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Tuesday, 4 September 1984
Page: 398

Senator CHANEY —My question, which is addressed to the Attorney-General, refers to his failure to answer questions put by Senator Durack and Senator Hill today which sought information on the transition from Royal Commissioner Costigan to the National Crime Authority, questions on matters which were raised in the Senate and questions to the Attorney-General on 23 and 24 August which he undertook to follow up and respond to and which obviously have not been followed up by him since that time. Does he accept that, as Attorney-General, he has the fundamental responsibility to see that allegations of organised crime are properly and fully investigated? Does not his obvious lack of action in following up these inquiries indicate that he is neither interested in nor responsible for the protection of the public interest in these matters? If he denies that that is the case, I ask him to tell the Senate what he has done to follow up the legitimate inquiries which have been raised in this place about a matter of considerable public interest, about whether matters which have been uncovered by Mr Costigan will be properly dealt with.

Senator GARETH EVANS —If this is meant to be the warm-up for today's main bout, the Opposition should really be trying to get some more proven performers into the ring. The reality of the matters is that the questions raised on 23 and 24 August were referred to the Special Minister of State in the normal course by my office. They were followed up by me personally yesterday. They were followed up by me during Question Time when some briefing that I had expected failed to materialise. That briefing has now materialised and I am in a position to give the honourable senator the following information. I believe that this information largely satisfies the questions that have been directed to me. If, on review, it appears that any aspect of the questions has not been addressed in this answer, I will be happy to follow it up and ensure that that is put on the record tomorrow.

The situation is this: Following a meeting with Mr Costigan in March, the Special Minister of State announced that, on the establishment of the National Crime Authority, there would be a transition period of one month with the Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union then having a further two months to write its report. On the appointment of Messrs Bingham and Dwyer in July as members of the Crime Authority, Mr Costigan proposed to them, and they agreed, that they should be briefed first on the computer systems of the Royal Commission to be followed by briefings on the Royal Commission's outstanding investigations. Subsequently, Mr Costigan indicated that he and his senior counsel, Mr Meagher, QC, would be occupied full time as from 1 August on writing the report of the Royal Commission-that is to say, if Mr Meagher could take time out from his journalistic activities-and that they would not, therefore, be available for briefing on the outstanding investigations or on 'the higher levels of operational techniques'.

Mr Costigan's position now is that so far as these matters are concerned the transition from the Commission to the Authority will, in his terms, fail. The Authority does not accept that this accurately reflects the position. It notes that the order of the transitional briefing was Mr Costigan's choice and that in any event he had held out to it the prospect that he would have some time available after mid-September when his report had gone to the printers. The Authority notes that, among other things, it will have available to it the material contained in the Commission's computer system, the analyses prepared by Mr Costigan's staff, the material contained in his reports, counsel and a team of solicitors who have been engaged in conducting his operations-I am happy to find out the names of those persons and put them on the record because that was the subject, as I recall it, of a specific question-and accountants, analysts and other staff trained by him, all of whom will be available to the Authority.

It is worth repeating the point that the functions of the Authority and the Commission are different and that it is not simply a case of the Authority picking up from where the Commission left off. The Authority is presently concentrating on examining the Commission's outstanding investigations with a view to proposing to the Intergovernmental Committee matters which might be referred to the Authority for investigation. Because of the number of investigations and the complexity of the material, to which I have already adverted in reply to Senator Missen today, the Authority has indicated to the Special Minister of State that it will not be ready to approach the Committee before late September. Further, more precise, advice is expected from the Authority later this week on when it will be ready to approach the Committee.

I have also a note on Mr Justice Stewart's travel arrangements, since that has been the subject of some rather snide questioning in the course of Question Time today. Mr Justice Stewart has travelled overseas on only two previous occasions in his capacity as head of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking and the Nugan Hand royal commission, the name having changed when the letters patent were amended in March 1983. The first such trip was from 26 November to 23 December 1981 when he visited a number of countries in Europe. From 11 September to 13 October 1982 he visited Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Kingdom. This year Mr Justice Stewart left on 17 August to go to Hong Kong, accompanied by the team working with him on the Nugan Hand royal commission. He went from there to the United States of America and I believe that he will be absent from Australia for just two more weeks in the balance of this year. I trust that that satisfies Senator Chaney and the other members of the Opposition who have asked questions. I will be only too happy on behalf of the Special Minister of State to give any further information that the Senate might reasonably require.