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Wednesday, 3 October 1984
Page: 1108


Senator DURACK —My question is directed to the Attorney-General and refers to his answer to a question yesterday in which he dismissed concerns that have been expressed by former royal commissioners and Justices Moffit and Woodward by claiming that the National Crime Authority was a more powerful body than a royal commission. Is it not a fact that the real or effective powers of the Authority or a royal commission are those requiring witnesses to answer questions and produce documents? Is it not further a fact that Mr Justice Stewart himself, the present head of the National Crime Authority, strongly argued in his report on the Mr Asia drug syndicate, as royal commissioner, that any national crime fighting body should be able to exercise these powers on its own initiative? Why will the Government not give the Authority the right to act of its own initiative in the exercise of its coercive powers? Is the reason that suggested by the former Mr Justice Moffit, in the article to which the Attorney-General was referred yesterday? When talking about the dangers of a political veto he said:

They--

meaning politicians--

want to keep control so that they can have a look first and see whether it will be good politically to pursue such an inquiry.


Senator GARETH EVANS —The Opposition and Senator Durack in particular really are gluttons for punishment on this issue. The Opposition felt so strongly about the lack of teeth in the Crime Authority as far as this particular matter of its having powers to vest in itself on its own initiatives that when it moved this matter in debate in this place by way of amendment to the National Crime Authority Bill it did not feel strongly enough about the issue even to take the matter to a division. Senator Missen at that stage, I recall, in response to that very decision by the Opposition that it was not important enough to divide on, lifted up his books and marched out of the chamber saying what a lot of weakies the Opposition senators were and made no further contribution to that debate. What a lot of humbug, what a lot of cant we are hearing on this issue. What better demonstration of it than that sally that has just been made by the purported shadow spokesman on legal affairs.


Senator DURACK —Mr Deputy President, I have a supplementary question. I repeat the question-which was simply not answered-because of the Attorney's refusal always to answer questions: Why will the Government not accord this Authority a power which Mr Justice Stewart himself has said a proper crime authority should have, namely the power to act of its own initiative? Is it not a fact that the Opposition has at all times in this debated strongly advocated that proposition?


Senator Grimes —You have succeeded in raising the dead.


Senator GARETH EVANS —As Senator Grimes said, I have succeeded in raising the dead, so at least this exchange has had some contribution to make, whether to the public wheel or not I am not sure. To the extent that Senator Durack is relying on Mr Justice Stewart, I think it would be more appropriate and more honest for him to refer to the contributions Mr Stewart has most recently made to the public debate about the powers of the Authority when he said at various points along the way in a very lengthy Press conference a few weeks ago that he was perfectly satisfied with the powers of the NCA as they presently exist and believed that the Authority and everyone else should allow it a fair trial to get on with the job that it is carefully constructed to do.

As to the matter of being able to vest coercive powers in itself of its own initiative, Senator Durack ought to recall that that was one of the most fundamental issues that was debated last year in the context of civil liberty protections and safeguards and questions of accountability to government, both Commonwealth and State. Do we create a royal commission type body with open- ended terms of reference, able to wander at large-to use the terminology of Mr Cain the other day-or do we circumscribe its sphere of action so that it has to justify itself to the democratic political process and to governments before it embarks upon the use of coercive inquisitorial powers that are quite unprecedented as far as police investigations are concerned and which obviously do involve very serious and large questions of principle? I know that the Opposition is totally insensitive to that aspect of the public debate and has been all along, but it is a very important policy matter that has to be taken into account and a very important consideration, along with all the other constitutional constraints upon vesting open-ended power in the Authority, particularly to deal with State matters, that were part and parcel of the construction of the Authority with the powers, functions and structure that it now has.

I repeat that there is no substance whatsoever in the allegations about lack of effective teeth for the Authority and I believe it is about time that the Opposition went back to the sleep from whence it came on this matter, because it is doing nothing but damage to itself in attempting to pursue this particular issue.