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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1204


Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLE — I direct a question to the Minister representing the Special Minister of State. I preface my question by reminding the Attorney-General of the concern which has been expressed by the Opposition as recently as Question Time yesterday about the restriction on the operations of the National Crime Authority posed by the possibility of a political veto. I ask: Is the Attorney aware of a letter from the National Crime Authority to the Special Minister of State dated 21 August asking the Government to pass legislation to provide that the Authority be informed of the reasons should any State government veto an investigation? Will the Government agree to this amendment to the National Crime Authority Act? If so, when will it be introduced ? Secondly, were other changes sought by the Authority in the 21 August letter or in any subsequent correspondence? If so, has the Government decided on any further amendments to the legislation?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I became aware of this letter only in the last couple of days. There were several proposals in it for relatively minor legislative change . I suppose the most substantial proposal is the one to which the honourable senator has just referred, which proposed that there be a statutory provision requiring the Inter-Governmental Committee of Ministers to give reasons for any refusal to implement or vest a reference requested by the National Crime Authority. The Government has indicated, through the Special Minister of State, Mr Young, a willingness to support such a proposal. We do not see it as strictly necessary, for all the reasons that have been spelt out on many occasions by Government spokesmen and indeed this morning by Senator Macklin, namely, that the political pressures that would operate against any State refusing a reference in relation to itself in circumstances where that reference was clearly justifiable would be so great that there would hardly be a need for a formal statutory provision of this kind to bring the matter to light.

Notwithstanding that, the Government indicated yesterday, through the Special Minister of State, that we will be happy to support such a legislative proposal. One obvious vehicle for that would, I suppose, be the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill now going through the Parliament, and some consideration has been given to that in the last couple of days. The difficulty about that is twofold. The perhaps not so substantial point is that the matter might be regarded as one of policy significance and, as such, not appropriate for a Bill which is supposed to be confined to essentially administrative or clean-up matters rather than breaking new policy grounds. The more substantial difficulty we felt about introducing this immediately is that it really imposes an obligation upon the States and members of the Inter-Governmental Committee. As such, firstly, it ought not to be imposed upon them without a process of consultation, which consultation the Special Minister of State proposes to have at the forthcoming meeting of the Inter-Governmental Committee. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly than that, it cannot really be imposed upon the States by the Commonwealth's own legislation for constitutional reasons. The advice I received this morning from the Parliamentary Counsel, which conforms with my reading of the situation, is that it would appear to be an obligation, if it is to be placed upon the member States and to be in a sense enforceable, that would have to be imposed upon them by their respective complementary legislation rather than by that of the Commonwealth.

That is a long answer but I hope it comprehensively deals with the points that have been raised. It is arguably unnecessary, but there is no difficulty as far as we are concerned about accepting the proposition in principle. We would be perfectly happy to raise it with the States and we believe that technically it is necessary for it to be done by their complementary legislation rather than ours.


Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —Are there any other amendments?


Senator GARETH EVANS —There was one other amendment that was the subject specifically of a request. I am just trying to remember what it was. It was to section 20. The relevant part of the letter states in relation to section 20:

The Authority believes that some of the difficulties which can be expected to arise could be alleviated by providing those Agencies which will enjoy an immunity from the right of the Authority to demand production of documents, with a discretion to refer evidence disclosing the commission of relevant offences to the Authority.

We rather believe that that discretion existed anyway, without the necessity for a statutory provision to put it beyond doubt. To the extent that it becomes apparent that there is a need for some further statutory provision of that kind, we will give it the necessary attention. It may be that is being attended to by the draftsmen at the moment and that it can be incorporated in the current Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill before the Parliament, since it does not seem to raise a significant policy issue. That is something on which I will have to get further advice. From personal recollection, I do not think there is anything more than those two particular items in the Authority's request for legislative change, although some other matters were raised.