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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 107

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(10.44) —The Senate is debating the report of Mr Black, QC, on the matters which involved the Hon. Mick Young, the recently reinstated Special Minister of State, and the circumstances surrounding his making of a Customs declaration which, in the event, was shown to be inaccurate. I should make it clear that in the Opposition 's view we should not be debating this report, because the report should not exist. The report was not required. The facts of the matter were fairly clear. Indeed, they are clear in the basic sense that it is established beyond any doubt at all that the Minister, Mr Young, filled out a Customs form in a way which was incorrect, in a way which put him in breach of the law and in a way which involved penalties being imposed upon him. It is the view of the Opposition that that simple fact is one which requires his removal from the Ministry. It is also the view of the Opposition that were the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) genuinely in control of his Cabinet, that would have occurred. The fact of the matter is that the Prime Minister on a prior occasion has been shown to be unable to keep Mr Young out of the Ministry because of the votes of the Caucus. Once again we have a situation in which a Minister who has made errors of a sort which should have removed him from the Ministry remains in place.

One does not have to go very far to establish the facts. I will examine the form which was filled in by Mr Young and which clearly establishes that he put his name to and declared to be true statements which he knew not to be true or at least statements of matters of which he was unaware. Secondly, we do not have to go very far to look for the standards that ought to be imposed in this matter . Thirdly, we are dealing with a situation in which this is not the first transgression of the Minister. I do not think anyone in Australia has forgotten Mr Young's long lunch. I do not think anybody in Australia has forgotten that Mr Young allowed his loose tongue to talk of matters which went to Australia's national security. I do not think that anyone in Australia has forgotten that he showed an inability to control his tongue in a way which a Minister ought to be able to do. We find that on that occasion, when the Prime Minister was forced to take Mr Young back, the Prime Minister said:

It is clear that these-Mick's-actions were based on an error of personal judgment from which he has now learnt and which I am sure will not be repeated.

It is quite clear that Mr Young did not learn and that his errors of judgment have in fact been repeated. As recently as 28 July the Prime Minister spoke very boldly on national television about the standards which would be applied to Mr Young. Mr Hawke said:

Well, I think on the questions of standards Mick will have to live by the standards which he himself set in his speech to Parliament last year-1982 I mean -on MacKellar and Moore.

Again, the statements of Mr Young at that time are pretty fresh in the minds of many Australians because, of course, they have been trotted forth, particularly since the Prime Minister endorsed them as the relevant standards. Mr Young in Parliament on 27 April 1982, when he was talking of the standards that he expected of Liberal Ministers, said:

What an extraordinary episode we are being told of . . . The former Minister for Health . . . was trying to sneak through Customs with a lousy television set . . . He said he did not know about it . . . Nothing is more important than the way in which these people who are called Ministers behave themselves and set an example to other people in Australia.

That is an important quotation because it is a reminder that we are here dealing with a situation which is not satisfactorily dealt with simply by the application of the law and the imposition of what is termed an on the spot penalty of double duty. We are here dealing with vagaries of behaviour on the part of a man who is one of the most senior people in government in this country . He himself has said that this is a matter of fundamental importance. The Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown), who is one of Mr Young's colleagues, at the same time made his views clear. He said:

Let us not dismiss this as a trifling matter, an error of judgment, because this Minister as he was then was tired and failed to fill in his declaration form. This is not acceptable.

We simply remind the Senate and the people of Australia of those clear statements by now Labor Ministers and of the standards which the Prime Minister says should be applied to Mr Young. Because the facts are clear, because it is clear that Mr Young filled in a form inaccurately, because it is beyond any argument that the filling in of that form in that way involved the payment of a double penalty, an on the spot penalty for the breach which occurred, we know that Mr Young has broken the law and we know that he should have been removed from the Ministry. But the sad fact is that the Prime Minister had to find for himself a shield against the political pressures which were on him. The Black Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Making of a Customs Declaration was described by Michelle Gratton in a recent comment in the Age as:

An inquiry as much an exercise in protecting the Prime Minister and Senator Button, who is in charge of Customs, as in sorting out what happened.

In the view of the Opposition that is a very accurate statement. It is also the view of the Opposition that in the end result Mr Young has not been judged by the high standards he laid down for the Liberals. And the fact of the matter is that the breach which occurred has now been glossed over and Mr Young has returned to the Ministry.

