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Tuesday, 5 June 1984
Page: 2532


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(6.27) —The Government opposes the Opposition amendment. The definition of 'relevant offence' is crucial in defining the outside limits to the jurisdiction of the National Crime Authority- the sorts of things that it can investigate and conduct references in relation to. To that extent it is very important that those outside boundaries should mean something and that what they should mean should broadly coincide with the general community understanding of what is involved in organised and sophisticated crime.

The effect of Senator Durack's amendment would be to apply three criteria only to the definition of 'relevant offence'. Firstly, it would have to involve, or be of a kind that ordinarily involved, two or more offenders and substantial planning and organisation. Secondly, it would have to involve, or be of a kind that ordinarily involved, the use of sophisticated methods and techniques. Thirdly, it would have to be an offence that is committed, or is of a kind that is ordinarily committed, in conjunction with other offences of a like kind. The further reference in the definition to theft, illegal drug dealings, gambling and all the rest would become, as indeed the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs recommended, merely indicative and would have no substantial force whatever in confining what it was that the Authority might do.

When one thinks about it, those three criteria, without some force being attached to the description of the kinds of offences in question, really are extraordinarily wide. On their face they could extend, for example, to a ring of 10-year-old kids who are engaged in systematic bicycle theft in a particular neighbourhood involving the picking of the locks on the bikes in question by some sophisticated piece of gadgetry which one of them has pinched or borrowed from his father's garage. If those same kids, as a sideline, are involved in, say pinching apples, one would have the criteria, on the face of it, satisfied- and that is manifestly absurd. There has to be some limitation built into the very fabric of this definition which makes it clear and which points to the kinds of offences we are very much concerned with.

The further effect of the Opposition amendment would be to exclude outright, as Senator Durack frankly concedes, any limitation on the Authority's capacity to poke around in what are clearly genuine industrial disputes involving parties to those disputes and nobody else, because it is the case that criminal offences involving picketing and other things of that kind can often be committed in the course of a genuine industrial dispute. Moreover there would be no limitation on the capacity of the Authority to investigate offences, the time for the commencement of a prosecution in relation to which has expired, and of course there would be no requirement at all that the jurisdiction of the Authority be limited on the face of it, or at least at first sight, to more serious offences as those punishable by three years imprisonment or more.

For all those reasons we reject outright the Opposition amendment. I believe the Democrats intend to move amendments for some further qualification and refinements to the original terms of the Government's amendment. While we are happy to debate those on their merits, we are not at all happy to accept as a credible alternative the Opposition amendment.

Sitting suspended from 6.31 to 8 p.m.