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Wednesday, 3 October 1984
Page: 1102


Senator COLLARD —My question to the Attorney-General concerns the totally unsatisfactory transition process between the Costigan Royal Commission into the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union and the National Crime Authority, about which Mr Costigan has expressed much concern. If the Government's original plan was to have had the Authority up and running much earlier this year so that there would have been time for a transition similar to that envisaged by the Fraser Government, why did the Government not respond more flexibly when, because of delays imposed by disputes in Caucus and the need for a Senate committee investigation to strengthen the original legislation, the Authority could not be set up until the beginning of July? Why, in those circumstances, did not the Government agree to extend the Costigan Commission to the end of the year so that there would have been time for full briefings in a genuine transition period rather than the farcical two weeks which was available before Mr Costigan and his team had to concentrate on writing the final report?


Senator GARETH EVANS —The Government has responded extremely flexibly and extremely sensitively to the requests that have been made for the extension of the duration of the Costigan Commission. We have been concerned throughout the whole life of this matter since we came into government with implementing arrangements which would both result in a transition from the Costigan Commission to a new crime authority armed with the powers and the capacity to continue the work that the Costigan Commission was doing and to ensure that that particular transition took place smoothly and effectively. It was always acknowledged by us that there would be certain loose ends remaining to be picked up and taken over by the National Crime Authority when it was in fact put into place. It is not surprising that any particular transition period occurring at any particular time would demonstrate the existence of those loose ends.

In this respect, I think it is about time that there was put on the record the views of the Fraser Government about just this question of the transition process and the inevitability of there being loose ends of one kind or another which would have to be picked up by the Crime Authority or the National Crimes Commission, as the Fraser Government wanted, and which would not be able to be completed by the Costigan Commission. I believe that the most graphic demonstration of that obvious state of affairs was in a letter written by Mr Fraser, the then Prime Minister, to Mr Cain, the Victorian Premier, on 25 October 1982, which letter was one of a number of letters that were released publicly earlier this week by Mr Cain. I am happy to read all of that letter if Senator Chaney is keen for that to occur. The most relevant parts read as follows:

The Commonwealth recognises the need to allow for an orderly transition between the Royal Commission and the new body. I have advised Mr Costigan that the Government would, if necessary, consider extending his Commission beyond 1 July 1983 to ensure that this occurs.

A little further in the letter there appears the following passage which is squarely pertinent to the sort of question that has now been raised for the umpteenth time today:

The Commonwealth notes that Mr Costigan foreshadowed the need for an extension of some two to three years to enable him to complete his inquiries. Obviously, considerable work will be outstanding at 1 July 1983 as indeed it would be at the end of 1983. We would have in mind that the outstanding information which the Royal Commission has gathered would be made available to the National Crimes Commission to be dealt with pursuant to the legislation establishing it.

So in 1982 Mr Costigan then claimed, as he still claims, that the nature of his investigations were open-ended and required a substantial additional period to be completed. The Fraser Government decided in exactly the same way as the present Government has decided that, in the words of Mr Temby recently, royal commissions cannot go on forever, particularly, royal commissions with limited terms of reference and inappropriate powers and structure cannot go on forever. There has to be a transition period. That transition process has to be set in place at some time and it is inevitable that whenever the transition process is completed and whenever the Costigan Commission is finally wound up, there would be loose ends and unfinished business. Against that background it is nothing but hypocritical humbug for us to hear the kind of nonsense being uttered--


Senator Chaney —Six months.


Senator GARETH EVANS —Six months from 1982 takes us to early 1983. It is now, in case Senator Chaney has not noticed the date, late 1984. The reality of the matter is that whenever the transition process was set in train, there would be demands of this kind for further periods. The Costigan Commission has had a succession of extensions over the last 18 months, as it had a succession of extensions under the previous Government. The time has come to case this nonsense, to case this humbug and to cease this hypocrisy and let the National Crime Authority get on with the job which it is so well established to do.


Senator Chaney —Mr Deputy President, I ask the Minister to table the paper from which he has quoted.


Senator GARETH EVANS —I am delighted to put it on the record.