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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1612


Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(12.49) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Today I present a private member's Bill to take the initiative which the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has steadfastly refused to take, namely, to put some teeth into the National Crime Authority to make it strong so that it can be effective, to give it the power to fight organised crime and the criminals who live off it. It is extraordinary that the Opposition has had to resort to a private member's Bill on this matter, but the extraordinary spinelessness of the Hawke Government in its approach to crime and corruption justifies this action and our offers to the Government to discuss strengthening the Crime Authority have been totally ignored. It is no use the Prime Minister continually quoting Mr Justice Stewart' s most recent views on the Authority's powers. It is understandable that Mr Justice Stewart wants to get on with the job, but the reality is that the powers of the Authority do not meet the requirements that he himself laid down when presenting his 1983 report.

The fact is that it is the Government's responsibility to provide the best framework to ensure that the fight against organised crime is effective, and the fact is that the Hawke Government has done everything to avoid making it effective. Let me prove that by briefly tracing the history of the Crime Authority legislation. The previous coalition Government acted to develop the type of body which had the powers and resources to be fully effective and to carry on from Costigan. We steered legislation through Parliament in our last months in office and because of us the Prime Minister had legislation on the books when he came to office. He could have got cracking straight away.

The present Prime Minister said he would continue the fight against organised crime. On 19 May in this House he said he would 'ensure that everything that can possibly be done is done to smash organised crime in this country'. He even said that he would promulgate the Act. Then something went wrong and his actions failed to live up to the rhetoric. In November 1983 the Hawke Government introduced legislation for a substitute crime authority which would have made such an authority a toothless tiger. That is not solely the conclusion of the Opposition. I quote again Labor Senators Tate, Crowley and Bolkus, who supported the conclusions of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs:

This Committee has concluded generally that the Bills which were presented to the Senate had grave defects or omissions. Fundamental change is required to the legislative framework upon which the Authority is to operate. We concluded that the suppression of organised crime and official corruption is an attainable goal , but if the Authority is to play a significant role in such suppression it must be given a fighting chance.

They were the Government's own experts saying that. Despite changes achieved by the Opposition and the Australian Democrats in the Senate the National Crime Authority still suffers the following grave weaknesses: Firstly, it cannot use its coercive powers except by a reference from a Minister. As the exercise of the powers is the basic reason for the Authority's existence, this is clearly a fundamental weakness. Secondly, although as a result of Senate amendment the Federal Minister can give the Authority the reference to investigate a purely Federal matter without State veto, the process of obtaining such a reference is cumbersome and can cause delay. The reference for investigation into a State law can still be vetoed by the Minister for the State concerned and any reference desired by a State requires the support of the majority of the Ministers. Thirdly, the functions of the Authority are circumscribed by an elaborate definition of relevant criminal activity which excludes the consideration of offences committed in the course of a genuine industrial dispute or punishable by imprisonment for less than three years. Fourthly, the Authority comprises an independent chairman and only two other members, one appointed on the nomination of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General and the other appointed on the nomination of the Police Ministers. With the present Chairman still engaged as a royal commissioner into some aspects of the Mr Asia syndicate and into Nugan Hand, this means the Authority is clearly underpowered at the top. Fifthly, the Authority is subject to directions from the Minister in specific cases.

My Bill, the private member's Bill presented by the Opposition, is directed to the five weaknesses that I have outlined. Let us turn to relevant offence. Under the legislation the Authority can only investigate relevant criminal activities which are activities in relation to relevant offences. We say that the definition of 'relevant offence' is presently too restrictive because there are limitations which exclude offences taking place in relation to industrial disputes and all offences punishable by less than three years' imprisonment are excluded. Our amendment gets rid of those exemptions. Let us consider industrial disputes. Why should criminal activities by a trade union or unions, albeit to pursue industrial disputes, be outside the ambits? The Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union has proven that at least one trade union is actively organising crime in Australia and there is no genuine demarcation point between that union's industrial activities and its criminal activities.

Offences punishable by less than three years' imprisonment are excluded. Car theft, for example, does not carry a punishment of three years' imprisonment or more. However, if a gang is actively organised in widespread car theft its activities should be investigatable by the National Crime Authority. The point is that this section was put into the National Crime Authority Act to ensure that the Authority was not chasing after trivial crime. In fact, the limited resources of the Commission will ensure that that does not occur. What our National Crime Authority Amendment Bill does is recognise that when we are talking about major crime which engages in a range of criminal activities limitation of investigation on the basis of offences is both counterproductive and irrational.

