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Friday, 7 September 1984
Page: 662

Senator DURACK —My question is directed to the Attorney-General both in his own right and as Minister representing the Special Minister of State. I refer the Attorney to the letter written two days ago by Mr Costigan to the Chairman and members of the National Crime Authority which is part of the correspondence tabled in the House of Representatives yesterday. Has he noted the final paragraph of Mr Costigan's letter in which Mr Costigan refers to the belief of the head of the National Crime Authority, Mr Justice Stewart, that failure to receive briefings from the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union will not seriously impair the work of the Authority? I quote Mr Costigan's comment:

I do not share that view nor do I understand how it could sensibly be entertained; you will not be able, without briefing, to take on my investigations, if that is your intention.

Given Mr Costigan's great success in tackling organised crime in this country, as shown, for instance, by recent information that 600 charges have already been laid by Mr Redlich on material supplied by the Costigan Commission, will the Attorney and the Government support the views of Mr Costigan against that view expressed by the Chairman of the National Crime Authority, who apparently does not appreciate the need for direct and extensive briefings from the Costigan Commission? That is a view-I agree with Mr Costigan-which I do not see can be sensibly entertained. If the Attorney supports Mr Costigan's view, what action will the Government take to ensure that, even at this late stage, povision is made for adequate briefing of the Authority by the Commission so that the effective transition process which has been promised by the Government will be achieved?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Government has complete confidence in the competence, expertise and commitment of the new National Crime Authority and its members. We believe that there is obviously a story which has two sides. The exchange of correspondence, as tabled in the Parliament yesterday, amply sets out the perspective of the Authority members. I remind the honourable senator that the membership includes not only Mr Justice Stewart and Mr John Dwyer, QC, a Melbourne barrister of considerable reputation, but also Mr Max Bingham, QC, a former Liberal Tasmanian Attorney-General of recent favoured memory by the tories opposite. They have unanimously expressed the view that Mr Costigan's charges about inadequate receptiveness to offers of briefings-which may or may not have been workable offers in the time and place at which they were made- cannot be taken at their face value in the form in which they have been put into the public domain by those leaking this correspondence. There has been a willingness to work thoroughly and effectively in the transition process. The nature of the material in the Commission's possession, which we will be transferring to the Authority, with the staff who will be accompanying that transfer when Mr Costigan finishes writing his present report, together with a briefing that has already been done and a briefing that is proposed to be done in the future, will be amply sufficient to ensure that nothing is lost in the transition process.

Senator DURACK —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Will the Attorney express the same faith in Mr Costigan and his Commission that he has just expressed in members of the National Crime Authority?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I and the Government have expressed on numerous occasions our belief in the worth of the work that Mr Costigan has been doing.