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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1358

Senator DURACK —I refer the Attorney-General to an answer he gave to a question asked by Senator Chaney last Friday, 5 October, about the administration of justice and law enforcement in New South Wales in which he said:

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. 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.

I ask the Attorney whether he has read reports of statements made by Mr Wran, the Premier of New South Wales, in Europe over the weekend concerning Mr Briese' s evidence before the Senate Select Committee on Allegations Concerning a Judge in which Mr Wran is reported to have said:

Obviously a very large question mark must now be hanging over him and his position as Chief Magistrate.

I ask the Attorney: Does he agree that such a statement by the Premier of New South Wales is a grave threat to the processes of the court system of New South Wales and clearly undermines the very foundation of that system, namely, the independence of its judiciary?

Senator GARETH EVANS —No, I do not accept that the statement necessarily has those consequences at all, although it must be acknowledged that the Premier's response to Mr Briese's evidence, given that that evidence was not yet complete before the Senate Committee, was one that perhaps it might under all the circumstances have been better not to make at that point. Before one leaps rashly to conclusions, either about Mr Wran's statement constituting a contempt of the Senate or in any way constituting some breach of the kinds of principles to which Senator Durack referred, there are a number of considerations that need to be taken into account. These are the intent with which the statement was made , the likely effect of that statement and the public interest considerations that are involved when one is dealing with questions, as these are, which go to the administration of justice in a particular State for which the person in question has executive responsibility. I do not think, from either of the two perspectives I have mentioned, that it is appropriate to draw too quick or rash conclusions on this matter. I think some of the language that has been employed by Opposition spokesmen in reaction to the Wran statements is not justified in all the circumstances of this case as they are known to me and the Government at this stage.