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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2610

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(12.36) —The answer to Senator Lewis's question is, quite directly, yes. It is certainly envisaged that the Authority, when it gets started and when it gets the material transmitted to it from the Costigan Commission, may have at any one time as many as 12 or more significant references on its plate which demand hearings being held. Under those circumstances we envisage parallel hearings being conducted. For that reason we regard it as being wholly impractical for those hearings to have to be constituted by more than one member of the Authority, particularly if the Authority is to be confined, as we believe it must be, to just three members. It is very much with that practical effectiveness thought in mind that we would resist, very vigorously, the proposed quorum requirement. The concept of checks and balances really has force only if there is some reason to doubt the capacity or credibility of a single member of the Authority. Given that the Authority is not acting judicially but is simply conducting investigations and making reports and recommendations and given that those reports and recommendations have to reflect a majority decision of the members of the Authority, we believe that that is a significant check or safeguard against some misuse of power by an individual member of the Authority. That is the reason why we resist the quorum requirement being put in the terms that Senator Durack proposes.

Coming to the more fundamental proposition advanced by Senator Durack, that the membership of the committee be increased from three to five with the Commonwealth being put in the position of appointing three, leaving the other two members to be appointed by the respective inter-governmental bodies, the Government feels very strongly that this amendment is neither necessary nor desirable.

Senator Chipp —At this stage?

Senator GARETH EVANS —At this stage, certainly. Conceivably it may be the case that it will be necessary in the future. Nevertheless we are anticipating an Authority which is not, after all, just its three members plus a skeleton staff supporting them; we are talking about a very significant cast of lawyers, accountants, economists and computer people working to the Authority. We are contemplating the existence of counsel assisting in appropriate cases, preferably on a salaried rather than a daily fee basis. But there will be ample opportunity for the appointment of the kind of supporting cast on which Mr Costigan has obviously so much relied in producing his reports. There is no reason whatsoever why all the members of the supporting cast, or the key members of the supporting cast, should themselves be members of the Authority. It is not necessary to do that for the organisation to work effectively, efficiently and at a high level of expertise.

The desirability of it is the nub of the Government's concern. The particular proposal that is before the Committee has been carefully crafted and constructed to advance the cause of Federal-State co-operation that has been crucial in our approach to this matter from the outset. The model of a three-person authority, with a chairman appointed by the Commonwealth and the two other members of the Authority appointed by the respective intergovernmental committees, thus allowing an input for the States, has been regarded as crucial by the States in their willingness hitherto to co-operate with the Authority and to participate actively in the planning for its creation.

Senator Chipp —Would that not give the States dominance over the Commonwealth on the Authority? It is two to one.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I think that is based on a false premise which Senator Durack kept on asserting, that these are somehow State appointments. They are appointments which are not made by the States alone; they are made by the States and the Commonwealth acting unanimously. It is crucially important to appreciate what that means. It means, to use the language of this debate, that the Commonwealth has a veto over the appointment of the representative of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General, and the Commonwealth has a veto equally over the appointment deriving from the Australian Police Ministers' Council.

Senator Chipp —You would dare not use it.

Senator GARETH EVANS —No, but it does mean that the Commonwealth can ensure that a wildly inappropriate appointment is not made. The existence of that veto will mean that in the normal way there will be consultation, co-operation and some agreement reached about a person who is mutually acceptable. It is not just a debating point but an important point that the Commonwealth has at least that degree of overriding control. Equally every other jurisdiction has the same kind of input into the process, but the Commonwealth has a very definite role in that respect. It is not a matter of the Commonwealth having to cop what the States force upon it so far as the other two members are concerned. I agree that the states will have the more significant voice, that is perfectly true, but it is not a total voice.

Senator Chipp —Have you been informed yet who the States want?

Senator GARETH EVANS —No; it has been the subject of preliminary discussions both at the Police Ministers' Council and more particularly the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. The expressions of view I have heard, both formally and informally round the table, have been such as to demonstrate to me that the process will be amicable-that it is not a matter of peas having been identified, lined up and set and raring to go against what the Commonwealth might want to do. We are getting where we are because of the co-operative way in which we have approached the matter. Some people might think that is out of character for this Government and for me in particular, but the reality is that we have crafted this whole business step by step, every inch of the way, to get that mutual confidence and co-operation, without which, as we all know from a long history of lack of co-operation, mutual distrust and suspicion in the law enforcement area, the exercise is destined for disaster. I simply say with as much force as I can muster-albeit no heat, because this is not that sort of debate any more-that the Commonwealth regards this as absolutely crucial to the acceptance and acceptability. It may be that as the situation evolves and different needs and so on for the organisation become apparent, there may be some different model or formula we can agree on, but this is the proposal that comes forward unanimously as a result of very extensive inter-government consultation, and I commend it to the Committee accordingly. It may be that if this were not to work, there would be some overriding reason for saying no, that we should scrub all that and do the best to restructure the thing, but, for the reasons I have indicated, it is not necessary that there be more members of the Authority.