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Thursday, 6 September 1984
Page: 535


Senator GEORGES(10.49) —When this matter was first raised in the Senate I took a strong stand against the establishment of the Senate Select Committee on the Conduct of a Judge on the basis that we would engage in a very partisan political exercise and that the Committee's findings would not be conclusive. So it has turned out to be. We are in a very difficult position in the Senate. This matter goes to the very heart of the reputation of the Senate and the use of the powers of the Senate. There is no doubt that the powers of the Senate are great. There is no doubt that the powers of the Senate will enable it to proceed as the Opposition wants it to proceed, but the view in this place in the years that I have been here has always been that it is better not to use them as they can be gravely misused.

In my service on a variety of committees, and some have been substantial committees, we abided by standing order 304. Standing order 304 limits the role of committees merely to seeking out evidence, establishing certain facts and making recommendations. It does not allow any person who comes before a committee to be cross-examined by counsel or give the committee a judicial function. Committees took great care to protect witnesses who came before them, through the Chair, by allowing counsel to be present to protect their rights but did not allow cross-examination. Committees also took great care that no submission came before them containing unsupported allegations which would then gain the protection of the Senate.

I remember the Senate Select Committee on Securities and Exchange which looked into the corporations and securities industry. A certain person made a submission before that Committee containing grave charges against the Chairman of the Melbourne Stock Exchange. They were very serious charges. If we had allowed this submission to go before the Committee it would have meant that the Chairman of the Stock Exchange would have had thrust upon him the onus of proving his innocence against charges made under privilege, cloaked by the power of the Senate. With the protection of the Senate, those charges would then have had currency and would have placed the accused in an extremely difficult position. The person against whom those charges were made was a leading member of the Liberal Party of Australia. I was a member of the Australian Labor Party. Great political benefit was to be gained by making that submission and those charges public. We resisted that.

I think that the Senate Select Committee on the Conduct of a Judge should have resisted Mr Briese's allegations because they are not corroborated; they are the allegations of a single person and his recollection of certain events. By accepting those allegations, which incidentally were quite outside the terms of reference, the Committee gave them currency and strength and put a Justice of the High Court in a position of having to defend himself. That put him in a very difficult position because, as a High Court judge, he should not enter into the public arena. Perhaps he ought not to have entered the public arena in the way Senator Missen indicated earlier. There must have been tremendous pressure upon him to answer the charges that were made by Mr Briese. Mr Briese's evidence was made public. Evidence given in camera before the Committee was leaked and was published. When we look at that, we have to be careful that we do not discredit the Committee. I believe that the Briese evidence could only have been made public either by Mr Briese or someone who was advising him. There is no time to go into that at present.


Senator Harradine —That is an unfair allegation.


Senator GEORGES —It is not an unfair allegation.


Senator Harradine —It is an unfair allegation.


Senator GEORGES —Could the honourable senator explain to me how Mr Briese's evidence to the Committee was published?


Senator Harradine —That is an unfair reflection on Mr Briese, the Chief Stipendiary Magistrate. He ought to be protected in this Parliament as well as anybody else.


Senator GEORGES —Perhaps the honourable senator is correct. Perhaps I ought not to have brought the matter forward. It is before the Privileges Committee.


Senator Crichton-Browne —Aren't you pre-judging that?


Senator GEORGES —Well, I will withdraw all that. I withdraw any imputation against Mr Briese. Let me get back to the simple fact that Mr Briese's evidence is a public document; Mr Justice Murphy's rebuttal, his whole statement, is not. Mr Briese's evidence, in part, is in the report, but the two documents are not public documents and Mr Justice Murphy's statement is not before us as such. It has been said that Mr Justice Murphy did not come before the Committee. In fact, he did come before the Committee by way of that statement. It is said that it was not a sworn statement, but did anyone advise Mr Justice Murphy that a sworn statement was needed? The statement took on importance because the Committee accepted it.


Senator Tate —It is proper evidence.


Senator GEORGES —Yes, of course it is proper evidence. That is why I question Mr Pincus's opinion. I know him well. I know of his legal reputation in Queensland and I support it. I find it difficult to accept that, on the basis of sworn evidence made by Mr Briese before the Committee and a so-called unsworn statement, he comes down in favour of Mr Briese's position.

Let me get back to the difficulty that the Senate faces. We have reached an absurd situation. We ought to place this matter at the bottom of the Notice Paper. We should bring an end to it. Really, we are at the mercy of a few people in this place who perhaps are retaliating to attacks made upon them by the other side of the House. There is no doubt that in this place over the past few years attacks have been levelled by both sides, one against the other. There is a confrontation now which makes it almost impossible to come to a reasoned decision on important matters. The real pity of this exercise is that there is an attempt to deal with the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) who, at times, has been most provocative. Some people would say: 'At all times he is provocative'.


