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Wednesday, 5 September 1984
Page: 439


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(10.10) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

As foreshadowed in the statement I tabled on 21 August 1984 in relation to the report of Mr I. D. Temby, QC, as Special Prosecutor in regard to the Age materials, it is necessary to amend the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979 to enable Mr Justice Stewart, as Royal Commissioner, to investigate these materials and also to enable them to be handed to the New South Wales Commissioner for Public Complaints for action by him. It is the Government's view, which accords with the recommendations of Mr Temby, QC, as Special Prosecutor, that, at this stage, any inquiry of a royal commission character in relation to the Age material should be carried out by the Stewart Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking.

Under the Bill now before the Senate either commissioner, before making use of the materials, must be satisfied that the document in question is an authentic record and is appropriate to be dealt with by him. Only if so satisfied, may the commissioner make use of a document for his inquiry. In the view of the Government the question of authenticity is an essential threshold consideration. In reaching its decision to proceed with this legislation, the Government has taken into account the fact that the Senate Select Committee on the Conduct of a Judge was not able to determine that the materials relating to the conduct of a Federal judge were authentic or genuine except to the extent that participants in conversations made limited acknowledgments. Against this, some of the materials are directly relevant to Mr Justice Stewart's inquiry into the Terrence Clark drug trafficking group. As Royal Commissioner acting under royal commission powers given by both the Commonwealth and New South Wales governments and with his unique experience in investigations and special background knowledge, Mr Justice Stewart is probably better equipped than any other inquiry body to establish the authenticity and sources of the material. He will also be able to investigate generally the matters disclosed therein relevant to his inquiries.

His Honour has indicated that he expects to complete this inquiry expeditiously . On its completion he will resume his Nugan Hand inquiries and an extension of his time for reporting in that regard may become necessary. At the same time Mr Justice Stewart will be Chairman of the three-member National Crime Authority which has recently commenced operation. The Australian community is greatly indebted to the effective and energetic manner in which Mr Justice Stewart carries out his arduous duties. It is appropriate to provide for reference to the New South Wales Commissioner because, as Mr Temby points out, State offences may be involved.

The Bill also removes doubt as to the lawfulness of a person who reasonably suspects that material in his possession may be evidence of an illegal interception passing that information to law enforcement agencies which may use it for the purpose of prosecuting that offence.

Mr President, as I made clear in my statement of 21 August 1984, the Government sees this legislation as the essential and appropriate response at this stage to the matters raised in Mr Temby's report and in relation to the Age materials generally. The legislation will enable the appropriate tribunal to use the materials provided their authenticity is first established. It will thus ensure that the reputations and livelihood of individual citizens will not be placed in jeopardy by unauthenticated material of possible worthless evidentiary significance but, if this material is authenticated, the legislation enables proper use to be made of it.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.