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Thursday, 17 November 1983
Page: 2881


Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Minister for Trade)(3.33) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The Director of Public Prosecutions Bill now represents an important and historic development in the law and practice governing the prosecution of offences against Commonwealth law. The Bill establishes an Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions with the main functions of conducting Commonwealth prosecutions and exercising discretions in relation to prosecutions . Similar offices of Director of Public Prosecutions have existed in the United Kingdom since 1879 and in the State of Victoria since 1982. The experience of recent years, particularly the revelations of unacceptable delay and other deficiencies in the administration of the Commonwealth criminal law contained in the reports of royal commissions conducted by Mr F. X. Costigan, QC, and Mr Justice Stewart, has made clear the need to revitalise and reorganise Commonwealth prosecution processes.

The establishment of an Office of Director of Public Prosecutions, which was foreshadowed in the Government's pre-election statement on law and justice, is an important step in this regard. It will interlock with the setting up of the National Crime Authority under the National Crime Authority Bill which is now before the Senate. Moreover, it is a step recommended by Mr Justice Stewart and Special Prosecutor Redlich. The establishment of the Office will proceed concurrently with the review of the Attorney-General's Department, which is well advanced.

The circumstances relating to Commonwealth prosecutions are significantly different from those relating to United Kingdom and Victorian prosecutions and consequently the Commonwealth legislation will necessarily differ from the legislation enacted in those jurisdictions. At present, all prosecutions for Commonwealth offences, apart from very routine prosecutions conducted by a small number of departments, are conducted by officers of the Crown Solicitor's Division of the Attorney-General's Department. These officers belong to the deputy crown solicitors' offices in the six States and the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. The number of persons in each of these offices engaged on prosecution work varies considerably from about 33 in Sydney to fewer than three in Hobart.

In consequence, it is necessary to allow considerable flexibility to the Director when first appointed as to how he will discharge his functions in the various States and Territories. In the larger States, it is expected that he will establish his own offices at an early date. In the smaller States, he may well wish to exercise the option given to him by clause 32 to enter for an initial period into an arrangement with the Crown Solicitor to peform the Director's functions in the smaller States subject to agreed conditions and restrictions. As part of the review of the Department it is proposed to establish an Australian Government Solicitor in place of the Crown Solicitor, but in the meantime references in legislation must be to the Crown Solicitor.

However, whatever arrangements are in fact made by the Director for performances of his functions in the States, the Director appointed under the Act will provide leadership, guidance and direction to, and will set high professional standards for, all persons engaged in the prosecution work of the Commonwealth.

Role of the Attorney-General

The Attorney-General, as First Law Officer, has always borne the ultimate responsibility for prosecution decisions and the legislation enacted in England did not alter this position. This is as it should be and, by clause 11 of the present Bill, the Director, in the performance of his functions, is made subject to directions and guidelines by the Attorney-General; these must however be published. Day to day prosecution decisions will ordinarily be made by the Director or his officials. It will indeed be very unusual for the Attorney- General to give a direction in a particular case. The possibility must however be provided for so that the Attorney-General may discharge his ultimate responsibility to Parliament and to the people for the conduct of the prosecution process.

Functions and Powers of the Director

The Director will be empowered to institute, carry on or take over proceedings for the summary conviction of persons in respect of Commonwealth offences, committal proceedings for Commonwealth offences and prosecutions on indictment for Commonwealth indictable offences. In relation to matters or classes of matters specified by the Attorney-General, the Director will also be empowered to take civil remedies in respect of matters connected with or arising out of prosecutions instituted or carried on by the Director or institute proceedings for recovery of pecuniary penalties or co-ordinate or supervise the taking of such proceedings. Experience gained under the Special Prosecutors Act 1982 has demonstrated the value of such a power.

Under sub-clause 9 (6) of the Bill the Director will be empowered to give, where appropriate, undertakings to prospective witnesses that evidence given by them in prosecutions conducted by the Director will not be used against them in proceedings other than a prosecution for perjury. Several recent royal commissions have recognised the need to provide such undertakings in appropriate circumstances. The Director is further empowered by clause 11 to give directions or furnish guidelines with respect to the prosecution of Commonwealth offences to the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, the Crown Solicitor or any other person conducting criminal investigations or instituting or conducting prosecutions for Commonwealth offences. The Bill does not change existing law under which, except in relation to a limited number of offences, any person may institute proceedings for Commonwealth offences. It does however enable the Director to carry on, or take over, any such proceedings except proceedings instituted by the Attorney-General or a Special Prosecutor.

Mr Acting Speaker, the Bill is a carefully considered and positive response by the Government to the national awakening to the need to upgrade and improve the system of prosecution of offences against the laws of the Commonwealth. Moreover , it meets the special circumstances and difficulties that apply in relation to Commonwealth prosecutions. Establishment of the office of Director will meet a pressing need to place existing prosecution arrangements on a more effective basis. It will also, I believe, restore public confidence in Commonwealth criminal law enforcement. This Bill, taken together with the National Crime Authority Bill and the Special Prosecutors Act, which will also remain in force, will be the means by which administration of the Commonwealth criminal law, particularly in relation to organised crime and corruption, will be rendered effective, expeditious and just. I finally mention that I shall be moving an amendment to the Bill to remove the application of the Act to laws of Norfolk Island. That Territory is now in a special position, having substantial control over many internal matters. Under the amendment, the Director will have a role in relation to Commonwealth laws applying in the Territory but the Territory Administration will remain responsible for the prosecution of offences under the local criminal law. Thus, under the amendment, the position in Norfolk Island will be similar to that which will apply under the Bill in the Northern Territory.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Spender) adjourned.