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Wednesday, 15 May 1985
Page: 2031


Senator REID(7.19) —I want to follow up an answer to a question I asked of Senator Gareth Evans, the Minister representing the Special Minister of State, in Question Time on 14 May relating to the availability of the crime collection unit of the Australian Federal Police in Canberra. In my question I asked:

Why were the two officers of that very important unit not replaced? Why was that unit left two-thirds unoperational?

In fact, I think it was left wholly unoperational. The answer was given by the Minister representing the Special Minister of State from notes that he had been supplied with. It has now been suggested to me that there is more to the explanation than has been given, but in no sense do I suggest that Senator Gareth Evans misled or gave other than the information which had been supplied to him though the office of the Special Minister of State (Mr Young). The Minister referred to the fact that there was only one officer on duty and not three, and he then went on to say:

As to the larger part of her question, in any case, as the Special Minister of State tells me, information on Commonwealth warrants held by the branch was readily accessible by computer at any one of a number of terminals . . .

To that I would suggest that the correct statement is that they should have been. The Minister then went on to explain what is the usual practice in that area. That answer has excited some interest as I am told that in fact the criminal records unit of the AFP was on that day closed for the first time in 23 years, so information was not available and could not be supplied in response to interstate requests. I am told that the one officer who was on duty was in the passport alert section. He had been in the force for only four months and had neither the expertise nor the ability to get into what I am told were the locked sections closed off by a roll-down garage door device covering the crime collation unit and the criminal records unit. It seems that a telex was received from Victoria requesting information about a certain person, and a response was sent. I seek leave to have the telex incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The telex read as follows-

GA30717VKC AA30717FEDPOL AA62004From: FEDPOL CanberraTo: Chefpolice

Message No: 322 1705HRS 11.05.85

Re your Telex No. 364 DOB26/11/60 is recorded in the A.C.T. our Docket No. 19926 refers.

We are unable to advise on priors as our crime collation unit will not be on duty until 2300 hrs 11.05.85.

No warrants found existing in A.C.T. for above.

NOBLEOperations

FIN......PJNVKC AA30717FEDPOL AA62004


Senator REID —The name of the person about whom information was sought has been deleted from the telex. It otherwise refers to the fact that the police were unable to advise on priors-that is prior convictions-as its crime collation unit would not be on duty until 2300 hours on 11 May 1985. It refers to the fact that no warrants for the person in question were found to be existing in the Australian Capital Territory.

There is considerable concern in this community about the present state of policing. It stems mainly from the fact that, as is fairly common knowledge, in certain areas, overtime has virtually been cut out and the level of policing is not what it ought to be. There are not as many motor vehicle patrols as usual and there is a ban on overtime. That perhaps would be the reason why these two officers were not on duty and were not replaced on that Saturday. We hear of the drug unit not operating after 4 o'clock in the afternoon. We hear of the scientific squad not being available after 4 p.m. unless a senior officer specifically says that it ought to go to a break and enter or other crime which is thought to have been committed. If overtime has been cut to the extent that these facilities are not available, I think we are entitled to know that. The records section in particular-if we are going to have a Federal police force with central records-needs to be available in other States. I gather that in Victoria in certain instances a person may be held for only six hours. These days, with communications as they are, police would expect to be able to get the sort of information they required well within that time. If units are going to be closed down because an officer is away, arrangements need to be made. There are questions that ought to be answered on this matter. Perhaps it is only a small thing from some people's point of view. Why is it that so much mystery is being created? I would like an assurance that this telex was sent from the AFP last Saturday setting out the accurate information as to what actually occurred on that occasion.