Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 11 September 1984
Page: 1035


Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Minister for Trade)(10.05) —The Government cannot accept the suggestion from the Opposition that the clause be opposed. Without delaying the Committee, I think even the Opposition agrees that there is a precedent for what is being done here. Opposition members have, quite fairly, been prepared to been prepared to admit that when they were establishing the National Crimes Commission they had in mind a judge from Queensland. In fairness to their explanation they say that they would not do that now because they are in opposition, but they were going to do it when they were in government.


Mr Steele Hall —We knew more about crime since you have been in government.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —If honourable members do it is because in the period in which they were in government the crimes took place. The other matter at which Opposition members ought to have a look is the Commonwealth Grants Commission. There is a precedent in the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act 1975 under which, they will admit also, Mr Justice Else-Mitchell was appointed as Chairman of the Commission with the identical provision that we now have in the National Crime Authority (Status and Rights of Chairmen) Bill. I do not think it matters a great deal for us to debate the fact that a judge wishes to hold his title. Any person who had attained the position of judge would certainly want to retain that title. When he might finish his term as Chairman of the National Crime Authority, which is basically a four-year term, he would be at an age which would entitle him to go back to the court. Without giving too much information about the particular judge who was good enough to accept this appointment, he would be well below the retiring age at the end of the next four years. Why should he not have the benefit of going on the Bench again if he wished so to serve? I do not see any merit in making the accusation that because he was a judge-he is now deemed to be the judge of the National Crime Authority-he is deemed to be a person who acted as a policeman, prosecutor and investigator; after all, we are dealing with crime.

Let us make it very clear that, despite the fact that there are objections to judges serving on royal commissions, many of them have the necessary experience to evaluate the evidence as to whether there should be an offence for which a person should be indicted. In a very recent example a judge recommended to the Government that the people involved in the royal commission be charged with conspiracy. Honourable members are not going to suggest that the requirement of that sort of professional assessment should be left to somebody else other than the person who has the judicial expertise so to evaluate it. Why are we frightened of crime being identified, evaluated and people prosecuted? There is nothing serious or mysterious about it except that it has not happened frequently enough. That is the very purpose of the National Crime Authority. It is much more beneficial for the citizens of a nation to be able to go to an authority, headed by a judge, and not, as they have had to in the past, often go to the police to be investigated by the police. It has not been necessarily accepted-


Mr Groom —He is not a judge.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —He is not judging, but he can assess and, if we may say so, give some protection to the people who wish to lay information. Let us make it very clear-the honourable member for Braddon would appreciate this because he is a lawyer-that plenty of people who might have information might be somewhat hesitant unless they had the necessary advice and protection that perhaps judicial training can give. One does not lose one's impartiality or credibility because of the appointment. I fail to see it.


Mr Steele Hall —He has not a judicial function.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —He has a judicial function to evaluate the evidence. That is very clear. One cannot just leave that to every person who, well-meaning as one might think they are, can assess the situation. In my view, one needs professional training to ascertain the credibility of the person laying the information and also the ability to get the evidence that would entitle a prosecution. We can argue about it, but the precedents are there. I see nothing wrong with the judiciary's being involved in royal commissions or assessing whether there is a crime. There is nothing wrong with that.


Mr Groom —Look at Cross.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —The honourable member knows very well that in the case of the Cross Special Commission of Inquiry it made no difference to the issue. Judges who have gone through the legal profession are experienced in the procedures of courts and have the additional advantage of being able to assess the credibility of witnesses and also to understand the law as to what charges should be laid. Up to the present it has usually been left to the police prosecutor or somebody of that ilk to proceed with that sort of matter. It has not always been satisfactory when information has been laid and given to the police. It has perhaps not been effectively pursued.


Mr Ruddock —If you adopt that argument, the Director of Public Prosecutions ought to be a judge.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I am not arguing that at all. We have not always had the Director of Public Prosecutions. This is a question of information being given on an issue. Let us make it very clear. The National Crime Authority was sponsored by our present Opposition on the basis that it would be headed by a judge. The whole argument this evening has been to make some accusations that something is dreadfully wrong because a judge wishes to hold on to his status.

I mention one final matter. I make the point firstly that the judge will be of an age where he can certainly continue his career at the end of his appointment. Why should he not be entitled to do so? The second point is that apparently an allegation was made that the appointment was without consultation with the New South Wales Chief Justice. I am reminded that the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) made a Press statement on 20 July 1984 in which he made the point that he had had discussions with Sir Laurence Street in the week beginning 4 June prior to Cabinet's considering the matter. So it is a matter of record that , in fact, discussions took place. For those reasons and in the interests of what we are saying should be support for the judge who has graciously accepted this appointment, the Government naturally wishes to pursue the matter of his being entitled to hold that status which applies to Mr Justice Else-Mitchell and which would have applied to the judge that the Opposition had in mind when it was in government to appoint as head of the Authority. I think that the Opposition's argument is completely inconsistent. While I can appreciate that the Opposition has had a change of heart because it is in opposition, it should be in no way deemed that the Government is impressed with the argument.