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Monday, 4 June 1984
Page: 2470

Senator CROWLEY(10.03) —I should apologise at the outset for presuming not to have the rhetoric to match any of the previous speakers. It is clear from what a number of speakers have said that the National Crime Authority Bill, since its inception-we may even go back to the Bill of the previous Government-has undergone any number of deliberations, debates, committees of further inquiry and many further discussions over the whole range of differences of opinion that pertained, and clearly from this evening's debate still pertain. However, exhortations in this place actually to conduct the debate, all the while abusing other parties for their views, serve only to cloud the issues and achieve exactly the opposite. All of us would claim to be committed to some sort of crime authority because we are all now well aware of the extent of organised crime in this country. Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union has been to alert the Australian community not only to the presence of organised crime but also to the magnitude of that organised crime in this country. Unlike Senator Chipp, I will not even attempt to put an estimate on its size in dollar terms but it is clear that it is huge. I suppose again we can thank the Costigan Commission for that information.

However, many of us, and I am one, are quite clear that the National Crime Authority to be established-that is, to go into existence permanently-ought not have the wide powers of a royal commission no matter how tempting that might be from time to time. It is precisely to balance the need of the community to be protected from organised crime against the need to preserve the civil liberties of the people of the community that this Bill has been drawn as it has. In passing, I recall that Senator Chipp suggested that the Liberal Opposition and presumably the Australian Democrats have a commitment to civil liberties. He did not list at that stage the Australian Labor Party, and at this period of history the Labor Government. I simply say for the record that the Labor Party has ever had a commitment to civil liberties and our current Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) has a long history of support for civil liberties. It may well be argued that the range of civil liberties that the Labor Party protects is more extensive because the Labor Party has always spoken for the little people, the poor people, working people and, I am glad to say, for women. I agree with Senator Chipp that party political points ought not to be the substance of this debate; the debate should rather be about how the balance between civil liberties and fighting organised crime can best be achieved.

It would seem to me that many of the substantive matters have been agreed to; for example, that there be coercive powers available to the Authority but only where a reference has been given, that all the hearings of the Authority be in private but that where the Authority wishes to draw some major problem of crime- for example, the bottom of the harbour scheme-to the attention of the public the Authority can convene a public hearing to make such knowledge available. However , the many points of agreement seem to be lost or passed over in concentrating on the points of difference and there has been a fair amount of slanging about those points in the chamber this evening. I might say the slang has by and large come from the Opposition.

I have spoken previously of my support for the retention of a judicial audit. I heard Senator Chipp comment that the judicial audit would require a judge to sit in on all the hearings of the Authority, and so it would be unworkable. I ask Senator Chipp, if he opposes that and suggests the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee, does he suggest that that committee would have to sit in on all the hearings of the National Crime Authority? If not, would he please explain in what way such a joint parliamentary committee would be able to overview the behaviour of the Crime Authority when a judicial audit cannot? He suggests it is unworkable but he does not explain to me, or at least not to my satisfaction, how a parliamentary committee will achieve what a judicial audit cannot. I am not at all clear how Senator Chipp sees that difference and I argue that the joint parliamentary committee is an unnecessary layer of supervisory powers, claimed by Senator Chipp to be necessary to keep the National Crime Authority honest.

It is very important that quite clear guidelines be established about watch-dog responsibilities for such a crime authority. Of course we are giving this Crime Authority remarkable powers, unlike those of any other crime authority in this country, and it is important that some kind of ongoing review function be established to make sure that that Authority is responsible in its behaviour, but I do not see how the judicial audit, for all its limitations, would be better replaced by a joint parliamentary committee. In fact, I think the ordinary parliamentary processes of review of reports would have, under the legislation proposed, both the annual report of the National Crime Authority and the judicial audit to examine, whereas if the judicial audit measure is amended to be out of the Bill altogether the parliamentary committee, as I understand it , would have only the annual report of the Authority to review.

From time to time, too, people have opposed the presence of the Ombudsman's role in the Bill. I must say, as I have said before, that I support that. I seem to be a minority voice in this area. The arguments for the Ombudsman and the judicial audit mostly focus on their dealing with the protection of the civil liberties of people who could claim to be under attack or who have been attacked in the course of National Crime Authority hearings. I think both of those functions are of critical importance and must be provided for in the Bill. I believe they are. However, the judicial audit has another function, and that is of general review or overview of the activities of the Authority in regard to the sorts of reference it accepts, how far it pursues those references, its general investigative role and even of such mundane things as how much money it has spent and how it will account for those sorts of things. It seems to me that the judicial audit, for all that it is a problematical authority, still seems to deal with the proposal of overview of the whole Crime Authority satisfactorily and certainly sufficient to justify not establishing a joint parliamentary committee to do so.

One of the points that Senator Sir John Carrick raised, and which I would like to take up, is the point in the proposed amendments with regard to withdrawal of references. It is argued that the withdrawal of references has to be approved by both Houses of the Parliament before such a reference can be withdrawn. The argument mounted by the Opposition focuses on the fact that if that is not the case the Attorney-General or any Minister could, I suppose, lean on the Authority and ask it to withdraw a reference. But the understanding of the Opposition seems always to suggest only the idea of corruption or covering up of crime. It is important that the Senate be reminded again of the evidence of Mr Justice Nicholson before the Senate committee of inquiry. He said that he found it most salutary, useful and constructive when he went seeking a second extension of the reference of his inquiry that he was denied that reference. He said it was appropriate and responsible that that should happen. There are times when a reference could be pursued well beyond what could be called reasonable bounds. Not all proposals to withdraw references would be part of governmental corruption or anything approaching that. Sometimes references would want to be withdrawn because they had long served their purpose or were in fact moving into territories for which the reference was not appropriate, or in fact creating other difficulty. I urge Senator Sir John Carrick to appreciate that there are other than mischievous reasons for some of the proposals in some of the sections of this Bill. I also point out to him that he claimed quite often that everyone knows. 'Everyone knows' seems to me to be as weighty as referring to nine out of ten dentists. I suggest that everyone does not know, and that that is not a massively significant way to argue.

Finally, I wish to raise a point about the clear dispute about whether or not the States should have some say in references, particularly with regard to references applying to Commonwealth legislation only. Much has been said of that . Most of the arguments seems to be shaped, as far as I understand it. It may be the benefit of youth, if not innocence, that I do not presume that everytime anyone opposes things the reason is that corruption is rampant and everyone is about to be exposed as being bad or evil. It seems to me that the Attorney- General has given evidence into the Senate that he took the recommendations of the Senate committee of inquiry to a meeting of the Attorneys-General of all States and after much discussion they all agreed-that is every one of them, not only the Attorneys-General of Labor State governments, but those of Queensland and Tasmania too-that the best outcome would would be achieved with a reciprocal responsibility between States and the Federal Government. That is a matter of shaping the legislation so as to achieve the optimal with a view to perhaps maximal outcome rather than creating unnecessary division before the Authority even gets under way.

I must be advised by what the Attorney-General reports to the Senate on that matter. Certainly I was one of the people in the Senate committee of inquiry who argued that it would be reasonable for the Federal Government to be able to provide a reference for Federal legislation. But, if the advice the Attorney- General gives me is that the State Attorneys-General would be persuaded more, and their co-operation is of course clearly critical in this whole debate and the establishment of this Authority, I think I must pay regard to what he reports back from such a meeting. I do not wish to take up the Senate's time much more at this stage but I hope that the debate in the Committee stage establishes more light and less heat and that the amendments as proposed by the Government are accepted. I commend them to the Senate.