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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 993

Senator HAINES(5.56) —The Australian Democrats welcome the proposed amendments to the Telecommunications (Interception) Act which are before us today. I think everybody is aware that they arise from the recent controversy regarding the granting of indemnities to 31 police officers involved in unlawful telephone interceptions and the need to ensure that any information those officers can give is made available to the Stewart Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking. However, I endorse Senator Durack's comments with regard to the rather peculiar wavering manner in which the Federal Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) has acted and question why it took both the Federal Government and the New South Wales Government so long to act to correct what was clearly a glaringly imperfect situation. It is a shame that one cannot incorporate cartoons in Hansard because I really believe that the Tandberg cartoon showing Mr Lionel Bowen doing a somersault but insisting that he had not changed his position probably summarises, as well as anything else, the situation which has gone on for the last few days and which Senator Durack rightly described as breathtaking.

The amendments are linked to the changes to be made to the terms of reference of the Stewart Royal Commission to enable Mr Justice Stewart to inquire into the extent of unauthorised telecommunications interceptions in New South Wales and the extent to which material related to this discloses offences against the law. It will, of course, be matched by the introduction of equivalent New South Wales legislation. It may well be that this is part of the reason why there was a delay in action. The New South Wales Government could not get its act together and the Federal Government could not act without complementary legislation or vice versa. Who was slower off the mark is a matter for debate.

Senator Missen —You are nothing but charitable, Senator.

Senator HAINES —It is the end of a two-week session. I think I can afford to be generous for no other reason than that. The essence of the necessary changes to both the Commonwealth and the New South Wales terms of reference is to empower the Royal Commission to inquire into and report upon, firstly, the existence of any information relating to unauthorised telephone interceptions in New South Wales which discloses offences or possible offences against the law; secondly, the nature of the offences disclosed; and, thirdly, persons to whom indemnity should be given. As I understand it, there are two conditions attaching to the granting of indemnities. The first is the active co-operation of the person or persons concerned and, secondly, the insistence that the intercept was for crime detection purposes only.

Nobody would disagree with some comments made by the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) with regard to the delicacy of granting indemnities. He said in his second reading speech:

One major question (to quote Senator Durack) to be addressed is:

'Is the evidence of the person in respect of whom the indemnity or pardon is sought essential to achieve the conviction of the principle offender?'

Mr Justice Stewart apparently thought so or he would not have recommended indemnities for the 31 police officers concerned. Senator Evans went on to say:

The Prosecution Policy makes this statement in concluding the principles on grant of indemnity:

'The ultimate decision to grant an indemnity or recommend grant of a pardon is only made after the most careful consideration of . . (the) material. Assuming a decision is made to grant an indemnity, the scope of the indemnity should be no wider than the circumstances require.'

I would have thought that those requirements were fairly self-evidently fulfilled in the present circumstances. Certainly, nobody likes to grant indemnities lightly. They should not be readily given, unless it is quite apparent that there is a very high chance that more can be gained from granting them and getting additional information than would be gained from not doing so and simply proceeding with other prosecutions.

The indemnities and information likely to be gained from them relate, as has also been pointed out, only to intercepts up to and including 28 March although they can go back as far into history as people have the time or inclination to go. Furthermore, the Minister pointed out that there is a 28-day moratorium, so to speak-a requirement that people come forward, I presume from the time an announcement is made. If they do not do so within that period-that is, if they do not respond with some sort of material-indemnities will not be granted in the future.

The associated amendments to the Telecommunications (Interception) Act are essentially threefold. Firstly, they remove the requirement that Justice Stewart must establish the authenticity of the Age materials before dealing with them. This is doing what somebody who spoke to me this morning said was essentially putting the cart back behind the horse. Secondly, they permit persons to furnish material to the Royal Commission without breaking the Act. Thirdly, they allow the Royal Commission to pass on the material to responsible authorities without committing an offence against the Act. This is a fairly useful change.

The combined thrust of the extended royal commission powers and the amendments to the Act give Justice Stewart substantially greater flexibility in his inquiries. For example, the Royal Commission is not limited to any period of interception other than that which I mentioned earlier. The critical amendments to section 7B, removing the requirement that authenticity must be established first, will ensure that the process of investigation will be much faster and are likely, of course, to lead to much more definite results. This important provision should reduce the possibility of major criminal figures escaping the clutches of the law because of the slowness of the process. In effect, many of the hurdles with which Justice Stewart has had to contend in his inquiries have now been removed. He can investigate speedily and pass relevant information to any other responsible authority-the National Crime Authority, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Australian Federal Police and so on-without being as hamstrung as he has been in the past.

I remind the Minister that when the debate on the National Crime Authority Bill was ensuing my colleague Senator Macklin raised, I think in the Committee stage, the rather farcical situation whereby we had poor Mr Justice Stewart wearing the hat of royal commissioner, not being able to divulge any information to Justice Stewart wearing the hat of Chairman of the National Crime Authority in case he breached some Act or other. That sort of refined schizophrenia has been removed by the amendments to the Act today.

Senator Missen —He has a three-cornered hat now.

Senator HAINES —He may well have a three-cornered hat, but at least they can talk to each other; they can at least exchange information. Coupled with the fact that the hat covers an extremely fine brain, this will be of significant benefit to the prosecution of the criminal element in this country. That brings me to the Opposition's apparent objection to the legislation before us today-the only objection, I understand, that it has-that is, that Justice Stewart has too much to do. I suggest that his current involvements are fairly much interrelated; it is not as though they are in vastly different disciplines. He is about to conclude his joint reference from the New South Wales Government and the Federal Government into the Nugan Hand business, he is the Royal Commissioner investigating drug trafficking and he is Chairman of the National Crime Authority, which of course must have as one of its references these sorts of areas.

If we acknowledged that, a more appropriate approach to take would be to be to say that it is extremely important to capitalise on the Royal Commissioner's experience and expertise and what, I suggest, is a unique grasp and knowledge of organised crime in Australia at the moment. Rather than dividing it up amongst a variety of people, rather than hamstringing Mr Justice Stewart and putting hurdles in his way, we ought to make the most of the unique position he is in. I suggest, as a reasonable analogy, that nobody with some complicated medical problem would take pity on the work load of his general practitioner and go to see two or three doctors giving each of them part of the story, but not allowing each of them to compare notes with the others and then still expect a cure. Mr Justice Stewart is in a unique position to achieve something that we in this place have been talking about for a very long time; that is, stemming if not actually combating the problem of organised crime, and in particular drug related organised crime in this country.

In conclusion, I say again how pleased the Australian Democrats are with the amendments. We have always adopted a strong approach to organised crime and on occasions, Senator Chipp has been, if not ridiculed, as least chided gently for this. We, and certainly Senator Chipp are not Johnny-come-latelys to the question of opposing organised crime, of arguing that strong methods have to be taken to combat something as strong as this is in our country. There is no point in pussy footing about with something that is as well entrenched and as dangerous as are the sorts of behaviour we are talking about. There is no point in raising delicate questions of civil liberties when we are dealing with a group of people who shamelessly ride across the civil liberties of a very large group of people in this country, people who are vulnerable and not capable of fighting back. We have always argued that due processes of law should be brought strongly to bear on these people with no impediments, artificial or otherwise, thrown in their way. This morning's Age editorial stated:

. . . the new Stewart enquiry into the New South Wales tapes could be the turning point in the community's war against organised crime and its grip on illicit drugs, illegal gambling and degrading vice.

The Australian Democrats fervently hope that this will be the case, and accordingly, we support this Bill.