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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2606

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(12.05) —I shall respond briefly to a couple of matters, particularly a specific point mentioned by Senator Chipp about the drafting of this clause. Mr Chairman, I am happy to seek leave to amend proposed sub-clause (1A) along the lines suggested by Senator Chipp, so that it would read:

'(1A) The Minister shall not, without the approval of a resolution passed at a meeting of the Inter-Governmental Committee, being a resolution as to which all members of the Committee present at the meeting have voted in favour, give any directions or furnish any guidelines to the Authority under sub-section (1) with respect to particular cases.

Leave granted.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I think that the more general issues raised in the debate have been more than adequately canvassed, particularly in the two contributions made by Senator Harradine who got to the nub of the underlying issues of principle that are involved. I would not wish it to be thought that the Government has not given very close and anxious consideration to this question, particularly in the light of the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. However, the text that has ultimately guided us in this matter is Clemenceau's famous remark that war is too serious a matter to be left entirely to the generals. Ultimately, we have had in mind that independent and fearless bodies, to use Senator Durack's expression, may on occasion just possibly do some pretty hair raising things-maybe not now and maybe not in the immediate future but perhaps some years down the track with new personnel and when the initial force of some of the concerns that have been expressed in this debate have worn off.

Among the more hair raising enterprises that I can recall executive investigation bodies embarking upon in the past were the South Australian Special Branch compilations of intelligence about people engaged in political activities. These were the subject of an express government direction which was cheerfully ignored by the then police commissioner, Mr Salisbury. It will be recalled that he ignored them on the basis that he owed his obligation to a higher public interest, a higher interest in effective law enforcement. That kind of claim may be made in the future unless a fail safe mechanism is put here to cope with pathological cases. It must be appreciated that it is only the pathological cases that would ever conceivably attract direction of the kind that is envisaged here.

The war in question might be too important to leave not only to the generals but also to the Executive Government were there not checks and balances built in to ensure that the overriding power of the Executive Government is not misused or abused. That is the force of the requirements for publicity through tabling these directions and more particularly that is the force of the additional layer of protection that we have built in here in response to the concerns expressed by the Senate Committee report requiring a unanimity of response across governments generally, not just the Commonwealth Government.

We can argue around these issues for the rest of the day. It has been a long debate so far, but ultimately it boils down to a matter of judgment. I think the issues have been adequately canvassed. I repeat that we have been very concerned not to do anything which could possibly reduce the effectiveness or the practical independence of the organisation, but we have felt it necessary to put in some kind of mechanism to ensure that in the extreme case the basic principles of executive control and executive accountability are maintained.