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Friday, 22 March 1985
Page: 670

Senator CHIPP —I ask the Minister representing the Attorney-General whether the Attorney-General can confirm that Mr Justice Stewart and his National Crime Authority have been given references by the Inter-Governmental Committee, which gives the Authority coercive powers, to investigate and, hopefully, prosecute several significant Australian organised crime figures? Has Mr Justice Stewart requested indemnity for some or all of the 31 police involved in the Age tapes affair, giving as his reason that, if granted indemnities, these policemen would provide him with significant assistance in his task? Has Mr Ian Temby, the Director of Public Prosecutions, whose task it is to prosecute such criminals, given the Government any reason for his quaint advice not to issue such indemnities? I ask a question in three parts: When will a final decision be made to grant indemnities or not to grant them? Will such a decision be made by Cabinet or by the Attorney-General himself? Will the Government table interim report No. 8 by Mr Justice Stewart on the Age tapes? Finally, will the Minister convey to the Attorney-General and other House of Representatives Ministers in Cabinet that the Senate has powers of its own to obtain this information if the Government decides to cover up on the issue?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Senator Chipp has asked several questions, one of them in three parts. My answer will not be short, but I hope the significance of it will be appreciated and that I will be given latitude accordingly.

As to the first question relating to references on matters of organised crime, I am advised by the Special Minister of State, who is responsible for the National Crime Authority, that there have been four formal references on organised crime matters now given to the NCA by the Inter-Governmental Committee, none of which, however, arise out of matters raised by the Age tapes material. All four relate to drug trafficking. Three of them arise from outstanding investigations of the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, but none, I repeat, arise out of the Age tapes material.

Mr Justice Stewart, in his personal capacity, as I said in answer to Senator Scott, has had since 1981 a further continuing reference on the organised crime issues associated with the Terrence Clark and Robert Trimbole matters. It was wearing that hat that he was referred the Age tapes material, which did contain references to Trimbole, in order to establish its authenticity and, as I said again in answer to Senator Scott, if so satisfied as to its authenticity, then to apply it for the continuing purposes of the inquiry.

The second question was whether Mr Justice Stewart has requested indemnity for some or all of certain people. It is the case that in his interim report of 12 December 1984, to which I earlier referred, Mr Justice Stewart has recommended that certain persons be granted immunity from prosecution for possible breaches of the Telecommunications Interception Act 1979. He has made the request on the basis that it will allow him to complete his inquiries into the authenticity of the Age tapes material and, if satisfied on that account, enable him to advance his inquiries into the activities of Clark's associates. The persons in respect of whom such indemnities have been sought are 31 present and former New South Wales police officers identified as possibly involved in illegal telephone tapping and any persons in the same category who may subsequently come forward.

Senator Chipp's third question concerned the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is the case that Mr Temby has given advice that those present and former New South Wales police officers identified in the Stewart report not be granted indemnities against prosecution for breach of the Commonwealth Telecommunications (Interception) Act. He did so in a fully reasoned 12-page document dated 16 December 1984. There are two basic themes in his advice which, putting it as briefly as possible, might be summarised as follows: Firstly, in his language, there are great dangers in sanctioning breaches of the law by those whose sworn duty it is to enforce it. Secondly, he expresses himself not to be satisfied that indemnities would, nonetheless, be justified on the overriding basis that this would in all likelihood lead to the arrest and conviction of persons involved in serious criminal offences. I quote him again:

I think it unlikely that the Age materials will be of much use except as a source of criminal intelligence, for which purposes they have no doubt been extensively used over the years. It is one thing to reach conclusions as to how they came into existence. It is quite another thing to authenticate particular parts of the materials so as to make them of use as evidence in criminal proceedings.

The Government is giving consideration to the tabling of Mr Temby's advice, but it is not in a position to do so at this stage. The Attorney-General is, however, prepared to make the document available today on a confidential basis to Senator Chipp as Leader of the Australian Democrats and to Mr Peacock as Leader of the Opposition. Senator Chipp will then have an opportunity to make his own judgment as to whether Mr Temby's advice justifies the description he gave it.

Senator Chipp —Are you talking about Mr Temby's advice or report No. 8?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have talked so far about Mr Temby's advice dated 16 December 1984. The fourth question was in three parts. The first one, I think, I really did cover in answer to Senator Chaney's first question: When will a final decision be made on the indemnity question and by whom, the Attorney-General or by Cabinet? I have indicated that while the Attorney-General has a strong inclination at this stage he has not yet made a final decision that that is, in turn, contingent on the outcome of certain further developments, that is, consultations that are continuing to take place with the DPP and Mr Justice Stewart, to see whether they can find agreement about some appropriate procedure to get evidence brought forward and, as a second route, representations that have been made through the New South Wales Government to the Police Commissioner in that State in an endeavour to encourage some further co-operation, if that is possible, with the Commission.

Senator Chipp —Are those consultations including in Cabinet? Was it discussed in Cabinet?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I do not propose to canvass questions of what may or may not have been discussed in Cabinet. I simply repeat, in this respect, that while decisions of this kind are essentially matters for the Attorney-General in his personal capacity as First Law Officer, nonetheless it is an accepted convention that it is perfectly proper-I said this in answer first up to Senator Chaney and he nodded in assent because this has been accepted all round the Westminster universe-for him to consult with his Cabinet colleagues for their views on matters of, where appropriate, particular difficulty and particular sensitivity. It may well be that there will be further such consultation.

The second part of Senator Chipp's last question was: Will the Government table the interim report by Mr Justice Stewart on the Age tapes? As to that I am able to say this: the Government will give consideration to the tabling of Mr Justice Stewart's interim report of 12 December of last year. There will, however, need to be further close consultation with Mr Justice Stewart on this matter, as he has already expressed firm opposition to any such tabling on the basis of the confidentiality of certain information contained within it.

However, as with the Temby advice, the Attorney-General has advised me, a little while ago, that he is prepared to make the Stewart report available today on a confidential basis to both Senator Chipp and the Leader of the Opposition in order that they might fully appreciate the arguments that have weighed with Mr Justice Stewart, and perhaps also responsibly evaluate the very great difficulties involved for any Attorney-General in making a decision in this matter.

The final part of Senator Chipp's last question concerned the possible role of the Senate in this respect. I say at the outset, again in response to the particular language he employed, that the Government categorically rejects any allegation of a cover-up in this matter. What is involved in the present case is the resolution of some very serious questions relating to the administration of criminal justice. The Government is fully aware that the Senate has certain powers to conduct inquiries and to compel the production of certain material, subject always to proper claims of Executive privilege which may have considerable relevance in a law enforcement context.

We do not believe that the present situation is one remotely justifying the exercise of such powers and we expect that Senator Chipp will come to the same conclusion after studying, fair-mindedly, the material that will be made available to him.