Senator Withers —Just boring.


Senator GEORGES —Nevertheless, he seems to sting the honourable senator out of his languor from time to time. Let me put it to honourable senators that it does not pay to continually attack and denigrate. What happens? It becomes a two- sided argument. We have had denigration after denigration in this place and we cannot come to any reasoned position on very important matters which affect the reputation of others. It seems to me to be a pity that the future and the reputation of several institutions in our society will suffer as a result. It would be better if this abuse and counter-abuse ceased. But we are also at the mercy of a group of political novices in this place-those people who came forward yesterday with a proposition that we should now have a double-barrelled inquiry. They have stated that they will accept the proposition that the Government put forward but they will also accept the proposition that the Liberal Opposition put forward and combine them in some way.

We are now faced with a double-barrelled inquiry. It is an absurdity and a misuse of the power of the Senate to set up a particular type of committee as a device to establish a royal commission. We will become a laughing-stock. I suggest to the Leader of the Australian Democrats, (Senator Chipp), that although his political experience is long, his understanding of the procedures within the Senate is limited. Yet he and the Opposition, by simple resolution, will set aside the Standing Orders that have stood us in good stead for so long and replace them with a new set of Standing Orders which can be misused in the future. They say: 'But it is only for section 72 of the Constitution. It is a constitutional matter. That is why we are entering into this arrangement'. It is quite possible that an opposition with the numbers can set up a similar inquisition-that is all this is; an inquisition-against any person in this community. I say to the Opposition that it is not a power that we ought to be exercising or using.


Senator Withers —You should be giving this lecture to the trade union leaders.


Senator GEORGES —Yes, it could be. I only half heard the honourable senator's interjection. It could be a trade union leader.


Senator Withers —I said that you should be giving this lecture to the trade union leaders.


Senator GEORGES —It could be a trade union leader. It could be any person within the community who is suddenly thrust into a position in which that person has to prove his innocence. Imagine what will be happening! We will be putting two people on the rack before a committee with all the powers of the Senate and supporting it with commissioners and giving them all the power and they will be cross-examining and counter-cross-examining them. Mr Briese will be on one side and Mr Justice Murphy will be on the other. If we are not careful and we proceed in this way we can make it one of the worst political exercises that has been experienced in this country. I am suggesting to both sides of the Senate that we adjourn this debate, drop the matter to the bottom of the Notice Paper and never let it survive again. If there is any great reason to proceed, there are other ways of proceeding. If the Opposition is so convinced of misbehaviour, let it make an address to the Senate and let the whole Parliament decide. Opposition senators may argue that the numbers are in the other place to frustrate that. But they have the numbers in the Senate to initiate debate in the first place. So let us get back to reason instead of depending on numbers in this very important matter.

My experience of this place is that when we have come to a position of this sort the matter has been suitably resolved, not on the floor of this Senate but away from it by those of us who have the status, the standing and the intelligence. As I have said, we have such a confrontationist situation we cannot reach that sort of understanding any longer. From time to time the position of the Democrats can only be understood as political manoeuvring to keep themselves in the eye of the public. Perhaps that is the element which has come into this place and which has in some way altered the environment in which we work.

I am surprised that we have not accepted the recommendations of the Committee. That Committee was set up under terms of references determined by the Opposition . It was the Opposition's committee. It operated in secret. To a certain extent it has been an affront to the whole of the Senate that we have had a committee sitting at all times in camera. But I understand why. It was done because certain material was coming before the Committee that would have done exactly what the Briese evidence has done. Aside from the evidence that has been published in the Age, that evidence has rightly been kept private. It is unsubstantiated, unauthenticated evidence, as proved by the Committee, and its release would have been highly damaging. We have Mr Briese's uncorroborated evidence which is equally damaging to a particular individual.

The wreckage of this whole exercise has been considerable. I believe that the first to suffer was the Age. The Age is a newspaper to which we have always looked with a sense of respect and a sense of satisfaction. In the opinion of honourable senators on both sides of the Senate, at least there was one newspaper in Australia that maintained a high ethical standard and a high level of journalism. But the Age has been responsible for some very selective and often wrong reporting on this matter. If one considers that it was dependent upon the information and advice of one of its journalists, Mr Bottom, one can understand why. I do not have the time to go into the problems that people such as Mr Bottom present to our society.

