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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2225


Senator DURACK(3.06) — The Opposition has been expecting a statement from the Government on this subject for a long time. The final report of the Costigan Royal Commission into the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union was handed to this Government on 26 October last year, which I think was the very day that the House of Representatives was dissolved for the election on 1 December. I do not need to go over again the circumstances which led to the delays and so on last year in the Costigan report being made available. It was made available only after extraordinary steps had to be taken simply because the Government had intercepted the ordinary process of that report being tabled in the Parliament and being made available to the public by its calling of the early election last year. The final report-five volumes were made public and a number of volumes remained confidential-was the culmination of the work of that Commission which had been going on for about four years. It had previously submitted five interim reports, four of which had been received by the Fraser Government. The fifth interim report was handed to the present Government, as was the final report, albeit in its caretaker phase last year.

The extent of the Costigan Commission's work, its methods and the great variety and importance of its recommendations are, I think, for all to see in that great record, apart from those parts which remain confidential. What is certainly not being matched by Costigan's performance is the performance of this Government in responding to that work. In passing I refer to the very firm and expeditious way in which the Fraser Government responded to the recommendations of the Commission, particularly those major recommendations in the interim fourth report, which was given to the Government in mid-1982, and which were acted upon by that Government within a few weeks. This Parliament was so informed.

When the final report of the Costigan Royal Commission was received by the Government and, by indirect methods, made available to the public, as I have said, the Government's first response was one of delay. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) delayed a response on several occasions. That probably set the scene which has now become the familiar pattern of the Government in dealing with the Costigan report and its recommendations. The first reaction of the Prime Minister, when he received the report last year, was to take the view that because an election was pending and because the Government was only a caretaker government it could not make any decisions in relation to that report. That was a smokescreen, a diversion from the responsibilities which that Government certainly had. As a caretaker government the Government could not there and then have made decisions to implement the recommendations of the report. In fact, many of those recommendations require legislation. But there was no reason whatever why the Government could not have said within a reasonable time-say, a few weeks, but certainly before the election-what its view was in regard to some of the major recommendations. The very first indication of the weakness of this Government in response to the Costigan report was its use of the election and the fact that it was a caretaker government as a complete diversion and smokescreen to prevent it from facing up to the issues which it squarely should have faced.

After the election, just before Christmas, the present Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) made a statement about the Costigan report. He said simply that the Government would study this aspect and that aspect of the report. We have been waiting ever since for a formal and what we hoped would be a reasonable and adequate response to the many major recommendations of Costigan. Seven months later, in the latter stages of the sittings of this Parliament, at a time when the Parliament is absolutely overwhelmed by a great flood of government business that has been brought in at the last minute-every honourable senator in this chamber and every honourable member in the other place is completely overwhelmed by this volume of legislation, its variety and importance-the Government brings in this response, adding further to the amount of work which honourable senators and honourable members have to face. I suppose this has not occurred by chance. The Government believes that by bringing in its response now, it will be buried, lost and, hopefully, forgotten. Indeed, it might be better if it were forgotten as soon as possible because it is a pathetic response. There is very little of substance in it. To the Opposition it is a totally disappointing and entirely inadequate response.

The Government has proceeded little further from when the statement, to which I referred, was made by the Attorney-General on 18 December last. In that statement the Attorney was most expansive about the Costigan report, which he said would be one of the first priorities of the Government. We were promised a detailed response during the autumn sittings, not right at the end of the autumn sittings at a time when the attention of honourable senators and honourable members is concentrated on a flood of last minute government business. This statement, which presumably is the one which the Attorney-General promised, takes the matter very little further, if any further at all, from the very general response that he made in December.

