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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 997

Senator PUPLICK(5.21) —The Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill is welcome but it is also a tragedy. It is welcome in that it gets to a situation which people in this Parliament have been urging on the Government for some time. It is a tragedy because we do not know how many people will have slipped through the net while the Government was resisting the calls for this material to be so dealt with. The Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) in his second reading speech dealt with the question of whether the Government has committed an about-face on this subject. It has perpetrated at least four of these extraordinary turnabouts on this issue alone. The first is on the question of whether there was at any stage the need for a royal commission to look at the taped material. One can read the text of the debate which took place in October 1984. Senator Gareth Evans, addressing this chamber on the proposal for a royal commission on this subject, said:

The notion that a Federal royal commission would be the answer to all our prayers is a misconceived one . . .

On 5 October 1984 he said:

I was concluding my second reading reply in this debate, making the point that there is no justification for a royal commission now to be instituted to deal with the Age tapes material.

Again, on 5 October Senator Evans told the Senate that it was a tragedy to propose that the transcript, which he described as being something over 500 pages and dealing with more than 3,000 purported conversations-and we now know that that is likely to be a gross under-estimate-should be referred even to the National Crime Authority because of the extent to which it would burden it in work that it should not do. He said that that proposal should be opposed because it 'would create an obligation on the Authority to mount a major investigation'. That was why it should not be referred to the Authority. Those were the words of Senator Evans. On 21 August 1984, dealing with the report of Special Prosecutor Temby, he said:

. . . the Government would reject any proposal that Mr Temby's report justifies or requires a special Royal Commission be appointed in relation to the 'Age' materials.

Again, Senator Evans, on 28 March 1984, stated:

The material in issue is of a character that simply does not justify this kind of parliamentary exercise. I say that for four reasons-four I hope by now very familiar reasons. The first of those reasons is, of course, that the material is unauthenticated.

Now, of course, that is no longer to be a requirement as far as Mr Justice Stewart is concerned. The second thing, in terms of the backdowns that the Government has undertaken on this issue, is the question of indemnities. They were, we were told by the Attorney-General--

Senator Durack —What about what he said even last Friday?

Senator PUPLICK —I propose to come back, Senator, to the comments of the former Attorney-General last Friday when he said that this was a muck-raking exercise and therefore not necessary. In the Hansard of Monday, 25 March 1985 Mr Lionel Bowen in the other place stated:

I think the Opposition is getting carried away with the suggestion that a royal commission will establish anything different from what Mr Justice Stewart can do. He is virtually a royal commissioner now. He has all the powers of a royal commission.

He said that it was not necessary to do anything. On Monday it was not necessary to amend Mr Justice Stewart's terms of reference because he had them all. This piece of legislation was not necessary on Monday. It was not necessary when the Attorney-General was speaking last Friday. It was not necessary when the previous Attorney-General was speaking in March, in August and in October of 1984. It was not necessary because it was either rubbishy material that was not worth while giving to Mr Justice Stewart, or Mr Justice Stewart could go ahead and do it anyway. Now we have this backing down.

On the question of indemnities, the Attorney-General said that they were not required. On 21 March the Attorney-General said:

I see no reason why those N.S.W. police officers cannot do their duty and just tell the truth. That is all they have to do. They are not above the law.

That may well be true but on that basis he proposed that there should not be any indemnities granted to those police officers. The situation now is that those indemnities are to be given. As Senator Chipp rightly pointed out just a few minutes ago, the passing throw-away line from Senator Gareth Evans about the possibility of continuing and ongoing prosecution and persecution of these police officers, as has been consistently threatened by the Premier of New South Wales and Federal President of the Australian Labor Party, leaves some grave disquiet about the bona fides in this matter.

Those policemen undertook a course of action which was outside the law. In my view they took that course because they were decent policemen who in the State of New South Wales could not operate within the law and bring about the desired results. They could not do so because the political system in which they were operating was and is corrupt. Until quite recently the hierarchy of the police force in New South Wales, to whom these officers were subordinate, was corrupt and suspect. These people took a significant risk to themselves for the purpose of exposing crime and corruption. If that is not a policeman's legitimate duty, I do not know what is. I have already indicated the other backdowns by the Government on the terms of reference given to Mr Justice Stewart, and indeed on the authentication of this material before it is taken further by His Honour.

