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Tuesday, 5 June 1984
Page: 2545

Senator MISSEN(9.15) —I rise to speak on this, one of the most vital amendments as far as the Opposition is concerned which I would expect us to divide on. I would also expect the Opposition to continue the consistency which we have had on this matter since the previous legislation was passed by the Parliament and in which, of course, clause 7 gave the National Crimes Commission , which we were then setting up, to investigate of its own motion or on a request to the Attorney-General many matters. I believe it is absolutely essential for the reasons, among others, that Senator Durack has given, that power must exist if the National Crime Authority is to be anything but a spineless body.

It is all right for Senator Chipp to say that this body will not be totally inhibited from day one. What a miserable way of expressing it. Why should it be just not inhibited from day one? Why should it not be able from day one to take actions which are necessary to defeat and suppress organised crime in this community which Senator Chipp was so keen to do in previous years. Now he is prepared to have this bodgie and inadequate body inhibited to a very great degree so that it can take on certain ordinary investigations but it cannot use the powers that have been necessary. The Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) may smile. He may get his way. He may have allies who are going to go along with some of these things. He may create a body which will be the shame of the Australian people for many years to come. He will live to regret that because I believe he has better ideas than that. However, I am afraid he is tied to things which he cannot avoid.

Let me remind Senator Chipp who does not want to hear my voice-he is going to hear it very often perhaps before this whole business is over-that on 16 November 1983 when in fact we were sending the National Crime Authority Bill to the Committee he said in a Press release headed 'Democrats Want Better Crime Authority', and he appeared throughout the hearings of the evidence to hold to that point of view, that he certainly did not want to see a Bill with fatal flaws that would make it a toothless tiger. When he came to describe what was going with the Bill, what did he list as the first item? It was:

(1) the Authority may not initiate inquiries, but may investigate only if a matter has been referred to it by the ministerial committee (cl. 10).

At that time that was his number one priority-it was number one on his list of matters that ought to be dealt with. We have heard that the Committee recommended certain minor alterations. What the Opposition is recommending is that there should be the sort of power that the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federal Ship Painters and Dockers Union has now which enables it to move in, often on a fairly flimsy piece of evidence, to investigate and to call before it people such as bank managers and find out information which enable it, of course, to pursue these matters further. I have, on this matters, dissented vigorously from he majority of members on the Senate Committee. I have set out on page 118 and following pages of the minority report substantial reasons for doing so. I have also included the evidence of the most important witnesses we had before the Committee-people such as people like Mr Costigan- material supplied by Mr Justice Stewart and remarks by Mr Redlich which made it clear that this power should exist. I want to read some of those passages. In my report I said:

Substantial evidence before the Committee calls for strong powers of investigation from the beginning of an investigation. Mr Justice Stewart in his Report on the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking February 1983 . . . sees the necessity of a Crimes Commission having a wide range of coercive powers and concludes--

these are his words--

(e) exercise of the commission's powers to investigate the commission should undertake investigations:

of its own motion; and

at the request of the Commonwealth or a State Government.

It should be empowered . . .

In regard to Mr Bob Bottom, who held Senator Chipp in a great deal of respect and from my conversation with him does not understand why Senator Chipp has gone back on these things today, said in evidence that the Authority must determine its own destiny, subject to the scrutiny of Parliament. He went on to point out that it needs the powers to roam as it wished rather than to act according to references. Mr Redlich, the Special Prosecutor, who of course has been right in the thick of things, had this to say:

It is amazing what Government instrumentalities will do by way of co-operation and support once somebody has the power to demand information.

Until that power is given, every device known to man may be employed to avoid co-operation and the handing over of information. Once an authority, a director of public prosecutions or a special prosecutor has the specific power to do so, they do co-operate, albeit reluctantly.

That is the important aspect of this matter. It is no good saying that this Authority can exercise its ordinary functions and go along like any other citizen and ask for information, because it will not get that information from people. It will get it if it has the power to do so. The position will be that one has to go to this inter-governmental committee, one of the most leaky bodies that could exist in the Commonwealth. Everyone will know what it is seeking; everybody will know whom it is investigating, and there will be discussion and debate in State parliaments. There will be every opportunity for people to know and therefore there will be no element of surprise whatsoever. The people under investigation will be able to take precautions-leave the country, sell their property, destroy their books. I put this point to Mr Frank Costigan when he was giving evidence and he said:

I think it would affect that seriously, particularly as the inter-governmental body encompasses a wide range of people from all over the country and there is power in the committee and in the Ministers of all States to require from the crime authority such information as it wishes. It really is an open sieve. Again , that is a power that might be legitimate. Governments do have to know what is going on. But it would be a very serious detriment to efficient intelligence gathering, I think.

I put it to the Committee that here we are making a vital decision about these powers. We are either going to ignore the evidence of the most substantial witnesses who came before the Senate Committee, deny these powers to the committee and thus deny the purposes that the former Government's Bill had by setting up a body and nobbling it from the beginning, or else we are going to give it the powers it should have. I regard this amendment proposed by Senator Durack as the most important amendment to concern this Committee tonight.