Today we are debating the Black report which report we say is unnecessary. It is important to note that this report was compiled after inquiries which were held in secret. The Senate does not have the benefit of the evidence which was given to Mr Black. That evidence has not been disclosed; all that we have is some description by Mr Black of some of the evidence. Principally we have a description of Mr Black's conclusions on the evidence and on the discussions which he held. That means that the Parliament and the people of Australia are at a considerable disadvantage in assessing the value or otherwise of Mr Black's report. His is a report which in a way deprives us of the raw materials needed to make many of the judgments. It is fundamental to note that in no way does the Black report exonerate Mr Young from the fact that he filled in a form incorrectly and that that rendered him liable for penalties and that those penalties have been imposed. As I said, what we have from Mr Black is a report which gives his conclusion. I have to say that on the face of it it is a disappointing document.

I suppose that everyone stands the risk at some time or other in his lifetime of being judged before a legal tribunal. I have to say that if that falls my way I hope that whoever composes the legal tribunal is as kind to me as Mr Black has been to Mr Young. I will explain in some detail why I believe that to be a fair statement on a reading of the report. It is rather sad that Mr Black has failed to answer the fundamental question. He has failed to answer in a direct way the fundamental question posed by the Prime Minister in his direction to him. I refer to the report itself and to the letter which the Prime Minister wrote to Mr Black. The Prime Minister said in part:

You are requested to inquire into and report upon the circumstances surrounding the making of a customs declaration by the Hon M. J. Young . . . and in particular whether any breach of a law of the Commonwealth . . . may have occurred in the actions of (a) the Hon M. J. Young

It is disappointing to turn to page 133 of the typescript report-I do not have the printed report before me-to find that Mr Black states:

I express no conclusion as to whether any breach of a law of the Commonwealth may have occurred. My reasons for taking this course appear in Part XII of this report. It should not be inferred that I make any finding that a breach of the law of the Commonwealth may have occurred in the actions of the Hon M. J. Young.

That really is a rather surprising passage given that Part XII of the report makes it quite clear that the penalty duties which were imposed on Mr Young involve the superseding of the other penalty section of the Act referred to in the report. In other words, on the spot penalties were imposed and the imposition of those on the spot penalties preclude prosecution under a different section of the Act. It seems to me to be as clear as the nose on anyone's face that these penalties could not have been imposed if there had not been a breach of the Customs law by the Hon. Mick Young and by those on whose behalf he was acting.

I will explain why I think the report is very kind. I will explain why I think that Mr Young should bend on his knees and thank God for the attitude which was adopted by Mr Black. In the report I find that all individuals who came before Mr Black are judged honest. Of course, that may be an utterly appropriate finding. It may well be that everybody who appeared was utterly honest and straightforward. I do not make any judgment on that because I have no access to the evidence. I have no reason to cast a doubt on anyone, be it a public servant or any other person involved.

My point simply is that if we look at what Mr Black actually found we will find a consistent version of the facts which, as I have said, is kind. It is a version of the facts which says 'I am really going to give people the benefit of the doubt'. I will give the simplest possible illustration of this. There are differences of evidence. These are described by Mr Black at a number of points in his report. Some of the witnesses told him different things about the same incident. That can occur. I have been in enough courts to know that a court can respond in different ways from that. I have seen judges and magistrates often say that the differences of evidence of people party to the same conversation or witnesses to the same act are a clear indication that one or other of the witnesses is lying. On the other hand, I have seen judges and magistrates prepared to say, as Mr Black says in this report, 'Well, that is clear evidence that that is just the normal conduct of human affairs and is evidence that there was no collusion'.

Therefore, one finds that at a number of points in this report there have been differences of account. According to Mr Black's own account conflicting evidence has been given to him. He takes those conflicts to be an indication that he is dealing with honest people because if they were not honest they would have got together and cooked up a story. When talking of Mrs Young and her sister we find Mr Black saying that like most travellers they had some concern about luggage. We find Mr Black telling us he has been given evidence to the effect that Mr Young's office altered the Customs form. After it became clear the Customs form was inaccurate somebody whited out one of the answers and put in a different answer that was subsequently changed back. Again, that is given quite a benign interpretation by Mr Black. Of course, that might be quite appropriate. We do not have the access to the information to know.

I say again that here we have a disclosure by Mr Black of a suspicious circumstance-the sort of circumstance which may have given rise to the concern of the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button) who is sitting opposite. I hope in this debate he will give us some more of the facts which might throw light on this. Had that come before me that is the sort of fact which as a lawyer I would have found very suspicious. I am prepared to say that it is open to an innocent explanation. Let us say again that we have no way of judging whether Mr Black is right or wrong in saying 'here again is just another innocent, to be expected form of action.' I find Mr Black's kindness on the significance of the $500 another surprising feature of the report. It is quite clear that Mr Young's position would have been significantly worse had the goods been valued at more than $500. I will come back to the question of valuation later. There are a lot of strange things about the valuation of these goods.

Senator Button —Senator, you cannot debase kindness as a virtue.