I now turn to the question of the tapes themselves. Why are they called the Age tapes? They have acquired this name simply because they were published in the Age newspaper. The reason they were published in the Age newspaper was that the person in whose possession they were at the time, Mr Bottom, was afraid to have them published in New South Wales and afraid himself to remain in New South Wales. Every time one says 'Age tapes' one should recall that they relate to the affairs of the State of New South Wales but were not printed in the State of New South Wales because of the real fear that a significant figure, seeking to combat organised crime in New South Wales, had for his very life if he remained in that State, given the administration of justice and the operation of the police force in that State.

Senator Gareth Evans —That is not the reason the Sydney Morning Herald refused to publish them and you know that. It made an editorial judgment that they were rubbish.

Senator PUPLICK —I suppose then that we are now to take it that the Government has decided that the editorial judgment that they were rubbish was so wrong that it is now the decided view of the Government, the Cabinet and the Caucus, that, far from being rubbish, they are of sufficient significance to be referred to a royal commission. That undoubtedly indicates the extent to which this Government has been caught on a hook as far as these tapes are concerned. I do not resile for one moment from having said that the reason that Bob Bottom removed himself and his possessions from the State of New South Wales was that he legitimately, genuinely and with good cause feared for his life if he sought to expose crime and corruption in the way that he thought best in the interests of the New South Wales community.

One should look at the value that has already been proven in these Age tapes. For instance, in terms of the taps on the telephone of Mr Trimbole, we know that, if these had been in the public domain and scrutinised at an earlier stage-the taps which were on until 5 May 1981-there may have been some chance of catching up with Trimbole, who of course, two days later, managed to escape the country.

Senator Chipp —After he was tipped off by a New South Wales police officer.

Senator PUPLICK —Exactly. We know the value of these tapes in bringing about the situation in which there has been a royal commission or commission of inquiry into the prisoner early release system in New South Wales. The Premier of New South Wales has said on a number of occasions that there was no need for any of the material--

Senator Gareth Evans —It is not the Age tapes; it is something completely different. Get your facts right. Federal police properly authorised intercepts.

Senator PUPLICK —These tapes were released and published in New South Wales, and I am talking about the whole business of phone taps and the use of material in New South Wales. They brought about a situation in which the continual cover-ups of these matters by the New South Wales government was no longer possible. The sensitivity of Government members about the use of taped material is understandable. After all, in 1972 there was a significant incident in which, on the Mike Willesee program, Mr Hawke in his capacity as President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions broadcast tapes of private conversations between himself and employer representatives which were made unbeknown to those employer representatives. So I can understand the extent to which, when we have a Prime Minister who is not above using privately taped conversations for the advancement of his own political ends, there is sensitivity among members of his Party when dealing with questions that arise from the improper use of taped material.

If one goes back throughout the whole course of numerous inquiries that have been undertaken, including those by His Honour Mr Justice Stewart-whether they be the inquiries into the Mr Asia activities or the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Activities of the Nugan Hand Group-and reads those in conjunction with the report of the Woodward Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking, and particularly the further report of the Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking in May 1980, one starts to get a vague idea of the interrelationship of all the names of all the people involved in this activity. As has rightly been said by Senator Durack, there is grave disquiet as to the burden of work being placed on His Honour Mr Justice Stewart. He still has the matters outstanding from the Mr Asia investigations, as well as those outstanding from the Nugan Hand investigations. He has all his National Crime Authority work to be undertaken. Now, he is to be given what must be a monumental task in terms of the amount of material which is to be laid before him for him to study and decide its value and what course of action is to be followed.

I appreciate the urgency in obtaining this Bill today. Therefore, I do not propose to go into any of those matters which relate to that. Undoubtedly plenty of opportunity will arise. All one can say in conclusion about Mr Justice Stewart and his inquiries is that by the time he has finished the Mr Asia inquiries and the Nugan Hand inquiry, and correlated that with the Woodward inquiries in New South Wales, and by the time he has finished the National Crime Authority inquiries and completed the Age tapes inquiries, not only will he be Australia's foremost expert on the operation of organised crime, but he will also undoubtedly be Australia's foremost expert on the internal workings of the Australian Labor Party.