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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1620

Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(1.36) —Let it be clear to everybody who is listening: What we have sought to do today is introduce two amendments to the piece of legislation that establishes the National Crime Authority; that is, the somewhat strengthened but still very much modified form of the Bill that was originally passed by this Parliament in the days of the previous Government. In those days, back in 1982, we introduced and passed a Bill that was known as the National Crimes Commission Bill 1982. The National Crimes Commission in fact had not come into place at the time that the Hawke Government assumed responsibility for the affairs of this country. As everybody will know, the National Crime Authority Bill was subsequently submitted to this Parliament. It was significantly amended as a result of consideration by the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. The powers were strengthened and that there are more teeth in it now than there would have been is a distinct product of the intervention by the coalition opposition parties in the Senate.

Our concern remains that, sadly, in the course of the crime debate in this place and in the other place over the last month to six weeks there has been by the Government a total failure in two areas, and I will address those in a moment. The purpose of these amending Bills today-the National Crime Authority Amendment Bill and the National Crime Authority (Consequential Amendments) Amendment Bill-is to help to correct one of those significant deficiencies. Nothing that the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) has said in any way alleviates our concern that the National Crime Authority Act in its present form is unable to address the continued worry as to whether or not there is an effective means of pursuing major organised crime in Australia.

First let us look at what the National Crime Authority Amendment Bill seeks to do. We are looking at two essential changes to the present functioning of the National Crime Authority. The first is to try to ensure that the State vetoes provision is removed and the second is to try to ensure that there is an independent initiating responsibility in the National Crime Authority that will ensure that it can pursue whatever investigations it sees fit. I will address those in a little more detail in a moment. The important thing that we need to remember is that the two areas of concern over the last few weeks have been: First, why the Government wants prematurely to wind up the Costigan Royal Commission into the activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union; and, secondly, why and how the National Crime Authority is going to be able to pursue organised crime if it has inadequate capability to do so. Obviously this Bill is addressed to that second question. The Bill and the complementary measures that go with it in the second Bill, the National Crime Authority ( Consequential Amendments) Amendment Bill, are designed specifically to strengthen the teeth of the National Crime Authority.

There is no doubt that everyone in the community is worried about the extent to which organised crime seems to exist in this nation of ours. There is little doubt that the day by day saga of the individuals associated with the manipulation of major crime is such as to give every concerned Australian due and proper cause for concern. What we have sought to do in our debates in this place is to highlight what we see as a premature determination by this Government to wrap up the Costigan Royal Commission. We do not believe that the transition from the Costigan Royal Commission to the National Crimes Authority is adequate. We seek, therefore, to ensure that the National Crime Authority finally is adequate to pursue its task.

Let there be no doubt that there was common ground between this side of the Parliament and the other that we should seek to wind up, in due course, the Costigan Royal Commission, but only by means of an effective transition. Indeed, in the days of the Fraser-Anthony Government we had agreed that there would be a period of about six months while the Costigan Royal Commission continued and the National Crime Authority took its place, progressively assuming responsibility for investigating organised crime. Reasons for this not having happened are bandied around. We are told, for example, that in London one of the individuals named in the National Times had been running around saying that the Prime Minister, while absent from this country, had undertaken to close up the Costigan Royal Commission. We are told the day-to-day stories by the Prime Minister and by the Special Minister of State: 'Look, we really have given extensions to Mr Costigan time after time'. But let us be honest, what has happened is that Mr Costigan has been called on on each occasion to justify being given an extension of time. The Victorian Premier was prepared to give him 12 months. This Government was not prepared to accede to that, and as of 30 June 1984 there has been no pursuit of those who, in Mr Costigan's own words, seem to be behind financing major crime in this country. There has been no investigation and there has been no continuation of the inquiries into those who, if Mr Costigan's correspondence is followed, honourable members will see he believes to be in most instances behind most of the major criminal events in our society.

This Government, for reasons that we have sought to find out, wanted to close down the Costigan Commission and has failed to allow the proper consultations that we believe are necessary between the new National Crime Authority and Mr Costigan in the transition. Certainly Mr Justice Stewart has come out and said that he does not believe that consultations are necessary. Frankly, we believe that briefings from Mr Costigan can best be assessed by the man who has been making the inquiries, that is, Mr Costigan. I think it quite strange that in the different character of the Costigan Royal Commission which, let us face it, has been computer-oriented, the man who is to take over the National Crime Authority finds it unnecessary to get fully briefed on the way and form in which that investigation of his is being pursued and on those individuals against whom we feel the investigation is now running cold. It is in that light and in light of the criticisms that we have spoken of in this place in the course of the last few weeks, by Mr Justice Moffitt, by Mr Justice Woodward and by the Federal Police Association, that we see it as absolutely essential that the National Crime Authority be given a wider power and that its numbers be increased and that there be an opportunity for a proper investigation by that National Crime Authority even though it is now going to be impossible to pick up those trails which have gone cold as a result of the Costigan Royal Commission being wound up , as we see it, in haste, and for reasons that we suspect.

