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Tuesday, 26 March 1985
Page: 778

Senator CHANEY —My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I preface it by saying that I wish I was with Senator Gareth Evans in Perth, the most beautiful city in Australia. We can all take pleasure in the fact that he is today being asked questions about drills in holes and all those other things about which he was anxious to be questioned. I refer the Leader of the Government to the uncertainty and confusion which prevails because of the Attorney-General's apparent inability to make up his mind on the question of indemnities for members of the New South Wales police force who have been asked to give evidence to Mr Justice Stewart. Given that Mr Bowen's indecision has impeded the fight against crime for some months, can the Minister now give the Senate an assurance that indemnities will be granted so that the fight against organised crime can proceed? Further, will the Government agree to make public the advice received from the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Temby, and Mr Justice Stewart on the indemnity question-action which could be taken with very minor editing of the reports? If not, why not?

Senator BUTTON —I will direct myself to those aspects of Senator Chaney's comments which I regard as a question and leave aside those parts which I regard as a speech. I concede that this issue, as Senator Chaney implied in his question, has led to some uncertainty. Much of the uncertainty has been generated by an Opposition bereft of ideas and policies which has devoted an enormous amount of attention to this issue.

The Attorney-General will grant indemnities, if Mr Justice Stewart so advises and recommends, where he is satisfied that a person can give evidence which will lead to the prosecution of a criminal offence. I said that the issue was complex, and the Opposition has sought to derive some comfort from its complexity. Tomorrow the Attorney-General will meet Mr Temby and Mr Justice Stewart to discuss the implementation of these matters. I again refer to the complexity because, for example, there are now, of quite recent discovery, two sets of Age tapes. Indemnities have been sought in respect of the Age tapes which were taken apparently between 1976 and 1981. It is known now that the so-called Age tapes extend to 1984 and that has to be considered with Mr Justice Stewart and Mr Temby.

The question Senator Chaney raised, on the possibility of publication, in a general sense, of the Temby report and the Stewart report on the indemnity issue, is a matter for discussion and, if possible, agreement between the Attorney-General and the two law officers concerned. Those discussions, as I have indicated, will take place tomorrow. Mr Justice Stewart has, as I understand it, to this stage been firmly against the publication of his report. I am not sure-I can obtain instructions on this-what precise position Mr Temby has taken in relation to the publication of his report.

I heard Senator Chaney on the AM program this morning who, from the tranquil fields of Opposition, made a judgment about this matter. He was satisfied he said-Lord Justice Chaney is satisfied-that the reports ought to be published.

Senator Chaney —I am being offered a job.

Senator BUTTON —There was another character in the same opera called Pooh Bah and that name might apply equally to Senator Chaney. Senator Chaney has rushed to judgment, for political purposes, on this matter. From the point of view of the Government, it is at least courteous to have a discussion with the two gentlemen concerned and reach some agreement about the publication and, indeed, the manner in which publication should be made. As I said, those discussions will take place tomorrow.

Senator CHANEY —I have a supplementary question. Among the many which could follow that answer, I ask the Minister: Is he saying that indemnity will be granted where that could lead to a prosecution? Does that mean 'may lead to a prosecution', or is Mr Justice Stewart required, in effect, to certify to the Government that prosecution will follow? What is the level of certainty required at this stage prior to the actual evidence having been obtained by Mr Justice Stewart?

Senator BUTTON —It is my understanding that any police officer who gives evidence to a royal commission at present is not liable to prosecution in respect of matters arising from that evidence. I think that is probably common ground among the amateur lawyers, such as myself, who are in this Parliament. That being so, I think the question asked by Senator Chaney has a somewhat different character about it. What he is, in effect, asking me is whether Mr Justice Stewart has to certify that the giving of a particular piece of evidence will lead to a prosecution. I would have thought that would be an immensely difficult thing for him to do, as a matter of opinion. The Government will act, given those general parameters, on the advice of Mr Justice Stewart. I would prefer not to attempt to answer the question further until the discussions to which I have referred have taken place tomorrow because there are a number of nuances and so on in this matter which I think have to be thrashed out between Mr Justice Stewart, the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General.