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Monday, 30 May 1994
Page: 890

Senator CHAPMAN (7.20 p.m.) —As the Senate would be aware, over the last three sitting days—today, and the last two days that the Senate sat a couple of weeks ago before we had a fortnight's break—I directed questions to the government and the minister in this place, Senator Bolkus, representing the Minister for Justice, regarding allegations about investigations by Queensland police and justice authorities into criminal activity on the Gold Coast involving the provision of prostitution services and its relationship with money laundering and other criminal activity involving overseas links.

  As the Senate would also be aware, the minister has utterly failed to answer those questions but has sought to divert attention from the questions in a number of ways. Firstly, it has been by dissembling and backing and filling in relation to the answers he has given. More particularly, on the last two occasions, it has been by making scurrilous attacks on one of my staff members. I believe that that approach by the minister to these very important issues is entirely unacceptable. What is emerging from the information which I have available, and as a result of the questions I am asking in this chamber, is an attempt by the government to divert attention from this very serious issue, an issue that may well go further than anyone expects with regard to the possibilities of criminal activity and attendant corruption.

  The response of this minister on two occasions has been to make scurrilous allegations against my staff member. In particular, Senator Bolkus has made the assertion that this staff member, Mr Chris Nicholls, was `run out of South Australia, run out of journalism, and run out of the ABC'. These are nothing more than lies. Again, they reflect the minister's lack of credibility in the responses which he has been giving to me on this particular issue. I might well ask what the minister hopes to achieve by attacking my staff member in this way. Therefore, I want to place on the record the circumstances regarding Mr Chris Nicholls.

  One may well ask why the minister, a South Australian Labor senator in this place, has such a fixation with regard to Mr Nicholls, so we ought to reflect for a few moments on what happened to Mr Nicholls as an ABC journalist in South Australia. There he was intimidated and victimised by the former Labor government—the Labor government that was hounded out of office by the people of South Australia last year in the December state election. So it is not Mr Nicholls who has been hounded out of South Australia; it is the former Labor government led by Mr Bannon and then by Mr Arnold that was thrown out of office lock, stock and barrel by the people of South Australia so convincingly in that election. The Liberal Party's victory achieved the second highest result of any political party in South Australia, giving it 37 seats and the Labor Party 10 seats.

  This victimisation of Mr Nicholls took place after he exposed yet another scandal on the part of the Labor Party in South Australia. Perhaps it is a bit close to the bone for Senator Bolkus to be subject to questioning here on the possibility of scandals at the federal level. That state level scandal involved a former minister, Barbara Wiese, a member of the Legislative Council in South Australia. Mr Nicholls uncovered that scandal, a business relationship in which her so-described partner in life was involved. Five days after he uncovered that particular scandal Mr Nicholls was subjected to one of the most insidious and corrupt abuses of political power by that particular government.

  Mr Nicholls was acquitted by a court of the charges. But, not satisfied with that, the then Labor government continued to pursue him. It was so relentless that it then mounted contempt charges against him for protecting his source of information relating to the scandal that he had uncovered of political corruption in South Australia. For his trouble, the former Labor government pursued him by mounting contempt charges against him. As a result of that, Mr Nicholls spent some four months in South Australia's maximum security prison, sharing his prison cell with hardened criminals—a credible journalist spent four months in jail for protecting his source. That happened to Mr Nicholls as a result of the investigations that he undertook at the time and the evidence that he was able to present. That evidence was one of the many factors that caused the South Australian people to throw the former Labor government out of office lock, stock and barrel.

  Again we find that Senator Bolkus is trying to intimidate Mr Nicholls by raising his name in this place and by scandalously abusing him in the way that he has. The fact that Mr Nicholls is a member of my staff has nothing to do with my interest in this particular issue. For some time I have been investigating the threat that organised crime poses to the community in Australia, and Australians in general. The need for further action to be taken against organised crime in Australia was again highlighted by the bombing of the NCA headquarters in Adelaide. Those headquarters just happen to be located next to my electorate office. There is within Australia increasing evidence that organised crime is active—

Senator Patterson —A can of worms.

Senator CHAPMAN —It is, as Senator Patterson has said, a can of worms. Organised crime is becoming more active. Its activities are obviously detrimental to the Australian community. It is important that at government level action is taken to stem the growth in organised crime. If at government level there is a lack of will to do that, a lack of will that in part is due to possible links of former senior ALP heavies with some of the people who may be involved in those criminal activities, then that must be exposed. I welcome the fact that, because of my interest in the issue, I now have a member of staff who has the skills, ability and knowledge to undertake legitimate investigations and inquiries on these matters and to produce the evidence which can be presented in this parliament to bring these people to book.

  I strongly defend the integrity and ability of Mr Nicholls. He has been subjected to scurrilous misrepresentation and lies by Senator Bolkus in this chamber. That simply should not be allowed to persist. Senator Bolkus ought to have the decency to come into the chamber and apologise for that. I stand in defence of Mr Nicholls, his career, his ability and his integrity.