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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2678

Senator DURACK(8.56) —For some time now we have been engaged in a very extensive debate about the establishment of a national crimes commission-as it seems to be popularly called, although the Bill creates what is called the National Crime Authority. I am somewhat flattered that the Press seems to have taken hold of the original name for this proposal, the national crimes commission, which was, of course, part of the title of the Bill which was proposed to the Parliament by the Fraser Government nearly two years ago. That legislation was in fact passed by this Parliament and the commission was ready to be established when the present Government won office in March last year. I do not propose to canvas again the long and sorry history of the way in which this Government and the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans), on the Government's behalf, have delayed the establishment of the National Crime Authority.

However, I think that the Government has been forced into taking steps which apparently it did not wish to take and which it has taken reluctantly. During the Committee's consideration of this legislation, in which it was engaged for a considerable time, the Government fought a number of proposals which were supported by the Committee. I believe all the decisions the Committee took have improved and strengthened the legislation. The Opposition has always had to bear in mind whether, after the final process of parliamentary consideration, the Authority would be useful, even if not as powerful and as effective as we would have liked to have seen it. I have to express my disappointment about the final result of the Bill as it has emerged from that process. However, the Bill in its present state is a considerable improvement on the Bill that was introduced into this Parliament by the Attorney-General last November. That Bill was the result of seemingly endless discussions-what I have described as backing and filling-by the new Government after it was elected in March last year.

I think that the delays by the Government as a result of that process were quite indefensible and quite contrary to the sorts of promises that were made by the Government in the election campaign before the Government came into office. The very clear impression was given that the Government was really serious about the problem of organised crime and definitely intended to do something very immediate about it. During the first parliamentary session the Prime Minister ( Mr Hawke) indicated a crimes commission would be established and that it would be in operation, I think he said initially, by 1 January this year. Here we are nearly half way though this year and the Bill is only just emerging from the Parliament. There have been quite indefensible delays on the part of this Government. Here again we have an example of its performance falling so far short of its rhetoric and its promises.

I have spoken in general terms about an Authority of some kind. When we come to judge the actual product as it has emerged in this Parliament I must express again on behalf of the Opposition some very grave disappointments and also some very great doubts as to whether this Authority, which we have now fledged as effectively as we can be the process of the Committee stage debate, will by the effective, firm, fearless and independent Authority which I have always maintained is required. I refer to a form of Authority which the Fraser Government got through the Parliament. The Authority had received approval and was ready to be put into operation when we lost government.

The Government's Bill contained some really quite iniquitous proposals and limitations on that Authority. In particular, it proposed the incredible abdication of authority by a Federal Government and a Federal Attorney-General, whereby the Federal Attorney-General could not give references to the Authority in respect of breaches of purely federal law without the approval of the inter- governmental committee, which is provided for in this legislation and which comprises Federal and State Ministers. I am pleased to note that an amendment at the Committee stage has changed that situation which was really one of abdication of authority on the part of the Federal Government and the Federal Attorney-General of one of its major responsibilities, namely, the investigation and prosecution of crime at the federal level in purely federal matters. As I have said over again, in recent years crime has, regretfully, become a major problem in this country. It is a national problem, and organised crime has grown to a great extent because of the increase in drugs and the huge profits that can be made from their importation and the formation of drug syndicates, and so on, with which we are all familiar.

At least as a result of the investigations of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs and of the deliberations in the Committee of the Whole, we have removed one of the major limitations on the role of the Authority, which the Bill provided. I am pleased to see that other amendments were approved by the Committee of the Whole, such as a widening of the definition of 'relevant offence', although, again, this, was not done to the extent that the Senate Committee had recommended.

There is an improvement again in the creation of a general power of investigation for the Authority, without its having to use its special powers. Although that was a recommendation of the Senate Standing Committee, in my view and in the view of the Opposition, it has not gone far enough because I think the Authority should be able to use its special powers as well as its investigative powers on its own initiative and volition. Certain impediments to the role of the Authority have been removed. The Bill provided that the inter- governmental committee was not to give references unless it was satisfied that ordinary police methods of investigation were not effective. That limitation has been removed.

The power of the Minister to withdraw a reference has been removed. The great impediments on the Authority as proposed in the shape of the Ombudsman's powers, and a judicial audit, have been removed. The extraordinary proposal that the Government made in the Committee stage to limit the powers of the staff of the Authority to interview witnesses and people who could assist with inquiries has also been improved.

I believe that there have been very considerable improvements to the Government 's Bill, largely as a result of the work of the Senate Committee. I must say that no credit may be given here to the members of that Committee who sit on the Government benches, because the Chairman and some of the members of the Committee who recommended some of these major changes have not been prepared to stand up in this chamber for their recommendations. They have servilely followed the numbers game imposed on them by the Attorney-General and by the ethos of the Labor Party. We have seen a pathetic performance. I think that only one of them spoke in this debate. Is that right?

Senator Missen —Only one.

Senator DURACK —One of them spoke and made a minor contribution to this very lengthy and important debate. What happened to the Chairman of the Committee which recommended these changes? We did not hear him. We saw him only when he came in to vote servilely with the Government.

Senator Hill —He knows they would expel him.

Senator DURACK —Of course he would be. We know the way the Labor Party operates. Here we have had a pathetic performance. People talk about the value of Senate committees. When it comes to the crunch, Labor members of Senate committees are told what to do by the Labor Caucus and we have seen how servilely they come into line. So no credit whatsoever goes to the Labor Party and its members for its performance in this debate.

