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Friday, 5 October 1984
Page: 1325

Senator CHANEY —My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. I assure him that I do not wish to drive an opportunistic wedge between him and his fellow Ministers by asking this question, but I would like to get some acknowledgment of real concern on his part and evidence of real determination to deal with crime in an effective way. So I ask the Attorney: Does he share the widespread concern at the continuing series of allegations affecting the administration of justice and law enforcement in the State of New South Wales? Does he agree that matters such as the prisoner early release scandal, the Humphreys-Farquhar case, the Cessna-Milner case, last weekend's allegations about large scale police involvement in the heroin trade, and all the matters made public in the Age tapes and the transcripts are part of what seems to be an evergrowing mosaic of crime and corruption in that State? Given the Commonwealth's direct interest in the proper operation of that State's judicial system and the fact that close co- operation is required between law enforcement agencies of both Governments, I ask: Has the Attorney had any discussions with the Prime Minister or any other relevant Federal ministerial colleagues as to what action might be taken by the Commonwealth to allay evergrowing public concern at this apparently uncheckable explosion of illegal activity? If he has, has any action been proposed? If he has not, will he initiate such discussions and suggest that Federal and State Ministers should meet in the near future to consider in what way this worrying trend might be reversed?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I think the only evident trend in this matter is in the rhetoric of the Opposition which has been escalating with great rapidity as we come closer to the election date. I notice that the problem of organised crime is not so intensely felt by the Leader of the Opposition that he even bothered to contribute to the debate on the National Crime Authority when that particular parliamentary occasion presented itself in the House of Representatives a few months ago. Of course it is the case that any series of allegations about organised crime is a matter of concern for any government anywhere in this country. To the extent that allegations are continuing to be made about crime in New South Wales it is obviously a matter of concern for the New South Wales Government as it is for everyone else in this country. Equally, it is the case that the New South Wales Government is acting with considerable expedition, dispatch and competence in dealing with these allegations as they are made, one at a time. I will not be party here or anywhere else to the kind of state of mind which has been so assiduously cultivated by the Opposition in recent days, weeks and months, namely, that the mere making of an allegation or innuendo is itself sufficient evidence that there is justification for that allegation being made. It is a matter of waiting for the processes of the court system to work themselves out before making strident and over-confident assertions of the kind we hear so often from the other side. Those processes are working themselves out .

So far as the Commonwealth's role in all this is concerned, we have, of course, been anxious to set in place and to maintain co-operative law enforcement arrangements with all the States, not just New South Wales. As I indicated in answer to a question a few days ago, joint taskforces have been very productive indeed in dealing in recent years with the particular problem of drug trafficking. The whole question of Federal-State co-operation in dealing with organised crime has been what the whole debate on the Crime Authority has been about over the last 18 months and indeed going back into the life of the previous Government. The big difference between our approach to this matter and that of the previous Government is that we have succeeded in putting into place through the agency of the Crime Authority co-operative arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States which will genuinely ensure that a major attack is mounted on these phenomena. There is nothing whatsoever to apologise about so far as this Government's approach to organised crime and the fighting of it is concerned. Our budgetary allocations for that purpose, through the Australian Federal Police, the doubling of expenditure on the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, and the further additions to the expenditure that will be incurred this year, bringing expenditure for the Crime Authority up to $8.6m, all attest to that state of affairs.

Senator CHANEY —I ask a supplementary question which follows the suggestion in the early part of the reply from the Attorney-General that the concern being expressed by the Opposition was related to the nearness of an election. Does the Attorney-General confirm, in the light of that allegation, that the previous Government established a crimes commission, that from the early days of the life of the present Government the Opposition has consistently urged strong action on the Government, that when he introduced his National Crime Authority Bill we were responsible for sending it off to a Senate committee, that the Senate committee unanimously recommended that the Authority be given more teeth than the Attorney-General has deigned to give it in its original form and that the Opposition sought strengthening of that Crime Authority during the parliamentary session when the legislation went through this place? In other words, I ask: Will he admit all of those facts, which are facts, and does he agree that they deny his allegation that we are raising this just because the Parliament is on the eve of an election? It is a pathetic allegation.

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Opposition, when in government, did not succeed in establishing a crimes commission. It passed legislation through both Houses but had got no further than that by the time it confronted the election of the early part of 1983.

Senator Missen —That is not true.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Well, if it is not true, Senator Missen, get up and tell me why it is not true.

Senator Missen —There was a chairman.

Senator GARETH EVANS —It was a chairman designate. If the honourable senator cannot draw the distinction, once again I am obliged to remind him that there are some limitations on my willingness to be patient with his interjections. We are well aware of the way in which the debate on the Crime Authority's establishment has proceeded over the last 18 months. I do not need to be reminded of the chronology by Senator Chaney. I do need to remind him, however, that the crimes commission proposed by his Government had not won any kind of response from the States other than one of hostility and anxiety and a desire not to find it the most attractive way forward to resolve this.

I further remind him that when the subject of the powers of the new Authority was debated in this place earlier this year the Opposition in this place moved no motions to increase the powers of the Crime Authority other than a motion to enable it to use its coercive powers of its own motion without requiring a reference. There were some other amendments proposed about the number of members , the quorum and matters of that kind. The only amendment that was moved went, as I recall it, to the question of self-starting in the application of coercive powers. On that particular proposal, to increase the teeth of the Authority, the Opposition felt so strongly about it, as I have had occasion to remind it earlier this week, that it did not even divide on the proposition. So once again it is cant, hypocrisy and humbug that we are hearing from the Leader of the Opposition here today.