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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2650

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(5.18) —I shall resist the temptation to respond to the tortured and rather liverish contribution the Committee has just heard from Senator Crichton-Browne and come straight to the point.

Senator Lewis —He was on your side.

Senator GARETH EVANS —With friends like Senator Crichton-Browne, who needs enemies in this debate.

Senator Crichton-Browne —I hope it is infectious and it kills you.

Senator GARETH EVANS —That contribution deserves to be recorded too. The political reality of this is that Senator Chipp with his usual Solomonic status in this debate has now spoken--

Senator Chipp —What was that adjective?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Solomonic.

Senator Chipp —It has been used only once before in the country, I think.

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is better than moronic and a few other 'onics' I can think of. The result of Senator Chipp's contribution is to make inevitable the outcome of the debate. That is something I can agree with a reasonable degree of fortitude so far as the judicial audit matter is concerned, but I confess that the negative response to the ombudsman proposal is very disappointing indeed. The Government does not see any proposal of the kind that is now before us for a parliamentary committee as an alternative remedy or form of redress for the kind of individual complaint we are here talking about. Indeed, if one looks to the terms of both Senator Chipp's proposal for a committee and that of the Opposition one sees the-in context wholly desirable-negative prohibition on the parliamentary committee getting into the detail of any particular matter that has been before the Authority. The terms which are common to both Senator Chipp' s amendment and Senator Durack's proposed amendment that I am referring to are these:

Nothing in this Part authorises the Committee-

(a) to investigate a matter relating to a relevant criminal activity; or

(b) to reconsider the findings of the Authority in relation to a particular investigation.

They are wholly desirable caveats and limitations to avoid the parliamentary committee turning into some kind of McCarthyist exercise that none of us wants to see. Those limitations are the one thing that make the proposal for a committee marginally tolerable. But those prohibitions are the very things that will make it impossible for a parliamentary committee to get into the detail and the dust of an individual complaint as to the way in which the Authority has acted. I think that needs to be acknowledged.

Senator Chipp —What about proposed new clause 43AD (1) (a)? It specifically states:

The duties of the Committee are-

(a) to monitor and to review the performance by the Authority of its functions.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Yes, but nothing in this Part which, on the face of it, gives very wide ranging jurisdiction, authorises that kind of investigation. It is immediately accompanied by the qualification that nothing in that open ended bandaid enables the investigation of any particular matter.

Senator Chipp —And properly so.

Senator GARETH EVANS —And properly so. But the point I am making is not that there is anything wrong with that limitation, but that one cannot rely on the existence of a parliamentary committee as the salve for one's conscience in removing the protection for the little people that is involved in the Ombudsman form of redress. I think the opposition to the concept of the Ombudsman having a role here is based on a quite profound misunderstanding of the role and utility of the Ombudsman generally. It is based on an unwillingness to accept the Ombudsman's own judgment that he believes he can make it work in this context as it has worked well in the context of the Australian Federal Police. I think it is based on a failure to appreciate the extent to which the Ombudsman, albeit that he lacks coercive or compulsive powers, can be a very useful way of securing redress for people who genuinely deserve it. It fails to acknowledge that the Ombudsman mechanism is perfectly capable of filtering out the genuine complaints from the attempts at technical diversion and delay of the professional crooks. For all those reasons, I believe it is profoundly disappointing, indeed somewhat embarrassing to the Democrats if they think about it, that the Democrats find themselves voting with the Opposition on this. In order to give them an opportunity to think again about what they are doing, we propose to call a division on this matter so far as the Ombudsman is concerned.

Question put:

That the clause be deleted.