What about the functions of the Authority? The present National Crime Authority Act contains a dichotomy between the Authority's special and general functions. The special functions-those functions using coercive powers-can only be exercised upon a reference to the Authority by the Federal or a State Minister via the Inter-Governmental Committee. We aim to get rid of that dichotomy, which will allow in effect the Authority to investigate any matter of its own motion and using its full coercive powers, because we are really at getting teeth into this Authority. This would mean, of course, that the Authority would be like a policeman; it would be able to investigate not only those matters which are referred to it for investigation but also those matters which come to its attention in the normal course of its operations. With respect to either type of matter the Authority could investigate, using its full coercive powers, to summons witnesses, to call for documents, to execute search warrants; indeed, to execute every power which is granted to it by the terms of the Act. The major advantage, of course, of this is that it completely removes the Authority from political manipulation or even the criticism that it is liable to political direction.

What about reference of State matters. At present the Federal Minister can refer a matter concerning offences against Federal law to the Authority after merely consulting the Inter-Governmental Committee. A State Minister can refer a matter to the Authority concerning breaches against the law of his State only after he has gained the unaminous-stress, the unaminous-approval of the Inter- Governmental Committee. This means that no State can stop the reference of a Federal offence. However, to give an example, the Minister from South Australia could be thwarted by the Minister from Tasmania from referring to the Authority a matter concerning breaches purely against the laws of South Australia. The amendment would ensure that a State Minister, like a Federal Minister, need only consult the Inter-Governmental Committee to refer a matter to the Authority.

The amendment in our Bill relating to members of the Authority would increase the number of members from a chairman plus two others to a chairman plus four others. At the present time the Chairman is still engaged as royal commissioner inquiring into some aspects of the Mr Asia syndicate and into the affairs of the Nugan Hand Bank. The Authority is clearly underpowered at the top. A consequential amendment contained in a Bill I will present after this Bill- provides that the Federal Minister shall appoint the two new members, hopefully on the basis of their expertise.

I refer to directions from the Minister. At present the Federal Minister is able to give to the Authority not only general directions and guidelines but also directions with respect to a particular case, although he may only do that with the unaminous approval of the Inter-Governmental Committee. This means that criticism might be levelled at the Authority that it is subject to political manipulation and that its conduct of a particular case has been subject to political interference. As Lord Denning once remarked: Justice should not only be done; it should manifestly and absolutely be seen to be done. That is certainly not the case as far as the Authority is concerned at the moment. It should be noted that this amendment would not stop the Federal Minister from requesting the Authority to seek from a State Minister a reference to investigate a State matter. He can always ask. What it does seek to stop is the Federal Minister directing the Authority to seek such a reference.

Let me focus on the most fundamental weakness; that is, the inability of the Authority to initiate its own inquiries using its coercive powers. This, after all, is the major weakness in the existing legislation. It means that the Authority has not been able immediately to pick up the Costigan investigations. This is a primary reason why the trail which Costigan was on may well have gone cold for all time. It means that there will be delays in investigations of even Federal offences. The Prime Minister knew the restrictions when he cut the Costigan Commission off at the knees because, after all, it was the Prime Minister's legislation. He knew it could be used to stop Costigan's investigation. Commissioner Costigan continually warned the Prime Minister what the consequences would be. As long ago as 15 March 1983 Commissioner Costigan warned the Prime Minister:

What is required for the efficient and necessary continuation of the investigation of the Commission is that there should be a body in existence (at least 3 months prior to demise) vested with the appropriate powers and able to maintain without interruption my work.

I want to go on and quote a couple of other remarks of Commissioner Costigan to remind the House that the pleading was there, not only to go on but to have an effective authority in place, which is what our amendments in this Bill today would do. That is why the Government ought to pick up these amendments without delay. On 5 March 1984 in a letter, which of course the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) forgot about conveniently yesterday-selective amnesia coming to the fore-Costigan referred to the damaging effects of a lengthy hiatus between his investigations and those of the new Crime Authority. He said:

My investigations would cease at that time. They would be recommended at the earliest many months later and then only if the new Authority had the powers and decided to do so. Even if it did, the breach in investigations is likely to be fatal to their success, particularly the current drug investigations.

