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Tuesday, 2 October 1984
Page: 1049

Senator MASON(5.49) —Tonight I wish to correct some remarks made concerning the Chamberlain issue and me on yesterday's Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio program City Extra by the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Mr Paul Everingham. Mr Everingham said that, although it had been six months since I said that I was holding new evidence in the Chamberlain case, I had not provided any of it to him. Mr Everingham appears to have forgotten that when his Solicitor-General, Mr Brian Martin, asked me for statutory declarations I had said I was holding, I complied with that request within 48 hours. That was in June of this year. In that reply to Mr Martin I stated that the major part of the new evidence available was not in my hands but in those of Mr Stuart Tipple, the Chamberlains' solicitor, and urged that the Northern Territory Government examine this as soon as possible. However, I am informed by Mr Tipple and others that Mr Tipple indeed approached the Northern Territory Government at that time in June to inform it of this material but that his approach was refused. At that time, I am informed, the Northern Territory took the view that all the material in Mr Tipple's hands must be handed over to it in the form of final evidence.

However, since March of this year the Chamberlain defence has been requesting in vain Crown agreement to the defence having access to vital areas of evidence being held by the Crown which the defence needs to finalise its case. So the delay is indeed the Northern Territory's responsibility. This material was denied to the Chamberlain defence for five months, and was finally made available only some three weeks ago. It is only now that the Chamberlain defence is able to complete its case, which should be available for submission to the Northern Territory Government within two or three weeks.

Mr Everingham also has a very poor recollection of the elapsing of time. I raised the Chamberlain issue only in June, a little over three months ago, not six months ago as he has stated. Mr Paul Everingham's misleading and totally inaccurate public utterances on this matter do him no credit, nor do they help the appearance of his attitude towards the Chamberlain case. As things stand now the vital area of Crown evidence on whether or not damage to the child's clothing could have been caused by canine teeth is under intensive assault. Experiments with a large dog on identical clothing strongly suggest that the damage could indeed have been caused by canine teeth. This material will now go to an expert in the United States of America for final evaluation. That is basically what is causing the delay in the final presentation of the case to the Northern Territory Government.

More than 40 members of this Parliament have expressed to me their concern at the necessity for the new evidence in the Chamberlain case to be examined. Many of these have already reached the conclusion that I have reached, that a grave miscarriage of justice may have occurred, as a result of the new evidence emerging since the Federal Court of Appeal and High Court hearings. However, most of our colleagues feel the Northern Territory Government has a prime obligation to make any first move. Bearing on this point is a telex I received from Mr Everingham this afternoon in which he said to me:

My Government will consider the appropriate action which it should take if and when it receives representations from legal advisers authorised by Mr and Mrs Chamberlain based on new cogent and credible evidence.

I would have thought that the Northern Territory Government would have already received such representations. In fact, it did so in June. However, I know that it will certainly receive more in the near future.

I should say in regard to all this that Mr Everingham may well have been provoked in his response to me by attempts in some of the media to present this matter as a confrontation between him and me. For the record I must state that this is not the case. My own belief is that only great patience and good will on the part of all concerned will bring the necessary resolution of this vexed and controversial matter. I am certainly prepared to make no further significant moves in the matter until the Northern Territory Government has in its hands the new material which I and most of Australia know perfectly well is available. But I think it is fair and reasonable that the Northern Territory Government should have that material in its hands certainly before any move is made in this place.

However, it is a serious matter indeed to adopt a leisurely approach to the possibility that a person might be held indefinitely in prison for an offence that person had not committed, and this is all the more serious when the person concerned has a family of small children. This matter of the Chamberlains cannot drift on indefinitely. The time is past when it ought to be delayed by narrow legalisms, entrenched positions and injured feelings. Hence I speak today to ask honourable senators and members to maintain their interest in this matter and to keep a close eye on developments over the next few weeks and on the response of the Northern Territory Government to them. This I shall certainly be doing.

Question resolved in the affirmative.