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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2582

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General) —Mr President, I claim to have been misrepresented and seek leave to make a personal explanation.

Leave granted.

Senator GARETH EVANS —A story appears on page two of the Sydney Morning Herald this morning under the rather sensational heading 'Evans said to have offered Costigan ''bribe''. The story is based on an interview between Richard Carleton and Richard Farmer on Nationwide last night, which-although I have not yet had an opportunity to check the transcript-appears to be reasonably summarised in the opening three paragraphs of the Herald story, which read as follows:

A Canberra businessman and journalist, Mr Richard Farmer, claimed last night that Mr Frank Costigan had accused the Attorney-General, Senator Evans, of offering him a bribe during discussions over the proposed crime authority.

Mr Farmer, who was speaking on the ABC program Nationwide, said Mr Costigan, the Painters and Dockers Royal Commissioner, had made the claim in a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, soon after the election in March, 1983.

He said the letter was written after Senator Evans had told Mr Costigan that if he wanted to head the proposed national crime authority, he would have to be appointed a judge of the Federal Court on a salary of about $90,000 a year instead of his present salary of $1,500 per working day as head of the Commission.

It will be evident on the face of the story itself that the so-called bribe being referred to is nothing more than the offer of a Federal Court of Australia appointment at a salary of in fact less than $80,000 per annum to a man who was receiving, and had been receiving for a very considerable period, fees of $1,500 per working day, amounting to an annual income of between $300,000 and $400,000. On any view it is an odd bribe that would reduce a person's earnings by three- quarters, even when compensating pension and other entitlements are taken into account. To that extent the Herald's own heading creates a very misleading impression of the content of the story which follows.

As to the substance of the Farmer claims, as distinct from the way in which they have been reported, I do not think it is appropriate for me to canvass in any detail at all the content of what were essentially private communications between the Royal Commissioner, myself and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). I should, however, make it clear that so far as I am aware the expression 'bribe' was never used by Mr Costigan.

Senator Teague —At the time.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Or at any time. It is the case that shortly after the Government was returned I had a wide-ranging conversation with Mr Costigan about the future of both his own Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union and the then proposed National Crimes Commission , in the course of which concern was expressed by me about the enormous cost of running such commissions on a daily fee basis, and the possibility of a Federal Court appointment was canvassed. It is also the case that following that discussion-during which, as I recall it, no exception was taken to the judicial appointment question being raised-Mr Costigan wrote to the Prime Minister saying , among other things, that the suggestion of a Federal judicial appointment was 'outrageous'. It is also the case that I reacted with something less than enthusiasm to this characterisation of a conversation which I believe was, in the context in which it occurred, completely proper and utterly innocuous. Further discussion subsequently took place between Mr Costigan and myself in which it was acknowledged that there may have been some misunderstandings and the matter was amicably resolved in a matter of days.