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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2654

Senator LEWIS(5.44) —Firstly, let me refer back to something mentioned earlier by the Attorney-General. I am most unhappy to hear that this Authority will come under the administration of the Department of the Special Minister of State. The Authority will no doubt hereafter be called 'Mick Young's crime commission'. I see that Mr Young has come into the chamber to see how his crime commission is progressing. I think 'Mick Young's crime commission' is probably a good name for it. I must say that I am disappointed that it is not to come under the control of the Attorney-General. We were looking forward to the Attorney-General continuing to bumble along and make his usual errors so that we would be able to rip into him from time to time once this Authority was established. Nevertheless, that will become the pleasure of our colleagues in the other place.

Talking to the proposal which is now before the Committee, that is, to set up a joint parliamentary committee to oversee the Authority, I remind the Committee that the majority decision of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs did not support this proposal, and I still have difficulty in seeing any merit in this proposal. I adopt the words of His Honour Mr Justice Kirby, the Chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission. At the National Crimes Commission Conference held in July 1983, referring to such an authority, he said that it would be able:

. . . by the sharing of selected secrets, to win over even initially sceptical or unsympathetic administrators or politicians admitted into its secret world and to its assessments and points of view.

That was the matter which caused the Standing Committee the gravest concern. The Committee could see that politicians who became members of this proposed joint committee would gradually be admitted to more and more secrets to do with the Authority, and gradually would lose any scepticism which they might have had at the beginning about the Authority and, as Mr Justice Kirby said, be won over into its secret world. I must say that it would be a very interesting committee to be a member of because it will be a secret world that members of this committee will participate in.

I mention the problems which the United States Congress had with its committee which was established to oversee the Central Intelligence Agency. Honourable senators will recall that just recently the chairman of that committee resigned when he discovered that the CIA had in fact been mining ports but had not bothered to mention that fact to the committee. Something similar could happen with this parliamentary committee. It could believe that it was receiving information of value to it but subsequently could discover very serious important matters, perhaps that the civil liberties of subjects had been intruded upon. Such problems may not be found out until it is too late.

In any event, that was the decision of the majority of the Standing Committee. There were dissenting reports to that, one from my colleague from Victoria, Senator Missen. If I remember correctly, Senator Chipp supported Senator Missen' s dissenting report. Since that report has been tabled this matter has been considered by my parliamentary Party and by the shadow ministry. Having considered all the arguments, my parliamentary Party and the shadow Cabinet decided to support Senator Missen's dissenting report on this and to support the proposal to establish a parliamentary committee. So, while my view has not changed in the sense that I really see that, frankly, it will be an ineffective committee and there may be difficulties about it-

Senator Georges —Quite dangerous.

Senator LEWIS —Senator Georges says it will be dangerous. I really do not think it will be a dangerous committee. I do not think parliamentary committees become dangerous. One has only to look at the number of Senate committees sitting at present. In particular, I refer to the Senate Select Committee on the Conduct of a Judge. Surely one can see that that Committee is performing its current role in relation to a carefully secret matter in a proper and adequate way, with a professionalism that is worthy of praise. Consequently, my Party has decided to support this proposal and I will accept my Party's decision.