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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2598

Senator DURACK(11.10) —The Opposition regards the Government 's proposed amendments to clause 16 as some improvement on the National Crime Authority Bill, but it believes very firmly indeed that the Minister should not be able to give the National Crime Authority directions in a particular case at all. Therefore, we have moved amendments Nos (10), (11) and (12) standing in my name. We believe that the Opposition amendments should take precedence, as far as the opinion of this committee is concerned, of the Government amendments. If the Opposition amendments do not succeed we will support the Government amendments. But at this stage we believe that there ought to be much more important amendments than those which the Government proposes. Clause 16 of the Bill provides:

Subject to sub-section (2), the Minister may, by notice in writing to the Authority, give directions or furnish guidelines to the Authority with respect to the performance of its functions and the Authority shall comply with any such directions or guidelines.

The Opposition is deeply concerned, indeed disturbed, about a provision of that kind being within the ambit of the Bill. The Opposition would not object to the Minister being able to give general directions to the Authority about its operation and so forth, but the significance of this Authority is in its investigation of particular cases, matters which have been referred to it either by the Federal Minister or by the intergovernmental committee. The role of the Authority is to investigate organised crime and official corruption. It will investigate, in particular, the question of whether certain persons should be prosecuted for such crimes. As the Opposition has said over and over again, for the Authority to achieve its purpose it should be able to act independently and fearlessly, with adequate resources. It is to be an expert authority. It is to be a body which can do things which existing traditional methods of investigation have failed to do because of their inadequacy of resources or of powers.

This Authority is provided with, in particular, the powers that are needed to investigate criminal conduct, organised crime and official corruption associated with it. That Authority must be independent. It would be a very serious matter if police were called off conducting their ordinary investigations by a Minister . What a scandal that would be. It would be a real scandal in the community if a Minister were to tell police what they were or were not to do. I do not know whether that happens in some places; perhaps it does. But I can rest assured that everyone in this Parliament and in this chamber, I hope, would be up in arms if a Federal Minister were to call off police because they were getting a bit close to somebody who was sympathetic to the Minister.

Senator Gareth Evans —What about the Salisbury affair in South Australia?

Senator DURACK —The Salisbury matter is perhaps not the best precedent for the Attorney to suggest. I am not going to debate the Salisbury case. There may have been the exceptional case, such as that referred to by Senator Evans. Even if there has been the odd case, the fact of the matter is that this Authority almost certainly will be chaired by a judge; if not by a judge, by a very distinguished lawyer. It will have two members, one of whom is to be nominated by State Attorneys-General. I hope, if a further Opposition amendment is agreed to, that the Authority will be strengthened further by two other experts in the field of criminal investigation and criminal law enforcement. Even under the present Bill, the Authority would be of high standing. It would be so even if an Opposition amendment with which we have not yet dealt were not accepted. The Authority must be independent and it must be able to act fearlessly or it is not worth having. Clause 16, as it stands in the Bill, enables the Federal Minister to call off an investigation at a vital stage. The Opposition, as I said, is deeply concerned--

Senator Gareth Evans —It is not a Minister; it is unanimity of all governments.

Senator DURACK —We are talking about the Attorney's Bill at the moment. I will get on to the Attorney's amendment in a minute.

Senator Gareth Evans —I am perfectly happy to modify the Bill. Get to the point.

Senator DURACK —We are talking about the Bill that the Attorney brought into this Parliament, the Bill that we have in front of us, that which the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs considered. That Bill did not make any delimitation whatever. I have already read clause 16:

. . . the Minister may, by notice in writing to the Authority, give directions or furnish guidelines to the Authority with respect to the performance of its functions . . .

I am very pleased to note that the Senate Committee--

Senator Gareth Evans —Subject to placing it in the Gazette. Read the rest of the Bill. What about the publicity sanctions? What about the political sanctions?

Senator DURACK —It does not matter about putting it in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. If the Minister gave any such directions, an Authority worth its salt would make it pretty well known without its having to be put in the Gazette. The Senate Committee, when it dealt with this matter, recommended that the Minister's power should not extend to giving directions in a particular case . That was a very important recommendation. It is probably of equal importance to the Committee's recommendation about the removal of the veto on inquiries into Federal matters, which has already been dealt with. In my view, this is part of an attempt by this Parliament to prevent political influence and political manipulation of this Authority.

The Attorney has said he will not accept that recommendation of the Committee but that he will move an amendment to clause 16 in the terms we are now debating . The Attorney's amendment provides that directions can be given in a particular case if it has the unanimous approval of the intergovernmental committee. I have already expressed my views about the value of intergovernmental committees as executive bodies. Intergovernmental committees and ministerial councils are a great form of co-operative federalism when they talk about policy. They take years usually, of course, to make up their minds about any of these matters. That does not matter so much when talking about policy. But this body will have executive responsibilities. From the experience I have had of ministerial councils with executive responsibilities-the Attorney has had the same experiences-I do not believe that the intergovernmental committee will be structured in such a way that it will be able to make decisions of that kind. It is very likely that if the Minister were to put before such a body the reasons why he wanted to take any action he would be able to get its support.

I do not knock entirely the Government's amendments. If my amendments are not supported, naturally I will support the Government's amendments because they would clearly put some brake on the Minister in giving directions. The basis on which I am putting this case and these amendments is that I believe it is wrong in principle that one Minister or a group of Ministers should be able to give directions to the Authority in relation to a particular investigation. The Authority should be independent and fearless in its pursuit of crime. This is what this body is to do; this is what we are setting it up for. If it cannot do that, if it can be stopped from doing it, we might as well not have it. We would be better not to have it because we would be misleading the public by setting up a body which we say is to be independent, which we say will be well resourced and will be fearless and act firmly in investigating organised crime, this great menace facing the community, and then allowing the opportunity for political manipulation of or influence over it.

For those reasons I suggest that the amendment of the Government is a very poor second best alternative and that the amendment standing in my name is the amendment which observes the principle that should apply here. I believe it is the amendment that should be first considered by this Committee.

The CHAIRMAN —Senator Durack, you have not formally moved your amendments. You mentioned three-Nos (10), (11) and (12). I think the only one that it is appropriate to move at the moment is amendment No. (12). No. (10) is dependent on the Attorney-General's amendment No. (11), which has not been moved, and your No. (11) is consequent upon No. (12). If you move amendment No. (12) I can formalise proceedings.