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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1900

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(8.46) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the papers.

Mr President, I do not wish to say very much about these papers because, although you were kind enough to have them delivered to my office before coming into the Senate, I have had an opportunity only to scan them and have not really observed them. I am a little concerned at the fact that the Attorney-General ( Senator Gareth Evans) advised that while he will indemnify you for your actions as a servant of the Senate, he is not able to extend on behalf of the Government an indemnity to other senators. That is a matter of some significance in view of the answers given by the Attorney-General in this place in recent days. As I recall, the Attorney-General pointed out that protection would be given to the report in Victoria, New South Wales, and indeed in the Australian Capital Territory, because of the statutory provisions in New South Wales and Victoria and the likelihood that the report will be tabled in the Victorian Parliament, and also because of the particular statutory provisions here in the Australian Capital Territory, which are of very recent origin. The Opposition will need to consider where this leaves the Senate and individual senators who will be the recipients of the information that will be made available by the Government with the tabling of the report of the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union.

The matter is of very considerable significance in the fight against organised crime in Australia. It may also be of some political significance. Mr President, at this stage I would not wish to predict whether the Opposition will consider it necessary to seek a return of the Senate prior to the election to enable the documents to be tabled here in the usual way as well as their being dealt with according to the procedure mentioned in the documents, namely delivery to you and subsequent distribution.

I have noted the answers given by the Attorney-General in this place. I do not remember his exact words, but I think he was suggesting that it would take a bold lawyer to advise with certainty on the precise situation of privilege. As I recall, he said that there would almost certainly be qualified privilege-in other words, that one would have a defence which could be pushed aside on the argument that something had been done maliciously but that there was room for doubt. I ventured by way of interjection, and will say so on my feet now, the view of a journeyman solicitor that if I were advising honourable senators on this matter, my advice would certainly be that, given the ongoing status of the Senate, which is referred to in the Attorney-General's letter which you have tabled, Mr President, it is certainly likely to be a sounder argument that honourable senators would have protection if the documents had been tabled in this place than if the other procedure is followed. I do not take a final position on that. I simply indicate my present view because the Attorney-General may wish to consider the matter further and to put other views to us before the Senate rises.

I thank you, Mr President, for your courtesy to us all in dealing with this matter in the way you have. In terms of the functioning of the Senate, it is helpful that you have kept us informed and let us have access to the material. I shall give the material more careful consideration and I may wish to address some remarks to you and to the rest of the Senate on the matter. I do not wish to prevent anyone else, particularly the Attorney or the Australian Democrats, making a comment. Therefore, I shall not seek leave to continue my remarks. I suppose I can always ask someone to move an amendment to the motion to take note if I cannot get leave to make further comments at a later time.