I believe that the next victims were the various other sections of the media, in particular the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and I suppose that this will be the first time that I have been critical of the ABC. My criticism is not in relation to this matter but to the tone of the journalism and the tone of the operations in which journalists are now engaged. The other night on Nationwide we had a re-enactment of this matter based upon certain material, certain conversations and certain evidence. Faces were put to that material in a highly dramatic, sensational and damaging way. One of the people the program impersonated was a person against whom charges have been laid. That program descended to what I consider to be the poorest level of journalism that I have seen on that media for quite some time.

Let us take a look at a report on page 8 of the Sun. What chance does a person have against the sort of journalism we find in that report? The report, which is headed 'The Tapes Affair', includes a cartoon of Mr Justice Murphy which is a complete insult to anyone. It is a disgrace. On that page there is also a photo of Mr Briese. Mr Justice Murphy and Mr Briese, the two protagonists, are shown. I say that the comparison is despicable. That is despicable journalism, and that is the level of journalism that has surrounded this affair. Now the Senate begins to suffer as a result of the charge and countercharge and the political manoeuvrings that have taken place. Of course, the High Court of Australia has also suffered. It is not just one of the judges but the whole of the institution that is being dragged down to a level of investigation from which it should be protected.

I repeat that the matter ought to be brought to an end because it does us no good and it does our institutions no good. I refer again to the level of journalism and the trend that has developed among so many young journalists in that they seek out scandal. Where they find scandal they will magnify it. They will print a story with no regard to balance because it may spoil that story, and they have no regard for those who will suffer as a result. My view of the matter is that those who have some influence on the media must begin to look at the standards.

Let me come back to criticism of this place. I think we must look at our own standards and the manner in which we apply them. Again, I suggest that it does no good to attack, to vilify and to drag down. I remember on one occasion being requested to ask a question about a Liberal Minister and something that concerned his personal life. I did not ask that question.


Senator Walsh —Why not?


Senator GEORGES —Because I am not of the Minister's type. When I was Whip, if I remember, I gave him some good advice.


Senator Lewis —Tell us, George.


Senator GEORGES —I could give Senator Lewis some good advice too. He was part of this Committee and he heard the evidence before it. As a lawyer, he should have recognised the problems that that evidence raised.


Senator Lewis —You read the report, George.


Senator GEORGES —I have read the report and I have read Briese's evidence-such of it as has been given here. I have read such of Mr Justice Murphy's statement as is given here.


Senator Lewis —And it raises matters of grave concern.


Senator GEORGES —Yes, I know, but the honourable senator knew of the benefit he would gain from emphasising that concern. I am saying that he was engaged in a political exercise. He came to the Senate with a minority report which said that there was a prima facie case. He should then have proceeded to an address, not to extend the agony. He has had a person on a pillory while he has sat in camera for so long.


Senator Lewis —You blame your mates on your side of the chamber for not agreeing to that proposal. Do not blame us.


Senator GEORGES —It is fairly obvious that the Committee--


Senator Tate —How about a bit of truth from Senator Lewis?


Senator GEORGES —Do honourable senators see what emerges? I say that the reputation of the Senate and its committees is at stake. As I said, this Committee should not have been set up in the first place. No further such committees should be set up because the same problems will arise. My view of the matter is that it should not happen but it will happen. It is fairly obvious that the Australian Democrats have no further entrants. They made their remarkable compromise last night and are basking in the glory of that decision. They are just waiting for the vote. The vote will result in the setting up of two inquiries. I have never in my life, nor shall I, I doubt, in what remains of it, come across a more absurd situation than we have at present.


Senator Harradine —Are you voting for the Temby inquiry?


Senator GEORGES —Yes, of course I will.


Senator Lewis —Why?


Senator GEORGES —I will tell the honourable senator why I will vote for it. It is because a certain decision has been made by the Party and I will support that decision. If honourable senators opposite were prepared to free the vote--


Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —Would you stay over here, George? Come on!


Senator GEORGES —Where would Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle go? I know where she would go.


Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —I would go with you.


Senator GEORGES —Yes, that is right. I am not going to listen to further interjections. I have used up my time and I think I have used up my energies. I have certainly restrained my emotion. I certainly contained my anger because if I had let my anger go I may have said some harsh things about the Committee. I would just have neglected the Democrats. The main thrust of my anger would have been against the two Liberals who I still believe took a partisan view on this matter and who I believe have magnified a problem to the extent that this Senate now faces the ridiculous situation in which we are going to have two inquiries continuing to keep one person in suspense and under considerable pressure. I believe that no matter what we do here the conclusion will be the same because a judge has nothing to answer.