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Tuesday, 5 June 1984
Page: 2557

Senator DURACK(10.11) —I cannot let the comments of the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) remain unanswered on the question of the co-operative federal nature of this body. Senator Evans cannot give us an assurance here and now that the States will co-operate. We have sought that assurance from the Attorney-General since last year. He has had numerous discussions with them. When he introduced the National Crime Authority Bill last November he could not tell us whether the States would co-operate. The Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs has investigated this matter and we are still no wiser about whether the States will co-operate. The best I can understand from what Senator Evans says is that they are waiting to see what the Parliament approves, what will be the nature of this National Crime Authority to emerge from this Parliament, and then they will make up their minds whether they will co-operate.

What are we asked to do? We are asked by the Attorney-General to make concessions which would amount to an abdication of authority by the Federal Attorney-General of his powers, and an abdication by this Parliament of its clear powers, in some sort of pious hope that that will be the sprat that catches the mackerel and that we will get co-operation from the States simply because of that. To my mind that is paying an absurdly high price for co- operation. Co-operation certainly is desirable but there is a limit to the price that a Federal parliament, a Federal government or a Federal Attorney-General should pay for co-operation.

It seems to me to be a totally untenable proposition. Where purely Federal offences, offences against Federal laws, are involved, the person who has the responsibility for the prosecution of those offences is the Federal Attorney- General. He has an instrument created by this Parliament, a proper instrument under which those offences can be investigated. Yet this Parliament is being asked by the Attorney-General, the man responsible for the administration of law and justice at the Federal level in this country, to tie his hands with regard to the use of this very great instrument of investigation that we are creating, which will be funded by this Government, and with the approval of this Parliament. We are asked now by the Federal Attorney-General not to allow him to exercise those undoubted Federal powers. It is not as though it is a matter which is specifically part Federal and part State, where there are doubts about it or where obviously co-operation is necessary to be totally effective-such as was thought to be the case in the companies and securities area-or indeed where it is an absolute practical necessity, as is the case in so many other areas. That is not the case.

Here we have a matter which is purely the responsibility of the Federal Attorney-General-the prosecution of Federal crime. No other body, no other person can prosecute that crime but the Federal Attorney-General. Yet he is asking us not to give him the powers to use this Authority because he hopes that , by doing so, the States will co-operate. He cannot tell us whether they will co-operate, even if we pay that very high price and he pays that very high price . It is an amazing proposition. It has nothing whatever to do with the Senate being a States' House. It has nothing whatever to do with notions of co- operative federalism. It is an extraordinary request, if indeed the States are making it. It seems as though some of the Attorney-General's State colleagues are holding a gun at his head. It seems that some of them are holding the gun at his head and saying: 'We want to be able to control--

Senator Chipp —I think there is a Queensland flavour in there as well.

Senator DURACK —I do not think he would take much notice of it if it were only Queensland. It is his own State Labor colleagues, or some of them, who want to be able to control the proper investigation and proper prosecution of Federal crime. They are making outrageous demands on the Attorney-General and this Parliament by doing that. They should not be pandered to in any way.

These are not matters of Federal-State co-operation; they are matters which are purely, wholly and solely the responsibility of the Federal Government. The Federal Attorney-General is the only person who can prosecute offences of this nature. Therefore, I reject entirely the comments that the Attorney-General has made about this being some noble example of co-operative federalism, which, as he is only too ready to admit, he does not really believe in. Why he is now putting forward this proposal on this matter, and on this matter alone, is beyond my comprehension.

The States are given a major role in this whole exercise. It is overseen by the inter-governmental committee. That Committee has the right to nominate members of the Authority and they, of course, will determine what matters can be referred in relation to State laws and so on. They have a major role in this area. Why any State would want to be able to have the opportunity of convincing a majority of members of the Inter-Governmental Committee to prevent the investigation of breaches of Federal law is to my mind a very serious question. Why would States want to be able to do that? We know how intergovernmental committees operate. They get together, count heads and say: 'You support me on this and I will support you on that' and so on. The Attorney-General is quite naive in believing that the States would never do that. They may well see some advantage to themselves in being able to do it. I cannot understand why they want to do it at all. What possible concern is it of the State Attorneys-General ? What concern is it of theirs if the Federal Attorney-General wants to investigate and prosecute a purely Federal crime? It just does not make sense.

Senator Hill —That is why they can't really be serious about it.

Senator DURACK —They cannot be serious. The Attorney-General is serious about it .

Senator Sir John Carrick —He cannot be.

Senator DURACK —Well, he is putting on an act. It is an unbelievable proposition which I hope the Committee will not accept.