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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 1230

Mr CADMAN(12.55) —Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish to raise a matter of grave concern to the legal profession in New South Wales and one that should be of grave concern to members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The matter concerns the appointment of five magistrates in the State of New South Wales. It is a matter which has been surrounded by controversy, and concern has been expressed by many section of the community over the last few days. The background is that the appointment of the Chief Stipendary Magistrate, Mr Clarrie Briese, was announced by the State Government of New South Wales. Within the last 24 hours the Attorney-General for New South Wales, the Hon. Paul Landa, has announced that Mr Briese will not be appointed until after he appears before the Senate Select Committee on Allegations Concerning a Judge, which is inquiring into the affairs of Mr Justice Murphy. It wish to read to the House an extract from this morning's AM program on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation when Mr McGeoch, the President of the New South Wales Law Society, was interviewed. Mr McGeoch said:

I think I can speak on behalf of the whole of the solicitors profession when I say that we are very disappointed. I don't blame Mr Landa . . . for the problems about the proclamation of the Local Courts Act and the problems with some of the these magistrates. I think he is not at fault for the timetable. But I think it is another thing again for this Government to withhold the confirmation of Mr Briese's appointment for what I can't see to be any other reason than that he is politically out of favour with them. I mean, the fact of the matter is, his integrity and his performance are beyond question. There would be absolutely no reservation about his appointment with the whole of the legal profession.

I do not extract these words carelessly. They represent the total text of what he said. At a later stage in the interview Mr McGeoch said:

I don't think there is anybody in the legal profession today that can understand the logic of the Government's decision. On what basis is his fitness put in question. On what basis is a cloud over Mr Briese when we have got a unanimous inquiry saying he acted honestly, with integrity and performed his public duty.

I wish to pursue this matter for I have received calls from Sydney from solicitors and barristers who are seething with discontent about this decision of the New South Wales Attorney-General. It is a most serious matter; in fact it goes to the ethical behaviour of the Attorney-General, which is deplorable in this instance.

I wish to raise with the House the question why Mr Landa would seek to postpone the appointment of Mr Briese to a certain set date. That is a matter of grave concern to this House and, I believe, particularly to the Senate. Why has he chosen, first of all, as the date for Mr Briese's reappointment the termination date of the Senate inquiry into the Murphy affair? That has nothing to do with the appointment of magistrates in New South Wales.

Mr Coleman —Blackmail.

Mr CADMAN —As the honourable member for Wentworth says, it smacks of blackmail. We can seek to examine the possible reasons for Mr Landa's decision. Firstly, Mr Landa may not think that Mr Briese's appearance before a Senate committee is compatible with his position as Chief Stipendary Magistrate and may be saying that Mr Briese in that position should not appear before a Senate committee; or there could be other reasons for Mr Landa not wanting Mr Briese to appear before the Committee. But there can be no doubt about one fact, and that is the integrity of Mr Briese. I quote again what the President of the Law Society of New South Wales, Mr McGeoch, said:

There would be absolutely no reservation about his appointment with the whole of the legal profession.

The President of the Law Society of New South Wales has categorically supported the appointment of Mr Briese and the fact that he has been appointed. I would say either that Mr Landa is not committed to seeing justice done in New South Wales and is not upholding the high commitment his office demands as the First Law Officer of that State, or that he is blackmailing Mr Briese not to appear. Either way, one can interpret it only as misconduct affecting these Houses of Parliament. If one were to go to Odgers Senate Practice or Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice and examine the processes that need to be applied to someone who is interfering with the appearance of someone before committees of this Parliament or before this Parliament itself, one could only conclude, on all the precedents and on all the facts in this Parliament and in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, that the Attorney-General in New South Wales, by making this decision, by withdrawing the commission of Mr Briese, is seeking to influence his appearance before these committees.

Mr Briese's job is on the line. He is being told: 'Either do not appear or, if you do appear, be aware that your appointment will be confirmed after the hearings.' If that is not seeking to interfere and intervene in the processes of the Parliament I do not know what is. Erskine May and Odgers both say that at the very least these are matters of privilege for the Parliament, and this could amount to misconduct or criminal behaviour on the part of the Attorney-General of New South Wales. I am most distressed, and the legal profession of New South Wales has also given expression to its discontent and concern, by this unwarranted action of the Attorney-General of New South Wales. I believe that Mr Landa has indicated that Mr Briese's job is on the line. He has said that to Mr Briese, and it cannot be interpreted in any other way. 'Your job is available', the implication is, 'provided that when you return from that Senate inquiry I am then content to appoint you.' My contention is that the matter has nothing to do with the appointment of magistrates in New South Wales. Mr Briese's appointment has been announced and he has been stood aside for the duration of this hearing.

Another related matter is why Mr Landa, a State Attorney-General, would take this initiative on his own behalf. It has nothing to do with the affairs of New South Wales, but he is seeking to influence evidence given before one of the committees of the Federal House. I can conclude only that there has been some atmosphere of collusion between the Federal Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) and the State Attorney-General on this matter. We know how seriously Senator Evans regards this matter, how he did not want the Senate inquiry to proceed, and I believe that Senator Evans has sought means to prevent that inquiry being conducted in a satisfactory way. He has, I believe, colluded with the Attorney-General of New South Wales. Who would know whether or not Mr Justice Murphy himself or Morgan Ryan or anybody else is involved in this whole sorry affair? I think it is bad news when the people of New South Wales and Australia can be subjected to this cheap political trick. A man of impeccable reputation has been put upon by the Attorney-General of New South Wales. One could say only that it is a conspiracy and that the Attorney-General of New South Wales is party to that conspiracy.

I have said that the legal profession is concerned. I believe that the Senate itself should take action. Either way, it is my intention later this day to introduce a motion that this House take note of the action so that we can explore the matter and take it up for ourselves. I do not believe that any State Attorney-General has the right to interfere with the proceedings of this House. It is stated over and over again in all writings and all documents, all historical events, that no one has the right to interfere with witnesses appearing before this House, the other House, or both Houses meeting jointly, and that is what has occurred. It is a dreadful and sorry day when the Attorney- General of New South Wales can give such public evidence of his unconcern for the processes of justice in that State. We now see publicly what has been going on in private for years in that State in the processes of the courts and the carriage of justice.