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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 708

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(4.13) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the papers.

Today the Government has brought into this place, and last Friday took into the House of Representatives, a series of letters between the Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, more commonly known as the Costigan Royal Commission, and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and between that Royal Commission and the new National Crime Authority. In addition, I think there are letters between the Crime Authority and the Prime Minister. I understand that today in the other place further letters were tabled by the Government relating to the same sequence of correspondence, but those letters have not yet been tabled in this place. In making any comment on the letters which have been tabled, I believe it is important to note the context in which we are now able to consider them, given the receipt of the annual report of the Special Prosecutor Mr Robert Frank Redlich, for 1983-84. That report, which was put down in the Senate last week, gives a very welcome assessment of the importance and effectiveness of the Costigan Royal Commission. Mr Redlich has been working as a Special Prosecutor. Originally he was appointed by the previous Government and he has continued under the present Government. Mr Redlich's report contains a very encouraging list of successes in terms of people who have been brought to justice, people who have been convicted of criminal offences, and people who have been forced to disgorge substantial sums of money to the taxation authorities after they have gone to very considerable efforts to prevent that. Mr Redlich in his report makes a series of observations , and some of them are on the Costigan Royal Commission. He said at page 2 of his report:

The work of the Costigan Royal Commission has been of inestimable public benefit. It has generated a public awareness about the type of criminal activities which threaten our society, and provided the momentum and the foundation for the creation of an effective National Crime Authority.

Later he said:

Over 600 charges have been laid covering 12 different areas of illegal activities. Other charges are likely to be laid. Prosecutions have been successfully completed in 6 of those areas.

As I said a moment ago, I suppose one of the most pleasing aspects of the Redlich report is that a substantial amount of money has been recovered from those who had wrongfully sought to evade the payment of taxes and who had gained those moneys by illegal means. I want to make some comments on this correspondence. In the very limited time that is available to me in this sort of debate I might best do that by referring to the first of the letters tabled and the last. The first letter, dated 21 June 1984, came from the Prime Minister himself and is addressed to Mr Costigan. The Prime Minister said a number of things in that letter which I think bear out the Opposition's concern that there should be an effective transition from the work of Mr Costigan to the new National Crime Authority. On 21 June the Prime Minister said:

As indicated by the above arrangements, one of the major objectives in establishing the NCA is for the Authority to preserve the records and techniques of your Royal Commission and to ensure the continuation of its work.

That is the view of the Prime Minister, put down on 21 June. In that same letter he also said:

. . . it is of paramount importance that the significant work initiated by your Commission should be continued by the NCA.

They are the views of the Prime Minister, and they are views the Opposition would embrace. We believe it is of paramount importance that the work of the Costigan Royal Commission should be continued by the National Crime Authority. It is sobering, therefore, to find in the correspondence the Government has now tabled, at the request of the Opposition, that in the most recent letter, the one dated 5 September, from Mr Costigan to the National Crime Authority the following statement appears:

I note your confidence that failure to receive briefings will not constitute a serious impairment to the work of the Authority. 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.

The correspondence is replete with similar warnings from Mr Costigan. In a letter dated 22 August Mr Costigan said:

It follows there will not be time before 30 September for the National Crime Authority to be briefed on current operations or investigations or to gain an understanding of the higher levels of operational techniques.

So far as these matters are concerned, therefore, the transition from the Commission to the Authority will fail.

It is a matter of deep concern to the Opposition that there should be any risk of failure in the transition from the Costigan Royal Commission to the National Crime Authority. What this correspondence clearly shows is that in the view of the Royal Commissioner, Mr Costigan, that is a very real risk. He expressed his own view that the transition will, in fact, fail. That is not a satisfactory situation. I believe it is imperative that the Government ensure that there is no risk of failure in that essential transition. What Mr Redlich has shown is that there is enormous public interest in the successful prosecution of these major crimes and the recovery of moneys that have been a cost to the Australian people. I believe this correspondence shows that the Government is not living up to its responsibilities.