Senator CHANEY —I do not debase kindness. However, we are dealing here with an inquiry supposed to determine whether people have been doing something which is wrong, whether they have been guilty of impropriety or whether there have been breaches of the law. All I am suggesting is that consistently through this report we find a very benign view of facts which another tribunal may have taken a very suspicious view of and might have been prepared to put a different interpretation on. We in the Parliament and the people of Australia are hard pressed and cannot know whether those judgments are fair because the inquiry was held in secret, the information is not available and we have no basis for checking the conclusions of Mr Black.

That amount of $500 is very significant. It became apparent that in those bags that had been brought in by Mr Young as unaccompanied baggage.

These were goods which were not supposed to be gifts, but which turned out to be so. The report makes it quite clear that if the value of the goods had been more than $500 then quite different effects would have flowed. There would have been no room for on the spot penalties but there would have been need for prosecution and imposition of criminal penalties in the more usual sense. That valuation of $500 is critical. As I said I will look at that in a little more detail later. There are oddities in the list which have been exposed by the report.

I simply say that when we look at the doubts raised and the way Mr Black describes his dealing with those doubts we can only say again that he acts with very great kindness. Did people really understand the significance of the $500? Anyway they could not have added up quickly enough to fake the valuation. That would have been impossible. There are all these different currencies. That again might be absolutely true. However, I say only that I find my credulity a bit strained when I find that every page of the report contains a concession and a benefit of the doubt. I say again, in particular when we look at the list of $ 500, that there are some very strange questions that do not appear to have been posed in the mind of Mr Black. If they were posed in the mind of Mr Black, he did not bother to put his pen to paper on them. I am concerned about the fact that Mr Black places some heavy emphasis on the fact that, after all, had Mr Young attended the Customs office, had he been asked whether he packed the bags and had he said 'No, I did not pack the bags' an inspection would have been required but no form would have been required. So what? The fact is that Mr Young chose to follow a procedure which did not involve his going to Customs, having to answer questions and having to have the bags in his presence for that purpose. Mr Young followed a course which involved his advising Customs of the position by a form in writing, which, on the face of it, was incorrect.

Again we get what I regard as a very kindly point made by Mr Black. We find Mr Black concluding that Mr Young believed that he had to answer yes or no to the questions that were asked. Let me pause and look at the Customs form because, on the face of it, it says that that is not the case. It is not a form on which all Mr Young had to do was to make some ticks. It includes these words:

I declare that the statements made on, and the answers to questions in this form, are to the best of my knowledge true and correct in every particular.

The form is then signed by Mr Young. On the same form a box which is headed ' IMPORTANT' says:


So, quite clearly, it was made clear on the face of the form that Mr Young was under a very heavy obligation. All I say is that when a Minister of the Crown signs a form over the following words:


which Mr Young did, he is behaving in quite a cavalier fashion when he ponders on the fact that he does not know what is in the bags and yet chooses to answer these questions 'yes' or 'no'.

We find again that the Commissioner very kindly says that Mr Young may have been affected by the fact that he was handed a partially completed form and that that may, therefore, have reduced the application of his mind to it. Yet at the same time we know that Mr Young, in conversation, had his mind directed specifically to the question of whether he knew what was in the bags. I find it very kind, too, of Mr Black to say that Mr Young was entitled to rely on what he knew of his wife's habits and to say that for that reason she would not have brought cigarettes or alcohol in the bags. I have known many non-smokers and non -drinkers to bring in to Australia as presents cigarettes and alcohol. I find that a most extraordinary conclusion for Mr Black to have made. I find his failure to find any problem in the Gilbert and Jennings conversation where there is a clear difference in the versions of what was said as to whether or not the Minister had given any warning, again, an act of kindness.

The simple reality about this report is that it is clear, even on the best construction of the facts and even if Mr Black is correct in being as kind as he has been, that at best Mr Young was guessing when he filled in the form and declared it to be true. That is a matter which we believe is serious and goes to the whole administration of Customs in this country.

I have limited time left to talk. Senator Peter Rae will be speaking during this debate and I know that he will address himself to this issue. The issue was raised during Question Time yesterday with the Minister, Senator Button. Is the Customs Service now to assume that, when other Australian travellers come into Australia and hand Customs officers forms which purport to show what is in their baggage, those customers, those clients, those Australians going through the Customs Service are entitled to be guessing? That is the central question which Mr Young's treatment and the Black report raise. What is the basis now for administering Customs in this country, if people are entitled to come through Customs and say: 'I do not really know what is in the bags but I have given you these answers because, to the best of my knowledge . . . Well, I know my wife does not smoke or drink so there could not possibly be any cigarettes or alcohol in there'. It is an absurdity. It poses an administrative difficulty for the Customs Service which we believe is in itself a demonstration of how unsatisfactory is the Government's approach and, indeed, is Mr Black's approach to this matter.

