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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 995

Senator MISSEN(5.10) —I support the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill. At long last it is pleasing to see that the Government is showing some sense in this matter. I will not repeat many of the things that have been said by Senator Durack and Senator Haines. I entirely agree with their comments about the necessity for new power to be given to Mr Justice Stewart. The Opposition has co-operated today with the Government's desire to get this legislation through in a hurry. It is interesting to read this Bill bearing in mind amendments made to the Act last year when Mr Justice Stewart was given certain powers but not in regard to the New South Wales police tapes. It is interesting to see that the Government has learned something since that time. At that time the Government was concerned about everything being authenticated and only after authenticating material did it give Mr Justice Stewart power to use it. That sort of limitation has now ceased.

I do not intend to go into the details of the history of this matter, but Senator Durack has pointed out the enormous delay and perhaps irreparable waste of time that may have occurred. For the last year or more there has been obfuscation and a refusal by the Government to recognise that the tapes and transcripts contain important information that should be investigated. It was not until Mr Justice Stewart came down firmly with the view that the tapes could be authentic and that action should be taken that the Government was prepared to move.

Honourable senators will remember the extent to which last year the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Wran, sought constantly to intimidate the people who had made the tapes. He was not so much concerned with finding criminals but he was so concerned to intimidate those policemen who had made tapes illegally that they would not come forward, and they could not be expected to come forward and speak out of some sense of public duty and find themselves prosecuted thereafter. The Premier of New South Wales went to great lengths to threaten them and indicated that he wanted to see them behind bars. That attitude has put back for some time the fight against organised crime. At least this Bill shows a change of front by the Government.

Senator Chipp —Many of whom did their taping while he was Police Minister.

Senator MISSEN —Yes they did. Clearly it was not a desire for the truth to be known which was motivating the Premier of New South Wales during that period.

Senator Gareth Evans —Do you think any of those police officers ought to be penalised in any way?

Senator MISSEN —No, I do not think that they should. Senator Evans has made a very interesting observation. I shall think about it. If he still has that in mind, I shall raise the question of some slight obscurity in this Bill which indicates that if those policemen fall into certain traps some of them may be prosecuted. I hope that that will not be the case. I hope that the question that Senator Gareth Evans just asked me across the chamber is merely academic and that it is not an indication that the Government still hopes to prosecute some of those men. There is a more important issue at stake here; that is, that serious allegations of great length should be looked at by a judge for whom I think we all have much respect because of the work that he has already done in areas such as crime and drugs and in other matters. I think we can certainly safely leave it to him to consider the material carefully and not to be carried away by any information in it which does not appear to be of value. I hope that no attempt will be made to intimidate the people who actually made these tapes.

I do not intend to speak at any length on this Bill. I wish to refer to one or two matters in the Bill which give me slight concern and one which gives me slightly more concern because of the interjection of the former Attorney-General. I refer to the provision in the Bill which will enable the police to come forward and disclose the unlawfully obtained material. Unlawfully obtained material is defined in proposed new section 7BA, which states:

. . . a document or information that discloses the commission of an offence or the possible commission of an offence against a law of the Commonwealth or a law of a Territory.

That is rather vague language. A policeman may indeed think that certain documents which come forward disclose the possible commission of an offence, but the Commissioner may find that the documents do not disclose the possible commission of an offence. Documents such as this no doubt will contain some material that discloses the commission of an offence and some material that does not. Also it is not indicated whether a document which is a composite of the material, and cannot really be broken apart, is protected under the Bill. I invite the Minister, when he replies to this debate, to indicate whether he sees any problem in two matters: Firstly, when there is a possible commission of an offence in the eyes of a policeman but when, in the eyes of the Commissioner, there is no possible offence-it is a mistake which the policeman has made in his view of the law-and, secondly, whether the composite documents which contain some possibility of an offence, and others which do not, will be protected. I can see some problems here, but I trust that in practice this situation will not occur.

I am glad that the Bill as it now stands will enable the Commissioner to make use of this material and disclose it. I draw attention to the fact that in the Bill there is power-obviously this is an afterthought in the Bill-to disclose the material to the National Crime Authority of which the Commissioner, Mr Justice Stewart, is the Chairman. The copy of the Bill which I had last night did not include that provision, but the copy of the Bill which I received this morning has it typed in. Obviously it is an afterthought. It is an afterthought for which I am very grateful, because I believe it is very important that this information be put into the hands of the National Crime Authority.

This leads me to a matter which the Opposition has raised and which I certainly query; namely, the ability of the Commissioner to handle all these different matters. The matters have some commonality. Obviously, the Commissioner has already formed some views about the use of these documents. One wonders whether too much is being placed upon one man in this community. He is the Chairman of the National Crime Authority which has two other members. There must be a limitation to the extent to which he can devote his time fully to that Authority. Although its members can operate and meet separately there must be, in this additional burden that is placed upon him, some limitation on his ability to devote his time fully to the enormous task which the National Crime Authority has to perform in this and the coming years.

Senator Chipp —Several task forces are also assisting the NCA.

Senator MISSEN —We do not know whether they are in operation.

Senator Chipp —I understand they are-very much so.

Senator MISSEN —I am interested to hear that. The monitoring committee on the National Crime Authority met last night very briefly. It has not had a chance to have much of an examination of anything that is going on. No doubt we will be informed. I am pleased to hear that the task forces are already operating in that area.

The powers which are contained in the Bill are now accepted by the Government. Last year it had great resistance to them. The Government resisted the insertion of those powers into the Act on the grounds that they would interfere with civil liberties-the reputations of people. I think that we can leave that question very safely in the hands of the man we have appointed. I believe care will be taken. I also believe the major civil liberty which people in this country have is that they will be able to go, without a fear of corruption, to the authorities, the courts of the country. I believe this point was well made by Senator Haines in her speech. It is necessary to tackle the major problem. The major problem is the very wealthy organised crime figures of this country who stand well in line to destroy the very essence of our rule of law and the way in which we can depend, as individuals, upon the probity of government officials and courts in this country.

Senator Chipp —And politicians.

Senator MISSEN —And politicians. These additional powers should be given to only a limited number of people. One does not want to see them scattered around the community or given to individual policemen. When the National Crime Authority was set up we on this side of the chamber took the view that such extra powers must be given to it. We were not very successful in obtaining a number of amendments to that Bill and it remains, I think, in a very weakened state. Nonetheless, considerable powers must be given to authorities and the power that is given in this Bill indicates at last some sense of understanding by the Government, after a shameful delay, that these are powers which are required to be given. The belated acceptance of these matters by the Government must be commented upon. We hope that in the interpretation and operation of the Bill, Justice Stewart is able now to do something useful to ensure that these tapes-which were even described recently by the Premier of New South Wales as 'mouldy tapes'-which do, no doubt, contain many things, will be of value in sourcing the problem of organised crime in the State of New South Wales and in Australia generally. I support the Bill as I believe it will be useful legislation for this country.