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Tuesday, 2 October 1984
Page: 1424

Mr STEELE HALL(12.58 a.m.) —It is interesting to see how rational the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) can be about the changes that have been made, against his desire, to the National Crime Authority legislation to bring in amendments and improvements to the Bill. One looks with some astonishment at the way that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) today spoke of the strength of the National Crime Authority and at how tonight the Minister at the table welcomes the setting up of the Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority as a watchdog on the National Crime Authority-something which he, his Leader and his spokesman in the Senate opposed at the time it was moved. It is interesting to note, as the election approaches which the Minister recognised in his statement to the House, how the views of the Government and the Minister have changed. They have become reasonable. It is all a good measure now even though a few months ago it was all too much and the Government was resisting these changes for some reason or another which it has never explained to the House or the Senate. It resisted these changes which are now adopted as a major improvement in fighting crime in Australia.

I take it that there is not much point at this hour of the night in redeveloping the issues which have been mentioned today. There is a mystery about the Government's attitude to the changes which have been forced upon it. As I said earlier, it has never explained its opposition to the changes which have become so desirable since they were made by the Senate. But at least the Committee is something which the Senate was able to force upon the Government. The legislation and the operation of the Crime Authority will be much the better for it. It is unfortunate that not all the changes that ought to have been forced on the Government were able to be so made in the Senate, but this is one point which will be of use. It will be a window to Parliament on the operations of the National Crime Authority and I hope it will be able to point out to this House and to the public of Australia the deficiencies in the legislation which obviously will become apparent as time goes by. For instance, as I pointed out this afternoon, the Special Prosecutor, Mr Redlich, has said that the National Crime Authority has no power to offer protection an immunity to witnesses. I would have thought that the Special Minister of State would not need the deliberations of a parliamentary committee or any other advice to know the worth of that observation of the Special Prosecutor. He ought to know that one of the prime means of getting evidence against criminals in Australia is to protect those who give evidence. It is one of the original deficiencies that remain in the legislation. I hope that this Committee perhaps may convince the Government, as other reasoning people or reasoned arguments have been unable to do so until now.

I also pointed out this afternoon that deficiencies exist in that the State governments, through their membership of the Inter-Governmental Committee, have a veto on those areas of investigation which may affect particular States. I pointed out that in New South Wales, for instance, the ludicrous position has arisen whereby the Minister for Police and Emergency Services has not been informed by this Federal Government of matters of enormous consequence to the conduct of the police force in New South Wales. That makes that Minister, not because of any fault of his own but because of the neglect of others to inform him of the position, a most inadequate representative on the Inter-Governmental Committee to deliberate on the possibility of veto against investigations into matters concerning New South Wales. As I have said, it is these sorts of things that I hope, that this Committee will look at.

During the last few days the Chairman of the National Crime Authority very dramatically pointed up the deficiencies of the powers of the National Crime Authority when he said that if a State government would not allow an investigation into matters of its jurisdiction, the National Crime Authority would reveal all to the public of Australia and that State would be under great public and political pressure to allow the investigation to proceed. I thought that was a most lamentable admission of deficiency of power. That this Government could place the Chairman of the Commission and the commissioners in a position residing on a political persuasion, a political power among the public, to gain access to those matters which it needed to investigate is in fact a great reflection of the Governments lack of desire to prosecute crime in Australia properly. But as I have said, at least this Committee is a window from this Parliament into the operations of the Authority. The increase in the numbers on the Committee and the better balance which will ensue are things which I congratulate the Minister for obtaining.

Certainly the coalition would have moved here and in the Senate to proceed along these lines if the Government had not intimated that it would do so here. I believe, of course, that it was the intimation by the coalition that brought about the Governments prior move in this direction. But it is to be welcomed. I trust that the Government will give its full support to this Committee once it is in operation.