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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1205

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —My question is directed to the Attorney-General. I refer to his tabling yesterday of correspondence between the Fraser and Cain governments concerning the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union and the transition to the proposed National Crimes Commission. Why did the Attorney try to misrepresent the position revealed by that correspondence by suggesting that there might have been less than a six-month transition period? Does he agree that the Fraser Government's National Crimes Commission Act had passed through both Houses of Federal Parliament by December 1982? Does he further agree that the then Government had appointed Mr Justice Williams of the Queensland Supreme Court to head the Commission? Does he accept that only the calling of the 1983 election prevented establishment of the Crimes Commission in February or March of last year? Given the commitment revealed in the correspondence to extend Mr Costigan' s term to as late as 31 December last year will the Attorney now admit that there would have been at least a six-month transition period under the previous Government? Why has the Hawke Government not been prepared to allow this time for the National Crime Authority to get up and running and for proper briefing to occur?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Given the snail-like pace with which the previous Government, and in particular the previous Attorney-General, implemented or sought to implement every conceivable thing it touched, and given the way in which most of the gold that it did touch turned to dross in this respect, given also the fact that the Chairman had not been appointed as Chairman but was only Chairman designate, given the fact that the Commission had not been formally established, albeit the legislation had been through both Houses, and given the general dilatory and incompetent performance of the previous Government, it is an entirely reasonable supposition that the Authority might not indeed have been established until after June last year, in which case the transition period would indeed have been less than six months.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that we strip the answer of abuse and get down to the hard facts, and given the dilatory nature of the answer of the Attorney-General to the hard facts, is it not a fact that the letter from the Prime Minister to the Premier made it perfectly clear that more than six months-whatever the time would be- would be allowed before the Crimes Commission was set up. I refer to the second paragraph of the letter, which stated:

As the Acting Attorney-General has discussed with you, the Commonwealth has agreed to extend the Royal Commission to 1 July 1983 on the assumption that the National Crimes Commission will be available to commence operations early in 1983.

I move to the bottom part of that paragraph, which states:

I have advised Mr Costigan that the Government would, if necessary, consider extending his Commission beyond 1 July 1983 to ensure that this occurs.

Is is not a fact that there was a clear understanding that there would be at least six months from whatever time that Mr Justice William's Commission was set up?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I can understand the Opposition's embarrassment on this matter. It is feeling rattled and under pressure. It has had some difficulties over the last few days and I think we ought to be suitably understanding of the difficulties that Senator Sir John Carrick is obviously experiencing in coming to grips with the realities of the previous Government's commitment, because if there is one thing clear from that correspondence which I tabled yesterday and had incorporated in Hansard it is that, however long the transition process took , the windup date for the Costigan Commission on the expectation of the previous Government would be 31 December 1983, whether the transition process took more than or less than six months. It is now October 1984. There have been extensions given to the Costigan Commission. They have been given by the Australian Labor Party Government. They have been given in circumstances where, as we all know, there are loose ends outstanding. They have been given in circumstances where it was equally apparent to the previous Government that, whenever the transition process expired, whenever the Costigan Commission terminated, there would equally well be loose ends. That was clear from other correspondence which I tabled yesterday. There is nothing to apologise for, nothing further to explain and nothing to retract about what I put on the record yesterday. The record is perfectly clear.