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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2649


Senator CHIPP (Leader of the Australian Democrats)(5.08) —We have been here for about six or seven hours on the National Crime Authority Bill. I find no point in my repeating arguments that have been eloquently put by someone else . The Australian Democrats will oppose both these clauses for the eloquent reasons put down some time ago by Senator Durack and added to by Senator Lewis. The thrust of these two provisions is to have the Ombudsman involved and to have a judicial audit. The motivations of the Government are quite honourable, respectable and commendable. I suggest that the motive for these two provisions is twofold. The first purpose is to ensure that any complaints about criminal behaviour put by citizens to the National Crime Authority or any evidence put to the National Crime Authority is properly looked at, investigated; in other words , so that the National Crime Authority is kept honest. The second purpose is to ensure that civil liberties are not unduly trampled upon.

Senator Lewis dealt particularly with the Ombudsman and said how that office could be abused. He also said, and I agree, that it could give people a false sense of security believing that their civil rights could be protected, whereas in practice they could not. Organised crime is of such dimensions and has such cohesion that smart, expensive lawyers could well use the Ombudsman's office to unduly hamper or harass inquiries from the Ombudsman. Even if one goes to the stage of saying that the Ombudsman could not totally stop an inquiry, he could delay it to such an extent that would allow the criminal or criminals to get off the hook. The motives of the Attorney-General and of the Government could be summed up in clause 47, which I shall paraphrase and which sets out the functions of the judicial audit. It seeks to examine the operations of the Authority and to report to the Minister whether the Authority has effectively performed its functions under the Bill-namely, whether there has been any evidence given to the Authority upon which it has not acted. Secondly, it is concerned with whether the Authority has done any act or thing contrary to law or trespassed unduly upon the rights and liberties of individuals. Senator Durack clearly put the point that to ask for a judge to do that would need at least a resident judge within the office of the Authority, plus some staff. For those two reasons, the Democrats support the Opposition in opposing these two provisions.

To save time, I wish now to say a few words about what alternative the Democrats would like to see in place of these two safeguards which the Government quite properly wants to see installed. We want a joint committee of this Parliament on the National Crime Authority. It could well be asked what sort of protection is that to individuals. I am a great admirer of the ombudsmen , both State and Federal, but for the last 15 years I have said publicly that the best ombudsmen in Australia, with great respect to people in official positions, are members of parliament. All of us in our capacities other than legislators receive complaints from ordinary people in our electorates-the little people as the Attorney-General suggested-who complain about their civil liberties being trampled on by government departments, ministers, policemen or whatever. The person who can lift up a telephone and get access to the top bureaucrats in this land is a member of parliament. Therefore, I can see a committee of members of parliament-preferably a joint committee of members of the House of Representatives and members of the Senate-sitting as a watchdog on this Authority as entirely appropriate. It could perform the two functions. It could be a vehicle to receive complaints from people outside to the effect that the Authority is not doing its job, has not pursued a particular investigation, or has disregarded evidence of criminal behaviour which it should have regarded. Further, if somebody has his or her civil liberties infringed, it could be a vehicle to receive complaints of that sort.

I do not know how effective such a joint committee on the National Crime Authority could be. Certainly it could not do the all embracing job that the Attorney-General envisages that a judicial audit could do, but neither do I believe that a judge could do the same. But it would keep the Authority conscious that there is somebody there, namely a group of members of parliament, who will act as a vehicle for the receipt of complaints about the Authority's behaviour. To that extent I believe it will be as effective as, if not more effective than, the protection which the Attorney-General wants to write into the legislation, namely, involving the Ombudsman and the judicial audit. For that reason, the Democrats will be supporting the Liberal Party in opposing the two propositions that are now before the Committee. If they are disposed of, I will be moving my amendment no. 13.