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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 120

Senator BUTTON (Leader of the Government in the Senate)(11.57) —All sorts of suggestions have been made during this debate. We will, undoubtedly, have an opportunity to deal with the matter again if honourable senators wish. I share Senator Peter Rae's concern that the debate should be adjourned so that the discussion is better informed than it has been so far.

In spite of the absence of knowledge which the Opposition senators claim and their glorification of ignorance, all sorts of extraordinary and outrageous comments have been made by members of the Opposition about the sequence of events. I believe that an outside observer who has listened to this debate would say that the Opposition has established nothing except the fact that Mr Young incorrectly filled in a Customs form. Opposition senators have established that fact beyond reasonable doubt in an extraordinary piece of debating skill. Mr Young admitted that fact on 5 July 1984 and it has been public knowledge ever since. The whole purport of today's debate has been to establish that fact, because there is no other consistency in what has been said. Of course, it is admitted, and was from the beginning. That is the rub as far as the Liberal Party of Australia is concerned. It was admitted from the beginning, and that is the thing that hurts. Mr Young admitted from the beginning the filling in of an incorrect declaration and he paid a penalty prescribed by the Customs Act.

Senator Peter Rae —The penalty is under section 234, a fine of up to $1,000.

Senator BUTTON —The Customs Service determines what course of action should be taken in relation to this matter and it determined that section 209 should apply .

Senator Peter Rae —The penalty for a false declaration is under section 234.

Senator BUTTON —I understand that, too, but I am saying that Mr Young, by having to pay double duty, paid a penalty in respect of his actions.

Senator Peter Rae —He paid the duty he had to pay but he did not pay a penalty for the mistake.

Senator BUTTON —I do not want to debate the Customs Act with Senator Rae. If he thought that point was important he might have made it while he was speaking. I was making the point that the Opposition has been very excited about this issue for a number of weeks and all sorts of silly statements have been made.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —I think you were a bit worried too.

Senator BUTTON —Of course I was worried. It was a matter which concerned one of my colleagues, and I do not retreat from that. The Opposition was very concerned about it for weeks and made all sorts of silly statements about it, culminating in the meeting of the Opposition shadow executive in Townsville where they assembled to see the sun go down on Cleveland Bay and, as a result of that meeting, put out only one statement, which said: 'We will establish an inquiry into this matter but we do not know what to inquire into. So we will have to get further information'. That is what emerged from the meeting in Townsville.

Senator Peter Rae —That is not true.

Senator BUTTON —It is true. Is the honourable senator denying what was in the newspapers?

Senator Peter Rae —You said 'one statement'. It was more than one statement.

Senator BUTTON —I am told that the people of Townsville waited with bated breath for a statement from the Opposition arising from its meeting about any of the issues which concerned the people of Townsville.

Senator Peter Rae —Such as coastal surveillance. Perhaps you would like a copy of the statement.

Senator BUTTON —I am told that they waited with bated breath on that issue. The Opposition became very excited about this matter because it thought from the beginning that this Government would apply the same sleazy standards as were applied by the Fraser Government in relation to a similar matter.

Senator Walters —Oh!

Senator BUTTON —Mr Young paid the penalty within seven days. Mr MacKellar paid the penalty seven months later when he was flushed out. That was the difference. Those opposite expected right from the beginning that this Government would embark upon a course of conduct to conceal what happened. Senator Sir John Carrick said in his remarks today that he expected us to behave in the way in which the Fraser Government did and to say: 'We will look at this issue on Monday when we see the Press. When we see the editorials on Monday we will make a decision about it'. This was what was said in relation to Moore and MacKellar by the Fraser Government: 'Let us look at it on Monday when we see the editorials and then we will make a principled decision about it'. That is the sort of thing that went on in the period of the previous Government and that is what led to the excitement among members of the Opposition about the course which would be followed by this Government in respect of this matter.

Let me turn to some of the facts which are important. It is admitted, and was from the beginning, that Mr Young incorrectly filled in his Customs declaration. That has been dealt with by Mr Black. Let me just make this point about whether an offence was committed: No duty was evaded by Mr Young and no Customs officer was misled. In dealing with that issue Mr Black concluded that the only law of the Commonwealth that required to be considered was section 234 (e) of the Customs Act. Page 125 of the Black report deals with that question. That section , as Senator Peter Rae pointed out by way of interjection, provides that it is an offence to make an untrue declaration but, as Mr Black further points out, the Parliament enacted section 209 whereby, if a person is offered the provisions of section 209 by the Customs Service, as it is in its discretion to do, no prosecution can take place. If the provisions of section 209 are offered, no proceedings, as Mr Black points out, as a matter of law can be instituted.