Let us have a look at the two Bills. As we see it, the first weakness of the National Crime Authority is that the Authority cannot use its coercive powers except by reference from a Minister. As the exercise of such powers is the basic reason for the Authority's existence, this seems fundamental. Section 5 of the amending Bill removes the distinction between general powers and specific powers which require a reference from a State or the Commonwealth. It would enable the National Crime Authority to use its coercive powers at any time. The second weakness is that although as a result of the Senate amendment the Federal Minister can give the National Crime 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. Furthermore, the reference for investigation into a State law can still be vetoed by the Minister for the State concerned and any reference desired by the State requires the support of the majority of the Ministers. For example, New South Wales could veto an investigation proposed by the Queensland Minister into investigations under Queensland laws. Section 7 of the amending Bill removes the right of veto of a State Minister into investigations proposed by another State Minister at the Inter-Governmental Committee. There is no doubt that co-operation with the States is required. The Minister, when he addressed this Bill a moment ago, admitted that. We certainly do not deny the necessity for co-operation. But consultation is one thing, veto another, and there is no reason in this area to provide an opportunity for veto in the way that this Act now provides.

The third area of weakness is that the functions of the NCA 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. This could mean that a string of minor crimes, for example, car theft, which were part of a major criminal activity could be excluded from investigation. Section 3 of the amending Bill opens up the definition of 'relevant offence', with the aim of allowing the National Crime Authority to decide for itself how it will allocate its resources.

The fourth weakness is that 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 on the nomination of State and Federal police commissioners. With the present Chairman still engaged as a royal commissioner into some aspects of the Mr Asia syndicate and the activities of the Nugan Hand Bank-a fact that we have made similar comment on in the past few weeks in this place; we fear he is so busy it is impossible for him to pursue his NCA task-this means that the Authority is clearly underpowered at the top. We believe it essential that the Authority not be underpowered, but be able to pursue properly its inquiries and be able to undertake whatever inquiries it believes fit. Let us face it, there has been condemnation from both sides of the House at the way in which the Costigan inquiries have been able to reveal much of the machinations in the criminal area as a result of an initial inquiry which , after all, was directed at the painters and dockers, not at matters that have widened into revealing and bringing prosecution as a result of the efforts of the special prosecutors in something more than 600 individual cases. Of course, the remedy to that weakness, that is, the inability of the present number of commissioners to undertake the range of work necessary, is that through the amending Bill we are increasing the size of the NCA from a chairman plus two members to a chairman plus four, the two additional members both being appointed by the Federal Attorney-General, and, through section 15 of the amending Bill, increasing the size of a quorum for the NCA from two to four. The fifth weakness is that the Authority is subject to directions of the Ministers provided they are unanimous. The remedy, as set out in section 8 of the amending Bill, is to delete this power, thereby removing any threat of political influence.

There are so many criticisms of the National Crime Authority that it is no use the Minister coming into this place and saying: 'Look, all is well, let us give it a trial, these amendments might be introduced later'.

Mr Braithwaite —He would know, wouldn't he?

Mr SINCLAIR —He probably would. Frankly we are worried that in the character of the National Crime Authority, the premature closure of Commissioner Costigan's Royal Commission and the failure of the transition, the new Authority will indeed let all these criminal trails run cold and the major inquiries that we are told by Commissioner Costigan were on the point of finality, will not be concluded. Therefore we seek to extend the NCA's authority. Mr Justice Moffitt who, honourable members will remember, conducted the royal commission into allegations of crime in New South Wales clubs, said: 'The way the NCA has been set up I don't think it will work'. Mr Justice Woodward, who, honourable members will remember, conducted the royal commission into drugs, said: 'I believe the new Authority will have no effect because it lacks teeth'. We certainly know that as far as the police association is concerned it too has criticised the Authority. Today's Age said:

The National Crime Authority asked the Federal Government in mid-August to legislate to guarantee that the Authority was given reasons for any State vetoing an investigation.

The Authority, in a letter dated 21 August, also requested a series of machinery changes to its legislation.

So our call for changes to the legislation is not unique; it is not just those outside the NCA who are seeking changes to the legislation, it is even those within the NCA itself. We frankly believe they should be introduced and these two Bills accepted.

There are any number of areas for concern. We see these amendments as a way by which the community concern can be allayed and the Government act properly. Frankly, we believe the House should endorse both measures. We are extraordinarily disappointed at the Minister coming in and treating criminal investigations as something that can be done tomorrow; manana is not the way by which this Government will overcome the problems of criminal investigation. Mr Costigan has been able apparently to get to the source of a number of major instances. We are concerned that those investigations should be properly pursued and this is the only way by which the National Crime Authority can be allowed to do so.

Finally, I think it essential that we consider properly what we are requesting in terms of the tabling of the Costigan report. Of course, as the Special Minister of State has said, the full report cannot be tabled in this place, but there is no reason why those parts Mr Costigan believes proper to be tabled and those that have individuals' names deleted if civil liberties are not to be prejudiced should not be tabled. Certainly there must be such a document presented and available to the Australian public before this Government runs off prematurely to the Australian electorate. I commend these two Bills to the House and recommend to the Government that the changes in the power and structure of the National Crime Authority which they represent be endorsed.