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Tuesday, 2 October 1984
Page: 1010

Senator DURACK —I address my question to the Attorney-General and refer him to the statement by the Prime Minister at his news conference on 21 September in which the Prime Minister said:

All of the Costigan references . . . have been handed over to that properly equipped authority.

He was referring to the National Crime Authority. Does the Attorney agree that this statement gives a quite misleading impression about the situation as it stands at the moment, that the Authority is off and running investigating all the Costigan material? Is not the true situation that material from Mr Costigan is still being sifted through by a committee for the National Crime Authority and that no full scale investigations are yet underway, nor will they be until a committee of State and Federal Ministers meets for the first time to consider formal references to the Authority? I refer the Attorney to a statement he made in the Senate on 4 September that the Authority would approach the committee in late September and to Mr Justice Stewart's statement last week that the Authority would approach the committee 'next month'. I ask: When will the first meeting of that committee finally be held to enable a start on full scale investigations of Mr Costigan's unfinished business?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is the case that all of the 42 case summaries prepared by Mr Costigan have been handed over to me in the first instance and then, through me, to the National Crime Authority. It is not quite accurate to refer to them as references, particularly since only 20 of them are summaries, which actually propose that a formal reference be given to the Authority involving the exercise of coercive powers, and to that extent the Prime Minister's use of the expression 'references', which has been common, I might add, in most public discussion of this, is not strictly accurate; but I do not think Senator Durack or anyone else would have been misled by the content of his remarks in that respect. The reality of the matter is that all the material that was handed over by Mr Costigan to the National Crime Authority is being assiduously looked at and investigated with a view to the formulation of references in relation to that part of it which justifies a formal reference.

It will be appreciated, even by Senator Durack, I hope, that the way in which the Authority is structured means that it is not impotent when it has no references. It has a whole level of statutory function which extends to the investigation, using non-coercive powers, of material that is provided to it or that it is able to obtain otherwise than through the use of coercive powers. Of course, in that sense it is presently actively liaising with the Australian Federal Police and a number of other authorities around the country and pursuing particular investigations or lines of inquiry which do not relate to or bear upon any of the material coming from Costigan. I understand that when the meeting of the intergovernmental committee is held later this month, as is now proposed, there will be proposals for a number of references, some from the existing Costigan material and some from elsewhere, that will be put to that committee. I am not in a position on the information available to me to be any more precise than that at the moment. But certainly there is every reason to believe, as the Authority members said in their Press conference, that they are working actively, efficiently, effectively and vigorously at the moment to get on with the task statutorily vested in them.

I should say that one of the difficulties that is being experienced by the Authority at the moment is the absence of the full complement of personnel from the Costigan Commission being presently available to the three full time members of the Authority to work on the projects that the Authority would wish to be now embarked upon. At the moment there is still only a skeleton staff working for the Authority as distinct from Mr Costigan, apart from Mr Cummins and his team of lawyers who are working on particular matters and who were appointed for this purpose. The reason why there is only a skeleton staff is that Mr Costigan has now embarked upon a very much larger report writing exercise than was initially contemplated by him, or certainly indicated to the Government when the transition arrangements were being identified. I think it needs to be appreciated that the larger Mr Costigan's report grows, the longer he will take to write it, and accordingly he has sought and been granted an extension of another four weeks, to 31 October. That means in turn that fewer personnel will be available to do what is identifiably the work of the Authority rather than that of Mr Costigan. But the work is proceeding. The three Authority members fully explained how it was proceeding at their Press conference last week. All the innuendos that lie behind Senator Durack's question in this respect, I believe, are utterly without foundation.