Senator Peter Rae —That is a dubious interpretation of section 209.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Peter Rae attacked Mr Black in the course of his remarks this morning. He will no doubt have an opportunity to do it again on the basis of a comparison of his forensic skills with those of Mr Black. Mr Black went on to conclude that there is difficulty in establishing whether there was an offence under section 243 (e). That is dealt with on page 126 of the Black report. The point is that, given the operation of section 209 of the Customs Act , the question of whether an offence under section 234 was committed becomes hypothetical. Mr Black says that there is no need in those circumstances to deal with that question further. Of course, the declaration made by Mr Young did give rise to a penalty, and that was paid under the provisions of section 209.

Because it is clearly not established in the minds of members of the Opposition , I want to touch briefly on the question of why the Black Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Making of a Customs Declaration was appointed. From the point of view of the Government, from the first occasion on which this matter was drawn to the Government's attention on 5 July the Customs Service was instructed that Mr Young was to be dealt with like any ordinary passenger. That instruction was given on 5 July. From then on it was a matter within the control of the Customs Service to deal with Mr Young as any ordinary passenger would be dealt with. On 20 July the Comptroller-General of Customs reported on the steps which had taken place, on the interviews which had taken place, on the payment of the duty and, in concluding his report, on the fact that the matter was now closed as far as the Customs Service was concerned. There was no attempt to hide any of that. On 22 July, at the earliest possible opportunity, Mr Young made a statement about that matter publicly. He did not need to do that. He made a public statement setting out what had taken place. I will deal with the question of why the Black inquiry was appointed. On 24 July new information became available in Adelaide.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —What was the new information?

Senator BUTTON —I am about to tell the honourable senator. I said that members of the Opposition had been very enthusiastic about this, and I am about to tell them. On 24 July allegations were made by way of hearsay that the circumstances surrounding the completion of the declaration by Mr Young were not as had been stated. That was the first new allegation that became available. Allegations by way of hearsay evidence were being made that these things had been said.

Senator Lewis —By officers of the Customs Service?

Senator BUTTON —Yes, and by officers of other departments.

Senator Lewis —Other departments?

Senator BUTTON —If the honourable senator reads the Black report he will find out all about that.

Senator Lewis —I just wanted to get it into Hansard.

Senator BUTTON —Well, the Black report is there. The honourable senator can read it. He need not be concerned. On 24 July that information became available. The second piece of information which became available was that there could be allegations that a change had been made to the Customs declaration by whiting out in the Minister's office. They were new bits of information which came to the Government's knowledge following the closure of the proceedings by the Comptroller-General of Customs. They were matters which went beyond the Customs process, which the Government had said should be applied to Mr Young as with any ordinary passenger. They went beyond the Customs process, and it was as a result of this that the Government decided that those matters should be investigated, first, as to whether they were being alleged and, secondly, as to whether the allegations had substance. Those were the matters dealt with by the Black report . Because they were matters of fact which had to be determined, they were not matters with which the Government felt it appropriate to deal. Is it appropriate for Ministers to go around interviewing all sorts of Customs officers and people of that kind? The Government did not feel so. It felt that this was a matter to be handled by an independent inquiry presided over by Mr Black.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —What was the conflicting information?

Senator BUTTON —It is all set out in the Black inquiry.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —That does not answer it.

Senator BUTTON —Yes, it does; it is all set out in the Black inquiry what the conflicting information is. For example, the circumstances surrounding the making of a declaration are set out.

Senator Peter Rae —What do you mean? The changes by the secretary?

Senator BUTTON —No, the circumstances surrounding the making of a declaration. The Black inquiry sets out what the conflicting information was; evidence by Mr Jennings conflicting with evidence of Mr Gilbert, an officer of the Department of Administrative Services, and different from what the Minister had said. That is in the Black inquiry. With respect, I am not seeking to make any point about that, but it is all there. That is what the inquiry was set up to examine. That is the material which Black examined and about which he made a determination.

Senator Walters —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy President. I understand that because of an electrical fault it would be inappropriate to draw your attention to the state of the House. Consequently, I just point out that there is only one Labor senator in the chamber apart from Senator Button, Senator Button is not doing too well, and he needs support. I suggest that he calls his colleagues behind him.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —That is not a point of order. However, I should inform the Senate that during the power blackout we are not being broadcast, the clocks are not working and the bells cannot be rung. If there is a call for a quorum or a division, I shall have to suspend the sitting.

Senator BUTTON —I am indebted to Senator Walters for her concern about me. The first point I make is that I expected all those Opposition senators who are present to be here, because they have a salacious interest in this topic, which they inherited from the MacKellar-Moore times. As I have said, it is logical that they ought to be present, because they remember the sort of sleaze of those days which applied to their Government. I understand the reason for their presence, and I am very grateful to them.

Senator Walters —Why don't you ask Mrs Young where she does her shopping?

Senator BUTTON —I was coming to the question of the valuation of the goods. Senator Chaney made some point about the valuation of goods and he displayed his knowledge or otherwise of shopping in Europe. At this stage I draw the Senate's attention to pages 117 and 118 of the report, and to page 119 where Mr Black says:

I formed the view that such a valuation--

that is, an independent valuation-

was not necessary, even if it had been practicable.