The bulk of the Costigan recommendations has neither been accepted nor rejected by the Government. Most have been confined to the limbo of the Police Ministers Council, the police or some other body for further deliberation. The Government has rejected out of hand, however, the one and only recommendation Mr Costigan made on the National Crime Authority which the Government presents as the centrepiece of its fight against organised crime and its response to Mr Costigan's work. It has certainly acted on the recommendation made in relation to the powers of the Director of Public Prosecutions, but that was done a year after it had been first made. The most frequent and common response given by the Government to a whole host of Mr Costigan's recommendations is: 'This recommendation is under consideration by the Government'. As I have said, that is virtually the same response as it made last December, nearly six months ago. The Government's response is half-hearted and weak. If this is an indication of what further consideration is being given to the report, we cannot expect any firm and positive response to be made to any of the recommendations which are said to be still under consideration.

The Opposition is very ready to give praise or credit to the Government where it is due, and clearly the Government has taken some steps over the last year or so, such as increased expenditure on law enforcement, increased numbers for the Australian Federal Police, a new automatic data processing capacity for the Australian Bureau of Criminology, improved coastal surveillance and a few others are developed in the statement. The statement is very much padded out, referring to a number of administrative improvements and increased resources that have been given to law enforcement. The Opposition welcomes them and gives credit to the Government for them, but none of them are responses to Costigan's recommendations, and that is what this statement is supposed to be about.

The Government has rejected or deferred virtually all the Costigan recommendations and dressed up all of this with a recital of everything positive that it says it has done in the field of law enforcement during the period it has been in office. There have been a number-I do not propose to go through them-of steps which the Government says it has taken. Where do we go from here? What else will be done by the Government? What has the Government to show for its labour since it received this succession of Costigan reports and the lofty promise of last December? As I said, virtually nothing.

The Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) in this statement highlights waterfront crime. He says that it must be tackled on a national basis. What is his response? He has referred the problem to the Police Ministers Council. He says that security of air cargo is a problem. What has he done? He has established a committee to review this. He says that modern computer technology is important in the fight against crime, but his response is a promise to prepare detailed proposals for the use of the Costigan databank. In view of some of the past statements by the Government, I suppose there is something to be said for the fact that it has now recognised the importance of the money trail and tracing the money trail in criminal investigations and enforcement. Here the response is the ultimate evasion of any decision at all. A working group of officers has been set up only as recently as 17 April to examine the Costigan recommendations on this matter. That is a very interesting date. The committee was set up only on 17 April this year, when back in December the Government said that it would give consideration to all the Costigan recommendations. The Government took from the middle of December until April even to set up a committee to look at this absolutely vital aspect of not only Costigan's recommendations but the whole proven record of Costigan in his methods emphasising the importance of tracing the money trail. It has taken the Government months to set up a committee to investigate those matters.

Another major recommendation-this is more than a recommendation; it proved successful as one of Costigan's methods-was that taxation information be used. There is absolute confusion about what the Government intends to do about that recommendation. Mr Costigan recommended that there should be a new taxation investigation tribunal and a special taxation investigator. Last December, when the Attorney-General spoke about that recommendation, he gave the very clear impression that something positive would be done about it. On the day after the Government promised a detailed response to the report, the Attorney-General was asked on radio whether the Government would definitely implement Mr Costigan's proposal that a taxation tribunal be set up. The Attorney said:

No risk about that. We're going to leave no stone unturned.

What have we been told today? The Government's position now is that it is better to leave the taxation task to existing authorities and methods. The Attorney-General's statement turned out to be more literally true than he expected. The response by the Government to the report is simply a succession of deferments and compromises and generally one of 'doing nothing'. The Costigan report is clearly a remarkable document. It marks the culmination of the most thorough examination of organised crime ever undertaken in Australia. At one stage that was recognised by the Prime Minister, who referred to Mr Costigan's work as a 'significant contribution to the exposure of the role of organised crime and drug trafficking'. On another occasion the Prime Minister, speaking about Mr Costigan's work, said:

. . . exposure of tax frauds and related tax evasion schemes is a major achievement.

