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Monday, 1 December 1986
Page: 3074

Senator JESSOP —In accordance with the provisions of the National Crime Authority Act, I present the second report of the Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority.

Senator JESSOP —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to incorporate my speech in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

This is the Second Report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority. The Committee's First Report in November 1985 dealt with the problems it was then experiencing in attempting to establish an appropriate working relationship with the National Crime Authority. This Second Report acknowledges the improved working relationship now established between the Committee and the Authority. It reports on a variety of matters relating to the operation and performance of the Authority and to the Committee's activities over the past twelve months. The Report also addresses the difficulties envisaged in establishing criteria for the evaluation of the work of the Authority given the existence of the sunset clause in the National Crime Authority Act 1984. It also considers the future direction which the Committee may take in performing its statutory and parliamentary duties.

Following the tabling of the First Report the Special Minister of State, the Honourable Michael J. Young, MP, convened a meeting between the Joint Committee and the National Crime Authority in an attempt to resolve the impasse which had prevented the establishment of an appropriate working relationship between the two bodies. As a result of this meeting, held in May of this year, it was agreed that the Authority would prepare a comprehensive briefing on its operations for the Committee.

The Committee prepared a matters of interest document, detailing the areas of the Authority's operations on which the Committee sought information. In response, the Authority provided a large amount of written material and addressed the remaining issues by way of oral briefing in June. Further joint meetings took place in August and early November, enabling both bodies to address remaining issues of concern.

The Committee has been satisfied with the amount of information which the Authority has provided, especially on organisational and administrative matters. The Authority has also been forthcoming on operational matters, although the Committee has been careful not to pursue any matter involving current operations, the safety of persons working for the Authority or the reputation of persons under investigation.

The Committee was particularly interested in receiving information from the Authority on aspects of its organisation and staffing. It noted with interest the problems encountered by the Authority in recruiting suitably qualified and experienced senior legal staff for the Melbourne office; and in the differing perceptions and expectations on the nature and shape of the Authority on the part of some staff during its transitional period.

The Committee believes that all possible avenues must be explored to rectify the recruitment problems which the Authority has encountered. It is also of the view that the problems associated with the different backgrounds of some officers may prove to be an inevitable transitional problem. The Authority appears to have addressed these problems and is now closer to operating as a unified organisation.

Other areas of concern raised by the Committee included the possible duplication of administrative machinery in the Sydney and Melbourne offices of the Authority; and the apparent lack of balance in the number of legal and investigative personnel employed in the Authority compared with the number of financial analysts and accountants. These matters are under review by the Authority.

The Committee also expressed concern in relation to the security of the Authority's computer and information systems; and the possible threat to civil liberties entailed in a computer data base. These concerns, however, have been allayed by the Authority's approach: selective incorporation of material into the system and access to the database by authorised officers only.

The Committee also sought information from the Authority on general and particular matters relating to its operations. General matters included the methodology adopted by the Authority in the exercise of its functions; the number and general nature of the references from the Inter-Governmental Committee; prosecutions arising from Authority operations; co-ordination and co-operation with other law enforcement agencies; criminal intelligence requirements; and the operation of the sections of the National Crime Authority Act 1984. Specific matters raised by the Committee have included the Bruce Cornwell and Barry Bull extradition proceedings; and a series of allegations relating to some aspects of the operations of the Authority. Whilst some of these matters might be categorised as embarrassing to the Authority, the Committee acknowledges both the Authority's candour and the steps taken to ensure no repetition of these particular isolated incidents.

The Committee has been satisfied with the operational material and briefings made available by the Authority as far as that material goes. The Committee, of course, shares the Authority's views that it should not reveal details of specific matters where this may jeopardise a current operation or proceedings, or endanger the safety or reputation of officers of the Authority or people under investigation by the Authority. Thus, though the Committee has not pressed the Authority on such matters, there may come a time when the Committee is placed in a position where it has no alternative but to pursue a particular line of inquiry. It may then be appropriate for the second leg of the Committee's recommendation in its First Report to be invoked, involving the presentation of a separate report or briefing to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Committee. This mechanism will allow a bipartisan view to be taken as to whether the Committee as a whole ought to pursue a particular line of inquiry. The option for the Committee to pursue matters of concern must remain open if its role as a parliamentary watchdog is to have any credibility. The alternative is to cede to the Authority the power to categorise any line of inquiry as operational and hence inappropriate for the Committee.

It is the intention of the Committee to continue meeting regularly with the Authority, as these joint meetings provide opportunities for the Committee to receive briefings on matters of interest raised by members.

In the course of its activities the Committee has also examined the National Crime Authority Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 1985. In particular, the Committee noted the reports on investigations; legislative matters and law reform; and the preliminary investigative and evaluation work carried out by the Authority in determining its priorities. The Committee also noted the amount of time and the difficulties experienced by the Authority in the recruitment of suitable staff and the establishment of satisfactory administrative procedures.

Since its inception, the Committee has been briefed by the Commissioners and senior officers of the police forces of South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, as well as by senior officers from the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Customs Service and the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence. As a result of these briefings members of the Committee are better placed to understand the overall background against which the National Crime Authority operates and to appreciate the difficulties facing law enforcement agencies in the fight against organised crime. In this context the Committee was disappointed that it was unable to receive a briefing from the Queensland Commissioner of Police. As mentioned in the Committee's First Report, all States except Queensland agreed to the Committee's request for a briefing by their Commissioner of Police on organised criminal activity in their jurisdiction. A subsequent request this year to the Queensland Premier to reconsider this matter was also rejected.

It is planned to continue this pattern of briefings from law enforcement bodies and to extend them to include officials from the relevant Commonwealth departments and statutory authorities who participate in, and advise on, the development of government policy in combating organised crime.

One theme which has been stressed before the Committee is the crucial need for a high level of co-ordination and co-operation between all agencies involved in the fight against organised crime. The Committee therefore intends to examine and report on the Authority's relationships with other law enforcement agencies and the degree of co-ordination and co-operation which is taking place between these agencies.

It is also the intention of the Committee to conduct a major examination of one feature of organised criminal activities in 1987. The Committee will report on this examination and on any changes which the Committee thinks desirable to the functions, structure, powers and procedures of the Authority.

As the Committee's report relates, an assessment of the achievements and impact of the National Crime Authority on the activities of organised crime is necessitated by the inclusion of a sunset provision in the National Crime Authority Act 1984. This will entail an assessment of the effectiveness of the legislation with the view of making recommendations as to the future of the Authority. The Committee intends to play a major role in the review of the operations of the Authority. Whilst the Committee has canvassed the general issue of evaluation criteria, the only conclusion it is prepared to make is that it will be extremely difficult to establish such criteria. However, it is the Committee's belief that its meetings with the Authority and with other law enforcement agencies, Government officials and others involved in, or observers of, the fight against organised crime will allow it to make a substantial contribution to the evaluation of the effectiveness of the Authority.

Finally, the Committee thanks the Honourable Mr Justice D. G. Stewart, Mr E. M. Bingham, Q.C. and Mr R. Greenwood, Q.C. for their co-operation and assistance during the year. The Committee also thanks members of the staff of the Senate who have assisted in its work, particularly Robert Walsh, Rosa Ferranda, Christine Hall, Jacqueline Bradley and Elizabeth Malone.

Senator JESSOP —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.