I should like honourable senators to think about that seriously, because the suggestion has come forward that there ought to be an independent valuation. There is probably someone imaginative enough on the other side of the chamber who could tell us how, in the context of a Customs Act, that sort of process could work.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —This is not a normal one; this is different.

Senator BUTTON —No, with respect, because we said that Mr Young should be dealt with in the same way as everyone else, and he was, in respect of those matters. It is just the same with any other ordinary citizen. One cannot have in the Customs Act a provision that the discretion to determine a valuation shall be in the hands of the Customs Service, but because of a request by Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, if it happens to be a Labor Minister who is having his goods valued, the Liberals can ask for an independent valuation.

Senator Lewis —Do not worry about the Customs officer. What is the use of having it at all?

Senator BUTTON —There are so many wits on the other side of the chamber that I should like to opt out of this scene and let them exchange fripperies and banalities amongst themselves.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —In view of the remarks of the Leader of the Government, I ask the Opposition to refrain from interjections.

Senator BUTTON —Mr Black went on to deal with the question of valuation. The point to be made is that the primary issue is not whether the valuation was correct as a matter of objective fact, but whether the opinion as to the value formed by the Customs officers-which is their discretion, their function-was properly formed and whether there was any impropriety on the part of those involved in the process of valuation. They are the questions which Black says ought to be addressed. They are the questions which I agree ought to be addressed and were addressed in the context of this matter. In respect of both of those matters, whether a proper opinion as to the value was formed by the Customs officers and whether there was any impropriety, Mr Black found in favour of the Customs officers. As I have said, is the Opposition saying that it queries Mr Black's integrity in respect of that matter, or the integrity of the Customs officers concerned? As I said at the beginning, this is an unfortunate matter in which a Minister made an error in relation to a Customs form.

Senator Missen —Especially with his interest in the MacKellar-Moore thing; he was very keen and arrogant about that.

Senator BUTTON —That is something about which Senator Missen is entitled to be critical. I recall that he was critical at the time.

Senator Withers —Different people, different standards.

Senator BUTTON —The right honourable senator would be an expert.

Senator Withers —Oh, yes, I am.

Senator BUTTON —Absolutely.

Senator Withers —Absolutely.

Senator BUTTON —That is why I concede that. I want to deal with the final point that Senator Sir John Carrick made, which seems to be an attack on the terms of reference of the Black inquiry because they were directed to the question of impropriety. Senator Sir John Carrick says that that is not the issue; the issue is standards of behaviour of Ministers. He cannot have it all ways. The word ' impropriety' crept into the language in terms of standards of behaviour for Ministers under his former Prime Minister, who laid down those standards with great vigour-with rhetorical vigour; not so much in practice. It was in all the circumstances of his Government that the question of impropriety became the crucial issue in determining standards of behaviour of a Minister. That is why the word 'impropriety' was used in the terms of reference relating to Mr Young's filling in of the Customs declaration. In respect of the freedom of information matters which were raised by Senator Rae and others let me just say that honourable senators are aware of the freedom of information legislation and the time factor involved. We will not rely on that time factor in terms of giving answers.

Senator Walters —That will come not long after the election?

Senator BUTTON —No, not long after the election. I am sorry; I did say that honourable senators were aware of the time limits but Senator Walters clearly is not.

Senator Walters —I am not aware of the election time.

Senator BUTTON —If the honourable senator wants it next week I will see what I can do, but I may not be able to help. The freedom of information requests will be dealt with as expeditiously as possible. I think it is extraordinary that Mr Spender, for example, wrote to me on, I think, Monday 8 August and required an answer to everything by 5 p.m. four days later. I am not saying that I was unwilling to accede to that request, but it was difficult to do that.

Senator Peter Rae —Will you answer the other question in relation to the form and what the finding means? It would be helpful to have your view on record.

Senator BUTTON —I read that question in the Australian Financial Review when it was first raised by it. As I understand Senator Rae's question, it is whether, if somebody who is bringing in a bag of heroin puts 'No', 'I don't know' or whatever in the boxes in answer to the questions, that makes a difference to the treatment that person will get. Of course it does not. If he gets caught, he gets caught. The declaration does not go to that. Section 234 (e) of the Act deals with the declaration and the making of false declarations. But the question of what is in the bags and the penalty in respect of illegal materials such as heroin or other matters is the question of whether the person is apprehended. As to the question which Senator Rae or somebody else asked, as to why the bags were opened in Mr Young's case, the answer is that they were marked 'inspect' as soon as they arrived in Adelaide.

Senator Peter Rae —At Melbourne, I think.

Senator BUTTON —No, I thought it Melbourne originally. I think the honourable senator will find that Mr Black says it was at Adelaide. It is not a material point, anyway. The answer is that a very substantial proportion of unaccompanied baggage is marked 'inspect'. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Collard) —I point out that, to the best of my understanding, the electricity is back on again. The speech timing clock is working. However, eastern standard time is not as indicated on the clocks. We will suspend for lunch according to my wrist watch if the clocks have not been fixed by lunch time.