Let me go back to the question of valuations. As I said previously, the way Mr Young was treated was only possible because the goods were valued at less than $ 500 and, therefore, on the spot fines or penalties could have been imposed. The imposition of those on the spot penalties precluded a prosecution under the other section. That is quite important, in terms of the way Mr Young was actually dealt with. On the face of the report it was known to the people involved that the value of the goods was a significant factor. The amount of $ 500 had been mentioned. It was known to the people who were a party to this exercise.

Let us look at the form. The only evidence we have is what Mr Black has chosen to disclose to us. Mr Black has chosen to give us the form which was actually signed by Mr Young. That confirms that he was in breach of the law. He has given us as appendix 'B' the list of valuations which were made by Customs. We are dealing here not with a Customs officer but with a Queen's Counsel, a man of considerable reputation and no doubt a man of considerable forensic skills. I would have thought that the sorts of points which I am about to make would have raised significant questions in his mind. Let us take the simplest possible example. Two bottles of Nina Ricci French perfume are identified on the form, one of 108ml and the other 75ml. There is a fair difference there. I am not a great perfume buyer but I find, with most things I buy, that a big packet costs more than a little packet. I find, however, that, according to the valuation of Mrs Young's effects, one can buy 108ml of Nina Ricci perfume for the same price as 75ml. They are both valued at 200 French francs. I would have thought that one would at least ask a question. Why is it that two items are shown at exactly the same price, are of exactly the same description-in fact the small figures that show repeat are used- and yet are a different price? I would have thought that would put one on an inquiry.

We also find that nine items on the form are all valued at $A20. Maybe I do not do enough shopping, but during a meeting I was at the other day somebody said: ' I think Mrs Young must have gone to a $20 sale'. I know that such things exist, although I do not think that one would find a $20 sale in France, Great Britain or wherever. However, nine items are listed to the value of $20. Let us look at them. A variety of items are listed and for some extraordinary reason they all cost the same amount. A grey clasp shoulder bag cost $20. A cerise leather purse cost $20. A blue leather handbag cost $20. A red, grey and black striped dress cost $20. A brown and purple dress and belt cost $20. A blue dress with spots cost $20. A textile handbag and purse cost $20. A dark blue leather clasp handbag also cost $20. A textile handbag with matching purse cost $20 as did a lace dress. I am not saying that one could not buy any of those items for $20. I am saying that I find it extraordinary that nine items are all given the same valuation, yet that did not put Mr Black on inquiry as to whether he should go beyond the ad hoc, fair judgment of a Customs officer who is used to dealing with these things, and whether Mr Black should not make some closer inquiry.

Senator Button —What would he do if he did?

Senator CHANEY —I think that would disclose whether, in fact, there was a case which was properly dealt with under that section. The only other item I mention- and there are many-is that a two-piece chamois skirt and top, 'Christian Cuvelier' was listed as costing $50. Again, I do not know much about women's fashion but I hope that some people who do know something about women's fashion will examine the list with care because I suspect that a few wholesalers and retailers might say: 'They sound like pretty good values to me'.

What I am saying is that the most obvious indication of the benign way in which this matter has been approached is that in a list which seems to me to cry out for closer examination we get an acceptance of a procedure which permits, obviously, the greatest degree of approximation. Let me put a benign view on the matter. The benign view is that which is set out in the Black report-that people , in the course of a discussion with a Customs officer, will put some approximation of value on an article. Honourable senators should remember we are dealing with a situation in which the approximation was within a few dollars of the $500 limit.

I can only say that in circumstances in which I am not allowed to have access to the facts, because the Government has not disclosed them, I am entitled to ask the questions that I have asked and, I believe, the Australian people are entitled to ask the questions that I have asked. We have here a debate which, in a sense, is a distraction from the real issue. The real issue is: Should Mr Young have remained a Minister when, for the second time in 12 months, he failed to meet the standard of conduct which he had laid down? That is the question, and the clear answer to that question is that he should not be tolerated as a continuing Minister in the Government. For the Government's own internal political reasons he is still a Minister.

For the protection of the Prime Minister we have, at great public expense, this report. We have a refusal to give the Opposition access to the facts on which the report is based and the Opposition believes that if the Government is not prepared to live up to its responsibilities and wishes to shove the responsibility on to an independent inquiry the simple requirement should be that the independent inquiry is open so that the people of Australia can see what is going on. This report is simply a shield for a Prime Minister who does not have the strength to make the decisions himself. This report is not an adequate response. If the Prime Minister wishes to pass over the responsibility let us have out in the open the facts on which this matter can be judged. Let us not have simply the opinion of one man based on the facts that he and he alone has been allowed to examine.