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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 992

Senator LEWIS —I move:

That the Senate-

(a) reaffirms the long-established principle that it is a serious contempt for any person to attempt to deter or hinder any witness from giving evidence before the Senate or a Senate committee, or to improperly influence a witness in respect of such evidence, and

(b) warns all persons against taking any action which might amount to attempting to improperly influence a witness in respect of such evidence.

I have signed and handed a copy of this motion to the Clerk. It is in rather general terms as a result of the agreements that have been reached around the chamber this morning. This morning I was somewhat appalled, as I am sure many people were, to hear on the radio program AM allegations being made by the president of the solicitors body in New South Wales concerning what he believed was intimidation against Mr Briese in relation to his reappointment as Chief Stipendiary Magistrate in New South Wales. I shall not go into that matter other than to say that it was very disturbing. I checked on newspaper reports this morning and found a report in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald in which a reporter by the name of Dennis Shanahan stated:

The Attorney-General, Mr Landa, also said yesterday that no decision would be made on Mr Briese's position until the controversy over Mr Briese's allegations about Justice Murphy had been resolved.

If that statement were true it would be a terrible intimidation of a witness who is about to come before a Senate committee. The Senate is about to get up for Estimates committee hearings, and it is anticipated that Mr Briese will come before the Select Committee on Allegations Concerning a Judge before the Senate resumes.

Senator Georges —I raise another point of order. We are now in the process of debating matters which are privy to a select committee which we have appointed. Senator Lewis, by this proposition, has opened up the debate on matters which are the concern of that Committee and not the concern of the whole Senate. The powers of that Committee are such that it could deal with intimidation if intimidation were revealed to it. It serves no useful purpose for that debate to be opened up here and for Senator Lewis to make his position clear on this matter virtually in public. This matter should have been discussed at a private meeting of the Committee. The whole Senate should not now be given information, Senator Lewis's opinion, which is now surely a matter of debate.

The Senate Select Committee has powers to deal with the matter which Senator Lewis raises. He should have kept it within the confines of the Committee. My view is that this is contrary to the Standing Orders and the decision of the Senate that gave a certain reference to the Senate Select Committee and gave it all the powers of the Senate to proceed. We should not be engaging in any sort of debate and we should not be giving out any sort of information which reflects the views of members of that Committee. Senator Lewis ought to know better; obviously he does not. Those are the reasons why I have endeavoured to put to you, Mr President, that the matter should not be opened out at this stage.

Senator Chaney —On the point of order, Mr President, I have listened with very great care to what Senator Lewis has said. I note the motion he has moved is in terms of principle with which I would have thought no one, including Senator Georges, could disagree. Senator Lewis was putting before the Senate his reasons for putting down the statement of principle in a motion today. I think it would be fair to say that in what he has said to date there has been no attempt by him to reflect a view on the matter which is going before the Select Committee. It is merely the question--

Senator Georges —It is getting very close.

Senator Chaney —Let me say that I have listened very carefully to what has been said so far, and I am sure you have too, Mr President, in light of the subject matter in particular, and I believe that Senator Lewis has expressed nothing which would reflect a view. Were he to reflect a view, I am sure, Mr President, that you would intervene in the debate or that some other honourable senator, including the Attorney-General or indeed Senator Lewis's fellow Committee member and Chairman, Senator Tate, would be concerned about the matter. It is a reasonable exercise for Senator Lewis merely to establish for the Senate reasons why he is seeking that this principle be acknowledged by the Senate today. It should not be held up and it is certainly not out of order.

The PRESIDENT —I have listened to the point of order raised by Senator Georges. The Chair is completely in the hands of the Senate so far as motions that are before the Chair are concerned. It is not for the Chair to set the times at which or during which the Senate will be sitting. I have listened very carefully to the remarks of Senator Lewis. Senator Lewis was given leave to move a motion and then he moved that motion. Senator Lewis, in my opinion, so far has directed his remarks to the motion and so long as he continues to do that and not to discuss any private affairs with the Committee he is in order; but I do suggest that Senator Lewis, as a member of that Committee, in speaking to this motion and in moving this motion should take particular care of the fact that he is a member of that Select Committee.

Senator LEWIS —Thank you, Mr President. I will certainly accept your advice and am endeavouring to do that, I can assure you. I had quoted a report in yesterday 's Sydney Morning Herald. Frankly, I found it very difficult to believe that report that Mr Landa had said the remarks as alleged. I read the report in yesterday's Canberra Times and I would like to quote from that. It states that later at a Press conference, Mr Landa intimated for the first time that there was some doubt about whether Mr Briese would be reappointed as chief magistrate. According to the Canberra Times, Mr Landa said that the question of any senior appointments at this stage was 'on hold' because the public controversy had not been resolved and future appointments would depend on the outcome.

Let me say at this stage, Mr President, that I do not know what he was referring to in relation to the public controversy and I am hopeful that what he was referring to was some controversy in New South Wales with regard to magistrates.

Senator Evans —That is the other available alternative.

Senator LEWIS —I allow into Hansard what the Attorney-General has just said by acknowledging it. I am disappointed, I may say, that I have not been able to find any report that yesterday Mr Landa denied that that was his purpose but no doubt something will come of it. My point about raising this matter at this stage is that it seems to me that it is important that the Senate does what it can to protect any witness.

Senator Georges —How? It does not have to be spelt out to give you an opportunity to put a case about what Mr Landa said.

Senator LEWIS —I again allow that to be entered into Hansard by acknowledging the interjection. But let me say that it is absolutely essential that the Senate reaffirms that it will not allow any witness to be intimidated by anyone; any witness, regardless of who the witness is who comes before a Senate committee, is entitled to the privilege and protection of this Parliament. That is why I moved this motion today in the hope that the witnesses who come before these committees will understand that the Senate will back them, not just an individual senator or one party in the Senate, but that the Senate itself will support witnesses who come before it in any circumstances.