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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2595


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(10.48) —It seems likely that people did not get quite enough sleep last night because I am really at a bit of a loss to understand the passion that my remarks have generated. We are all agreed, it seems, that it is appropriate for the intergovernmental committee to take into account the adequacy of police capacity to deal with these matters. We all understand that in so taking into account the committee would be armed with the reports or attitudes of the respective police commissioners, and no doubt many of which might be of a kind which Senator Lewis mentioned. All I have been concerned to ensure all along is that in taking into account the question of the adequacy of police resources, there be a genuine consideration of the possibility of effective police action, rather than merely formal consideration of it, and that there really be some close attention paid by the committee to the possibility of getting there by police action rather than escalating it to the coercive action of the kind that is involved in the granting of a reference.

I think we are all utterly of the same mind about those propositions that I have just advanced. It really boils down to an argument, which I have said is simply a semantic argument, as to how vigorously one expressed that obligation to take into account the original language of the National Crime Authority Bill, which I have indicated I prefer, which is, that the committee be satisfied. The language that Senator Hill and Senator Chipp prefer is that the committee consider the particular matter. Were there some legal barrier imposed by the obligation to be satisfied, such that it could be the subject of a court action by someone who wanted to argue that the committee could not have been satisfied or had not been satisfied, I would accept the force of the propositions that are being put, that we do not want to create legal barriers and further opportunities for challenge of that kind. It is certainly no part of the Government's intention to create such opportunities for challenge.

I do not read the clause as having, in lawyers' parlance, anything more than merely directory force. I do not believe it would be, to use another posh lawyer 's word, a justiciable matter-that is, one that could be taken to court-the way that clause is framed. As such I think there is practically no practical difference between the forms of words that have been advanced by the Opposition and by the Government.

The concern that I am reflecting is simply the understandable concern of the State police forces and Ministers that their particular role in fighting organised crime be not downgraded; that their role be fully appreciated and understood, and that, where appropriate, the State police forces continue to play their traditional crime investigation role. Equally, the State Ministers and State police forces have perfectly happily acknowledged that there will be many circumstances in which police resources and traditional police powers are simply inadequate and, as such, it is appropriate for a reference for coercive powers to operate.

I indicated that the Government did not feel strongly enough about this to push it to the point of division. I can only reiterate what I have now said twice and hope that a little bit of the heat can go out of this and that we will continue to debate things quietly and calmly as we have been very constructively doing so far.