The Prime Minister's immediate response to the Costigan report was his first cop-out. He said that because the report was received by the Government in its caretaker phase it could not really say what it would do about it. Who will ever forget all those buckets of crocodile tears that the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Wran, shed for civil liberties and natural justice and the dangers of naming people and so forth during the election campaign? That was the second indication that the Prime Minister wanted to back off and away from doing anything significant about the Costigan recommendations. Today in this pathetic document we have the final proof as to the Government's real intentions, despite all its rhetoric. I do not propose to go through the issues in any further detail. I have given indications of the sort of Government response to a number of recommendations. Many recommendations are still being considered. I referred to the proposal for a taxation tribunal and I refer also to the important recommendation that the National Crime Authority be given real, effective powers to investigate of its own initiative and not to be hog-tied by the necessity for references to that Authority and the sort of political control and delays that that limitation creates.

Incidentally, it is most interesting to note what is reported in the Government statement about the handing over to the National Crime Authority from the Costigan Royal Commission of matters that it had under investigation. The Senate will remember our discussion last year about the summaries which Mr Costigan had prepared on 42 matters which he felt should be the subject of ongoing work by the National Crime Authority following the handover of his responsibilities to the Authority. The Minister's statement records that the Commission decided, I think in early December last year, that of those 42 matters 20 were worthy subjects for formal reference. Of those 20, only four have been granted to date. So, of the 42 matters Mr Costigan recommended for continued investigation by special powers-not just ordinary investigation-only four were granted formal reference, even though the Commission itself recommended that 20 of them could be the subject of formal reference. That is an example of the way in which the Crime Authority is being hog-tied by the form and powers that have been given to it by this Government. The Government has nothing to be very proud of in the way it has structured the National Crime Authority, yet it presents the Authority as the centrepiece of its fight against organised crime. They are probably the two major weaknesses in the response.

I have referred to a number of other cases in which the Government has simply brushed off a recommendation, saying it is looking at it, it has set up a committee to look at it, or it has referred it to some other committee. An interesting example of that is the way in which the Government has dealt with the recommendation concerning civil proceedings by the Director of Public Prosecutions. We will be debating that shortly in the Senate. The legislation to give that power to the DPP is something that the Government has finally acted upon, but it acted upon it only after the Opposition took the initiative. The Opposition said in the course of the election campaign-not just a few weeks or months ago-that it would take that initiative, and that statement was repeated by the shadow Attorney-General early in the life of this Parliament. The Government was shamed into taking some sort of action. The legislation will come before the Senate for debate and more will be said about that then. Even though the Government has acted on the recommendations of Mr Costigan, I do not think it can take much credit for it.

Some major recommendations were made by Mr Costigan in relation to unions. He recommended that there should be legislation similar to the American Labor Management Reporting and Disclosing Act to counteract extortion by trade unions. Again, during the election campaign the Opposition said it would act on this. Of course, it is far too much to expect that this Government will take any action against unions. The Government's response shows clearly just how it has been intimidated by union pressure. It is a weak response to say simply that this matter is under examination.

In regard to racketeering organisations, the Costigan Commission recommended legislation along the lines of the American Racketeer and Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Statute. We in opposition have said that we will act on it. We said that during the election campaign, within four weeks of the Costigan report being made public. What is this Government's response? It has a joint working party looking at it. That is the pattern throughout the whole of the Government's response.

Probably the most pathetic non-effort of the Government in this matter has been its response to an earlier report, Interim Report No. 5, by Mr Costigan. One of the first recommendations Mr Costigan made in his final report was that the Government should give some response to recommendations in his fifth report. That was in October last year, seven months ago. At that stage this Government had had Interim Report No. 5 for 16 months. After 23 months we still have responses along the lines that this matter is under consideration by the Government.

In summing up on this dismal and pathetic response that we have today I have to say that the Government has done nothing since last December to advance its action in relation to the recommendations of the Costigan report. It has avoided making decision by a cowardly use of committees, working groups and promises of further consideration. It has shown that it does not have the courage to take any of the hard decisions needed in the fight against organised crime. The Government should be condemned for the thoroughly inadequate statement which the Minister has tabled today.