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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1210

Senator TATE (Special Minister of State) —by leave-By agreement with Senator Durack, I shall speak by leave rather than close the debate. I thank honourable senators who have contributed to the debate. I do not want to go over the ground of my tabling statement, but I was pleased that so much support was expressed, particularly by Senators Jessop and Haines, experienced members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the National Crime Authority at various times, for the relationship which has developed between that Committee and the National Crime Authority. It was a troubled one in the beginning. It seems to have been sorted out, and I am anxious that that relationship should continue-not in a way which makes the parliamentary Committee in any way subservient to the Authority but which nevertheless is respectful of the various jurisdictions and charters. This Parliament will be well served if the relationship, which apparently has been fostered and brought to a reasonable point over the last few months, leads us to be able to make an apt judgment on the work of the National Crime Authority when the time comes for Parliament to make its decision. I shall come to that matter in a moment.

I shall not give Senator Durack an assurance that the role of the Inter-Governmental Committee should be abandoned. I remember that in the debates held in this chamber concerning the establishment of the National Crime Authority and in the Committee discussions which preceded that debate-that Committee had before it the National Crimes Commission legislation-the role of the Inter-Governmental Committee was thought to be important. In relation to special references the Authority is endowed with very special and extraordinary powers in the Australian law enforcement scene. It was thought that there should be at least some need for the Authority to approach those who are elected by the people. After all, it is not a set of bureaucrats; it is an inter-governmental committee at the highest level. Ministers, who are ultimately responsible to their parliaments and the people, are asked to give permission for the Authority on a particular reference to exercise quite extraordinary powers. They are very effective powers and, as the report shows, have proved to be an effective means of bringing about the accumulation of evidence and the necessary ground work to ensure that arrests are achieved, but they are extraordinary and should not go without scrutiny when sought to be exercised. For that reason the Inter-Governmental Committee is an important part in the process of the Authority in the exercise of these special powers. As Senator Durack remarked, the Authority has acknowledged that it has never found the Inter-Governmental Committee to be a stumbling block because its case for a special reference is well argued and presented. In any case there is tremendous political pressure on participating governments to accede to requests that are so well argued by the Authority.

Senator Durack also made the political claim that this Government has not evidenced a strong commitment to attacking organised crime. During the lunch hour I went to the headquarters of the Australian Federal Police, where I had a briefing session and pleasant luncheon with Major-General Grey, the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police. This Government has initiated a three-year program to beef up the resources of the Australian Federal Police. We have provided an extra $10m in funding over the three-year program, which has allowed the AFP to engage in a recruiting program which, as I saw from my observations in walking around the building, has enabled that organisation to acquire the services of a very talented, enthusiastic team of young policemen who I am sure, following further years of training, will prove to be a very accepted part of that law enforcement agency.

The resources we have put into the Australian Federal Police are matched by the resources we have put into the National Crime Authority. I believe staffing resources at the moment are at a sufficient level. We have of the order of 260 staff compared to a combined staff of 105 for both the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union and the Stewart Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking under the previous Government, and proposed expenditure in 1986-87 is $14.9m compared to the previous Government's total expenditure in 1981-82 of $4m for the Costigan and Stewart royal commissions. So I think the level of resources is quite adequate for the tasks which this Government and indeed the Parliament and the people expect of the Authority.

As for the other elements of our attack on organised crime, the fact is that in this autumn session, as has been foreshadowed, we will be introducing a package of measures including a measure dealing with the proceeds of crime. It is important, as has been commented on by honourable senators in this debate, that that legislation provide another way of trying to contain and disrupt organised crime in this country. It has been said time and again that the simple scoreboard approach of looking at arrests, successful convictions, gaolings and fines is perhaps one aspect, but not a sufficient aspect. The way to really deal with organised crime is to make it less profitable for those who engage in these nefarious activities in order to secure tremendous assets.

Senator Haines —That is the purpose of their exercise, isn't it-to get pecuniary gain?

Senator TATE —That is right, to accumulate assets beyond those which they could otherwise lawfully obtain. We intend with the tracing provisions in particular to be embodied in this proceeds of crime legislation, that the financiers of crime themselves will find themselves stripped of their assets. This will be a valuable part of the armoury of society which will make engaging in crime less attractive. The fact is that a gaol sentence of three or four years may not appear to be of such enormity to those who think that at the end of that period they can walk out and enjoy the fruits of their nefarious activities, their ill-gotten gains.