On 5 March Commissioner Costigan also warned:

The only basis on which an efficient transition can take place is for me to continue my investigations until the Crime Authority is up and running.

It would be almost like a baton change, for those sports minded people, so that the Authority is up and running when Costigan winds up. That, of course, did not occur. What could be clearer and what could be more damning than the deliberate actions of this Prime Minister and the Government? The Prime Minister has spoken of his hatred, his abomination, of the cancer of drug trafficking and its devastating effect on individuals and families-we all share his stated feelings on this evil-but why did he act to wind up Costigan's drug investigations before they were brought to a conclusion? On 3 July 1984 Commissioner Costigan warned the Prime Minister that the transition to the new Crime Authority 'cannot be done within the time you suggest, and any pretence that it has been done will be no more than cosmetic'. He alluded again to his concerns that the Government was making 'the maintenance of my investigations' not possible. Costigan was totally explicit about the consequences of what the Prime Minister was doing. I recall that the Prime Minister, in his statement of 20 September, tried to dismiss the Opposition's references to Commissioner Costigan's correspondence as 'selective and tendentious quoting from tabled correspondence'. Anyone who reads these letters in full will not come to that conclusion.

This is another example of the twisting and the turning of this Government. The Prime Minister is now stuck with the consequences of his deliberate and his systematic undermining of Costigan's investigations and capacities and the capacities of the National Crime Authority, consequences which he is now trying to deny. The fact is that if the Authority had been able to initiate its own inquiries using its coercive powers the long hiatus in investigations need never have occurred. This does not deny that there still would have been a major interruption in the Costigan investigations. As Commissioner Costigan wrote to the Prime Minister on 3 July, his Commission had ceased investigations on 30 June. Yet on 3 July he said:

. . . the new Authority has no investigations under way. Indeed, it presently comprises only the Chairman.

This Bill, of course, cannot overcome that problem. It cannot overcome the problem that only one person-I stress, one person-Phil Cummins, QC, is working full time on sifting through the Costigan material to prepare references for the Inter-Governmental Committee. One person alone is sifting that material. Of the great team of lawyers who were allegedly working full time on this matter, Phil Cummins is the only one now doing that with some part time help, and he only moved to do some full time work very recently indeed. No wonder Mr Justice Stewart was forced to write to the Special Minister of State on 6 August this year and to say:

. . . the Authority considers at this stage that it will not be ready to approach the Inter-Governmental Committee on the subject of references arising from current Royal Commissions investigations before late September. Even then only a limited number of matters may be ready for consideration.

The only information we have been able to get from the Minister is that the next meeting of the Inter-Governmental Committee will be held on 19 October. We have been given no indication of how many of the 42 Costigan references may be ready for further investigation by the Authority.

I have confined most of my remarks to the Bill that I have introduced. The amendments contained in the Bill would be directed at strengthening the Authority. Not just the Opposition but Mr Justice Moffitt, Mr Justice Woodward, the Australian Federal Police-I could go on-have pointed to the weaknesses in this Authority. It has taken the Opposition to come in here and move amendments, as we moved them in the Senate when the original legislation went through. The teeth that the Authority has today it has only as a consequence of amendments moved by the Opposition and the Democrats in the Senate. We seek, by way of this Bill, to give it the powers it so desperately needs. The changes in my Bill are directed towards mounting an effective fight against the cancer of organised crime and corruption in the days to come. These changes, which will strengthen the hand of the Crime Authority, are of course directed to the future. Nothing can be done to address the monumental failure of the Hawke Government in past months-indeed for more than a year-to maintain the fight against organised crime ; nothing can be done to resurrect the Costigan investigations into the financing of drugs, pornography and other evils; nothing can change the fact that Commissioner Costigan gave warning after warning that the Government's actions and inactions were destroying his chances of completing the vital investigations he had commenced. On previous occasions I have outlined in detail the history of the Government's systematic and deliberate destruction of the fight against organised crime and corruption. I have sent the Government question after question asking why it prematurely terminated the Costigan Commission, about why it stuck with a toothless body such as the National Crime Authority. I have reminded it of the criticisms of the present Authority by such eminent figures as Mr Justice Moffitt and Mr Justice Woodward. As with all matters relating to organised crime, and extending into the Government's handling of the Age tapes, there has been no action. Well, let us have action today by supporting this Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) — Is the motion seconded?


Mr Sinclair —Madam Deputy Speaker, I second the motion and reserve my right to respond.

Debate adjourned.