Another matter which has been a disappointment to me is some of the attitudes adopted by the Australian Democrats in this debate. Senator Chipp, the Leader of the Democrats, has played a major role in regard to dealing with the major problem of organised crime which we face in this country. I think Senator Chipp has a right to claim a fine record in rhetoric in all events--

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order. I draw your attention to standing order 421 which vests in you the capacity to call to the attention of the Senate continued irrelevance or tedious repetition, and your power to direct a senator to discontinue his speech. I suggest that the time has come to discontinue Senator Durack's speech. This is the third reading debate. Senator Durack seems to be caught in some kind of time warp whereby he thinks we are starting out on the second reading debate again and engaging in the kind of argument we have had for two days. I do not know who he is trying to con, who he is trying to convince or who he is trying to ginger up by this tedious, endless regurgitation of matters and stances with which we are all entirely familiar.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —There is no point of order. In a third reading speech a senator may express his views.

Senator DURACK —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I am glad that you have a much finer appreciation of the Standing Orders and the traditions of the Senate than the Attorney-General has. He is again showing his inability to take it. He likes to dish it out but he cannot take it.

It is a matter of disappointment that the Democrats have not always supported the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee of which their leader, Senator Chipp, was a distinguished member. He was anxious to serve on that Committee and the Committee was expanded to enable him to do so. I think that it was a very sound decision of the Senate to enable him to do so, but despite the fact that the Committee made some major recommendations in relation to the definition or 'relevant offence' and in regard to the directions that could be given to the Authority by the Minister-matters that were very important as far as political control and manipulation of the Authority were concerned-the Democrat vote did not accord with the recommendations of the Committee. I express my disappointment that the Democrats' vote did not match their rhetoric or, indeed, the recommendations of their leader in regard to some of the important debates that we have had.

The last disappointment I express on behalf of the Opposition is about two matters on which we felt that the Committee itself had not been strong enough in its recommendations. The first was the failure of the Committee to recommend a wide power of initiative on the part of the-

Senator Georges —On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President, I ask you to consider whether Senator Durack, in his third reading speech, is canvassing and questioning the decisions that the Senate has reached-

Senator Missen —I hope so.

Senator Georges —The Senate in committee made certain decisions which Senator Durack is now canvassing and criticising. He is now in the process of questioning those decisions which were the subject of debate and decision by vote of the Senate in committee. If he wishes to take part in the third reading debate, he should confine himself to a third reading speech which has some limitations. He cannot introduce new material, but I suggest, Mr Acting Deputy President, that he cannot canvass or question the decisions formally taken during the process of this Bill.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I draw Senator Durack's attention to the fact that a third reading speech should not be a rehash. I agree that to some extent he has been overstepping the mark. The third reading speech should be confined to reasons why the third reading should take place.

Senator DURACK —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. In fact my remarks have been directed precisely to that point. If Senator Georges has not been able to follow that it is not surprising because he has not played a very notable part in this debate from go to whoa. If he could only remain silent instead of making inane interjections, he might learn something from what I am saying.

The vital point of my speech, which I now come to, is that we now have to decide whether this Bill is in a form that is worth supporting on the third reading. That is the point we are dealing with and which I have been addressing. The final point that I wish to make in relation to the judgment which the Senate must make is that there are two matters to which the Opposition attaches great significance which went beyond the recommendations of the Senate Committee. One would have enabled the Authority to act on its own initiative not only on references that it is given, that is, it would have enabled it to exercise its special powers. Admittedly, the amendments which have been agreed to, which were recommended by the Senate Committee and which have been adopted by the Government, have widened the powers of the Authority to investigate matters on its own initiative, but not to exercise its special powers without a reference from either the Federal Minister in a Federal matter or the intergovernmental committee in matters which are in breach of State laws. That in itself is a considerable improvement on the existing Bill and the Committee's vote in the debate we have just completed has greatly extended the powers of the Authority in State matters, whereby the Federal Minister can give a reference after consulting the intergovernmental committee. On purely Federal matters a reference can be given regardless of the view of the intergovernmental committee .

The other matter which is a disappointment is that we have an Authority which is comprised of only three members, two of whom will be nominated, in effect, by State Ministers, although the Attorney-General could play a part in it and, indeed, could veto it, although I believe it is very unlikely that he would ever take that step in view of the attitude that he has adopted--

Senator Gareth Evans —On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. If ever there were a case for the application of standing order 421, I suggest it is now . Senator Durack's disappointments may be of great moment to him and his party but they are not of any moment to the Senate in considering whether to grant this Bill a third reading. He is indulging in tedious repetition of points that were made endlessly in the course of this debate. We have a program, the Government has a program and the Parliament has a program. Let us get on with it .

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order but I ask Senator Durack to confine his speech to why the third reading should take place.

Senator DURACK —The Attorney-General should contain his patience. I know it is very troublesome for him to have to listen to anybody else. We have all listened to hours and hours of tedious and tendentious debate by the Attorney-General, and I realise that it is troublesome and tedious for him to have to have to listen to somebody else. Despite his evident desire not to be reminded of his own deficiencies, weaknesses and delays in the handling of this matter, I propose to indicate the judgments which the Opposition has had to make in this lengthy debate. The Opposition is not satisfied with the result-I make that quite clear. We believe that this Authority will not be as effective or as independent as we would like. However, we believe that the urgency and the magnitude of the problem and the threat to our security of organised crime and official corruption is such that a national authority is required to tackle it. We believe that this Authority is better than nothing.

In conclusion, the Opposition will continue to pursue its criticisms and will monitor this Authority closely. When we are returned to government, as hopefully we will be before long, we will make the amendments that we consider necessary in order to make this Authority the effective, fearless organisation which we think is required. But in the meantime we believe that this Authority should be established, with the deficiencies that it certainly has, because the Government cannot be goaded into doing anything better. The responsibility for it in this form is going to be on the Government's head. I hope that it will be more effective than we fear it will be. But we wish it well and we will support the third reading.