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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 3023

Question No. 300

Mr Jacobi asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 23 August 1983:

(1) Will he, as a matter of urgency, discuss with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Attorney-General, what steps he will take to ensure that persons named in the Costigan Report, the McCabe-Lafranchi Report and any subsequent report, who have been involved in tax avoidance and evasion, and in other alleged illegal activities, and against whom there appears to be substantial evidence, are not allowed to leave Australia in order to escape possible criminal proceedings.

(2) Is it a fact that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has a discretion in this matter as conferred upon him in sections 7 to 9 of the Passports Act 1938, and in particular, sub-section 8 (1) of that Act.

(3) In view of the enormity of the tax loss as revealed in the Costigan Report and the McCabe-Lafranchi Report, will he take immediate steps to revert to the policy which applied prior to the statement of the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, on 7 March 1979 (Hansard, page 709), that the Minister for Foreign Affairs could withhold, or have withdrawn, passports if State Corporate Affairs Commissions or company officers reported that an investigation was in progress; if not, why not.

(4) Will he take further action to ensure, through the Minister for Finance or the Treasurer, that these persons do not attempt to transfer assets out of Australia pending such proceedings.

(5) Is it a fact that failure to take this action will result in taxpayers incurring enormous costs of extradition proceedings.

Mr Lionel Bowen —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

The Government is fully aware of the need to ensure that, as far as possible, persons involved in alleged illegal activities are not allowed to leave Australia and thereby escape possible criminal proceedings or cause heavy extradition costs to be incurred. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has discretion to withhold the issue of a passport to any Australian citizen but this power would be exercised only in exceptional circumstances. The return to the practice of withholding the passports of persons merely suspected of offences would be incompatible with the Government's commitment to individual rights and civil liberties.

Where charges for breaches of Commonwealth law have been laid against persons named or referred to in either the Costigan Report or the McCabe-Lafranchi Report, bail conditions have included provisions designed to prevent those charged from leaving Australia.

Clause 20 of the National Crime Authority Bill when enacted would allow the Authority to apply to a judge of the Federal Court for an order for delivery of a person's passport to the Authority where the judge is satisfied that the person had been summoned as a witness before the Authority and his evidence could be of particular significance, and there were reasonable grounds for believing that the person intended to leave Australia. The person concerned would have a right to show cause why the order should not be made and to apply to the Federal Court while the order was in force to have it revoked.

The Government is also aware of the potential for a loss to the revenue by persons attempting to transfer assets out of Australia for other than legitimate purposes. Where it is shown to be necessary, the Government would take whatever supportive action may be appropriate to halt any loss to the revenue by such practices.