Senator Peter Baume made an interjection at one stage, I think while Senator Haines was speaking, and raised the $17m that has already been identified as available for recovery and transfer into the Commonwealth Treasury. Recovery does not always depend on conviction; in fact, it may simply be that information is passed to the Commissioner of Taxation to enable him to raise an assessment where income has not been disclosed previously. I think that particular package of legislation will be evidence of this Government's strong commitment to tackling organised crime with measures which are rather novel without our society, and the United States models to which I think Senator Jessop adverted have played a strong part in the preparation of that legislation.

In relation to the telecommunications interception legislation it is true, as I think Senator Jessop mentioned, that the National Crime Authority was to make a submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the National Crime Authority. It did so. That Committee in fact did not recommend in accordance with the National Crime Authority's preferred method of obtaining intelligence through telephone interceptions. Of course the Government, in making its decision as to the form of the Bill, will be taking into account that Parliamentary Committee's recommendations. I say to Senator Durack that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I seem to recall that we adopted the idea of a sunset clause in this legislation because in the legislation proposed by those opposite there was a sunset clause. Am I correct in thinking that in the National Crimes Commission legislation which they introduced there was a sunset clause?

Senator Durack —It is irrelevant.

Senator TATE —I am now told it is irrelevant, but I think it is a telling point and my reminding Senator Durack of it has taken him by surprise. The fact is that the introduction of a Bill by Senator Archer to strip the legislation of that sunset clause is somewhat premature. I understand some of the motivation behind his bringing that Bill into the Senate but I believe that, as has been adverted to, after only a couple of years of operation of this Authority the Parliament and the people are reaching a point, although they are not yet at that stage, where we even have the correct criteria firmly in mind to judge whether it is in the end the best way in which to set up an extraordinary attack on organised crime. I think my very complimentary remarks about the work of the National Crime Authority indicate the way in which I, in particular, having been Chairman of the Senate committee which established the legislative framework which is now supporting the Authority, believe that the Authority is making very significant breakthroughs in the fight against organised crime, and I envisage that the Authority, in much the same form as it is now, will still play a very important role in the overall co-operation and collaboration between the various law enforcement agencies in that fight. As to whether at this stage this chamber, or this Parliament, should pre-empt a very pre-eminent role which the Joint Parliamentary Committee has asked that it play-that is, in assessing the actual performance and various elements of the operation of the National Crime Authority-I think it is just a little too early to strip the Parliament of the sort of work which I believe the Joint Parliamentary Committee is about to engage in. So, for myself, I will not be supporting Senator Archer's Bill at this stage.

Senator Jessop mentioned witness protection matters. The fact is that only very recently, I think last Thursday or Friday, I wrote to the Chairman of the Australian Police Ministers Council suggesting discussions between law enforcement officials and correctional service officials on present witness protection arrangements, both custodial and non-custodial. Of course, the National Crime Authority will be invited and, now I think of it, the parliamentary committee might also be invited, to take part in those discussions. The question of witness protection is a very difficult one because of the resource implications. Such a program, established at a national level, would be very resource intensive and I understand many of the Commissioners of Police themselves in their various jurisdictions have indicated that they wish to retain control of witness protection. So it is not an easy matter to resolve, but those discussions are under way.

I thank those who have contributed to this debate on what I think is a very important report put down by the National Crime Authority. It is only one element of the fight against organised crime being undertaken by various law enforcement agencies throughout Australia. In conclusion, what has given me the most pleasure in the five or six weeks since I assumed the office of Special Minister of State is the fact that, in contradistinction to the time when I chaired the Senate committee to which reference was made earlier, collaboration and co-operation between the various law enforcement agencies has increased a 1,000-fold. The jealousy, the protection of turf and the self-aggrandisement which quite often characterised the various elements of both Federal and State law enforcement agencies, in my experience of the last few weeks, has largely disappeared and has been replaced by the sort of collaboration and co-operation which is so essential if we as a nation are to win this particular battle.

Debate (on motion by Senator Sheil) adjourned.