I would have thought, having regard to the issues raised by the honourable member, that he would support that matter. Nevertheless, I again reinforce the fact that nobody is proposing to rush through any Bill on that matter without taking into account public comment, which will certainly embrace, among others, the matters which were referred to by the honourable member for Gippsland.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs

Proposed expenditure, $153,455,000.

Department of Aboriginal Affairs

Proposed expenditure, $185,775,000.