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Monday, 13 May 1985
Page: 1791


Senator CHIPP —Can the Minister representing the Attorney-General confirm that consideration is being given to the early release of Tizzoni and Joseph, the callous murderers of anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay, after less than a year in gaol, when the original sentences were eight years with a minimum of four, and seven years with a minimum of three and a half, respectively? Can the Minister explain the extraordinary situation whereby corruption in gaols apparently renders them unsafe places for the protection of potential witnesses such as these two and whereby senior police officers consider such prisoners unsafe in gaols even if they are placed in solitary confinement? Can the Minister confirm whether the Government is giving consideration to a government-funded witness protection scheme, as called for by a senior member of the National Crime Authority, and which is obviously necessary to fight crime effectively, instead of the current situation whereby the massive expense of witness protection has to come out of already inadequate police budgets?


Senator GARETH EVANS —The Government is not aware that anyone has been convicted of the murder of Donald Mackay, the anti-drugs campaigner, and accordingly it would seem inappropriate to employ the description 'callous murderers' that was offered by Senator Chipp in relation to the two gentlemen he mentioned. In any event, the question of the law applicable to such a murder, and to those gentlemen if they were indeed involved in it, is State law rather than Federal law and as such it would seem that the question has been misdirected. I am advised that the Attorney-General's office, to the extent that it is within its competence to deal with it, is not aware of any such representation having been made to it at this stage. The question of corruption and safety in gaols again is a matter for State authorities and there is little I can add in answer to that part of Senator Chipp's question. As to the issue of a government-funded witness protection scheme, that would fall within the responsibilities of the Special Minister of State. I have already referred the honourable senator's question to that Minister for a detailed response and I will give Senator Chipp such response as I can as soon as possible.


Senator CHIPP —I ask a supplementary question. If I may comment, I do not think I have had a more pathetic answer from a Minister since I have been here.


The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator will ask his supplementary question.


Senator CHIPP —Will the Minister surprise me again by telling me that the illicit importation of drugs is not a Commonwealth offence? Will he surprise me again by saying that normally persons convicted of such offences are put in State gaols, there being, to my knowledge, few Federal gaols in which to house them? Will the Minister therefore address his mind to what is a Federal matter, when people convicted of Federal matters are placed in State gaols and State police are of the opinion that even in solitary confinement such prisoners are not safe? Therefore, I repeat: Will the Government have discussions with State Attorneys-General or the appropriate officers to see whether Commonwealth-funded assistance can be given to State governments for witness protection purposes?


Senator GARETH EVANS —Nobody ever lost a vote by being holier than thou on law and order, did they, Don?


The PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator GARETH EVANS —I will do my best, Mr President, to unravel the tangle of that supplementary question. I, of course, acknowledge that, to the extent that Federal drug offences may be involved, State prisons may well be housing persons who are Federal prisoners, and, as such, it may be an appropriate matter for representation to the Attorney-General of the day as to what course their internment might take. But on the information available to me I am unable to offer any further information in response to Senator Chipp's question.