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Wednesday, 9 May 1984
Page: 1788

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General) —Papers are tabled in accordance with the list circulated to honourable senators. With the concurrence of the Senate I incorporate the list in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The list read as follows-

1. Technology and Handicapped People-Report by ASTEC-Pursuant to section 6 of the Australian Science and Technology Act 1978.

2. Determination Required in Relation to Division 312 of Appropriation Act (No. 1) 1983-84-Statement.

3. Capital Territory Health Commission-Annual Report 1982-83 pursuant to section 72 of the Health Commission Ordinance 1975.

4. National Technology Strategy-discussion draft-together with the text of a statement by the Minister for Science and Technology relating to the document.

5. Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation-report to Parliament for the year 1982-83-together with a statement by the Attorney-General relating to the report.

6. Inquiry into Legal Aid Office (Australian Capital Territory)-Report by Special Consultant to the Attorney-General-Together with a statement by the Attorney-General relating to the Report.

7. Community Law Reform in the Australian Capital Territory-Letter and attachments from Chairman of the Law Reform Commission-Pursuant to section 37 of the Law Reform Commission Act 1973-Together with a statement by the Attorney- General relating to the papers.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I also seek leave to have the text of the statements of items 5 and 6, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation report to Parliament 1982-83 and the report of the inquiry into the Legal Aid Office of the Australian Capital Territory, incorporated into Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statements read as follows-


Tabling Statement by the Hon. Senator Gareth Evans, QC-Attorney-General

I table for the information of honourable senators a Report to Parliament by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation for the year 1982-83. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 requires the Director- General to furnish to the Attorney-General an annual report on the activities of the Organisation. The Act also requires that a copy of that report be given to the Leader of the Opposition. The present report, however, is the first report of the Organisation to be tabled in the Parliament since it was established in 1949. There has never been a legal requirement for the Organisation's annual report, or any version of it, to be so tabled for the information of members and senators and, thereby, the people of Australia, and never previously any willingness by governments to do so anyway. The report is very substantially the full annual report as presented to the Government, with the few deletions and modifications only being made to avoid disclosure of matters of real operational sensitivity. I believe the report to be an informative one. It will be a major contribution to both ensuring and demonstrating that accountability of the security services to which Labor is committed, and will encourage a much more informed debate about ASIO than has been the case in the past.

The tabling of this report is the first stage in the implementation of Labor's policy objective of maximising the accountability of the security services to the Government and the Parliament. Labor's approach to accountability was set out in detail in the Federal Australian Labor Party's submission to the Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies. Para. 3.30 of that submission recommends that the Attorney-General be required to report to Parliament on the general operation of the ASIO Act and the general extent to which the provisions of that Act (including the special powers) have been used. The present report seeks to honour the spirit of that submission.


Statement by the Attorney-General, Senator the Honourable Gareth Evans, Q.C.

Honourable senators will recall that I announced on 6 February 1984 the appointment of Mr Frank Pryor, an unattached First Division Officer, to inquire into the running of the Australian Capital Territory Legal Aid Office following a resolution to that effect by the Legal Aid Commission (Australian Capital Territory). The report is critical of some aspects of the management, including the financial management, of the Office and makes a number of recommendations for improved management and control. Before considering what action I should take on the report, I am asking the Commission to respond to the findings and recommendations with particular reference to any actions it might propose to take as a result of the report.

Before the inquiry began there had been media reports suggesting some 'padding' of accounts by private legal practitioners. Although the inquiry found that arrangements for assessing those accounts had been most unsatisfactory the conclusion was that there was no evidence of deliberate attempts to defraud the Commonwealth nor any indication that any person connected with the Commission or its staff had sought or derived any personal gain from the manner in which these accounts were handled. The inquiry found no reason to doubt the zeal and competence of the Office's legal staff but suggested that the Commission might look at the possibility of developing specialised skills not readily available elsewhere in the legal profession.

The inquiry concluded that additional funds estimated at $435,000 would be needed in 1983-84 largely because of a low original estimate which did not allow for the increasing costs of referrals to private practitioners. I take this opportunity to record the thanks of the Government to Mr Pryor for carrying out this difficult inquiry and providing a full report in such a short time.

Senator GARETH EVANS —In order to guarantee the attraction of privilege for a particularly sensitive report, I move:

That the report of the inquiry into the Legal Aid Office of the Australian Capital Territory be printed.

Question resolved in the affirmative.