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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1293


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(10.26) —in reply-I thank the Senate for its support of the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill ( No. 2) 1984 which is a relatively simple measure to enable the so-called Age tapes and transcripts to be further investigated both as to their provenance and as to their content, to the extent that that comes within the terms of reference of the particular bodies referred to. The Government rejects the call that is made by the Opposition in a second reading amendment for a royal commission, half-hearted call though it was, and indeed deservedly so. It is true that the tapes did potentially disclose, let me put it that way, a number of Federal offences. I said as much in my original statement to the Senate on this matter on 28 February. I referred to the following matters:

possible offences arising out of an immigration racket;

possible improper release of information by AFP officers;

possible currency regulation charges in relation to a money courier;

possible tax evasion; and

possible fixing of a case in the Australian Capital Territory.

I referred as well to a number of State offences, particularly involving gambling, race-fixing, and so on, that appeared to be possibly disclosed. But so far as the Federal content of this material is concerned, it has, of course, been looked at rather closely already by Mr Temby, wearing his hat as Special Prosecutor, who, in relation to this material in his report tabled in July, came to the following conclusion:

I have sought to detect all offences disclosed against Federal law. In my view none of them are worthy of further investigation.

He drew that conclusion on the basis of both his own scrutiny of this material and certain investigations carried out by the Australian Federal Police. Moreover, it is the case that a bipartisan committee of this Senate has, of course, unanimously concluded so far as the authenticity of the material is concerned that the authenticity is simply unable to be established. I refer to paragraph 56 of the report to the Senate tabled on 24 August of the Senate Select Committee on the Conduct of a Judge which states:

The Committee is unable to conclude that any or all of the tape recordings and transcripts delivered by The Age newspaper to the Attorney-General and relating to the conduct of a federal judge are authentic or genuine in whole or in part except to the extent that limited acknowledgements have been made to the Committee as mentioned in this report.

It is true, of course, that the Committee was not dealing with a whole batch of materials but only a limited proportion of them, but it is not insignificant that the bipartisan Committee was able to reach a unanimous conclusion to that effect. I readily acknowledge that there may be some useful intelligence material here that could usefully be further scrutinised in particular by Mr Justice Stewart wearing his hat as the Mr Asia Royal Commissioner and by the New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry to the extent that that material does prove to be authentic, and that is why the Bill is brought forward in the form that it is, in order to enable that material to be looked at.

It is clear also that the question of the provenance of this material as well as its authenticity should be determined. That will be perfectly possible in the inquiries that it is anticipated will be conducted by Mr Justice Stewart or the New South Wales Special Commissioner which are provided for in this legislation. The notion that a Federal royal commission would be the answer to all our prayers is a misconceived one, given the fact that a Federal royal commission could not exercise coercive powers to determine the possible relevance of this material to State laws.

Debate interrupted