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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 335


Mr N. A. BROWN(7.03) —The Opposition supports the motion to establish the Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority. I must say at the outset that it is certainly no credit to the Government that this motion is before the House today. From the very beginning, the Government has actively opposed the establishment of a parliamentary committee to monitor the activities of the National Crime Authority, and it is to the everlasting shame of the Government that it has taken that attitude. One need only go back to the Senate debate when the proposal to establish the parliamentary committee was before it to see exactly how this came about. How true it is that the Government has actively opposed at every stage of proceedings the establishment of a Parliamentary Committee to monitor the activities of the National Crime Authority.

The then Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, speaking in the debate in the Senate when the proposal to establish a committee came before it, started his contribution on the proposal by saying that there were very real dangers in a Parliamentary Committee operating in this area. That is a view which the Government has maintained from that day to this. There was a momentary glimmer of hope when the then Attorney-General subsequently said that the proposal was remotely tolerable, but at the end of his contribution on the subject he stated:

I indicate the quite strong opposition of the Government to any proposal for a Parliamentary Committee in this area.

It is clear, therefore, beyond any argument whatsoever, that from the very beginning the Government has actively opposed the establishment of a parliamentary committee to monitor the activities of the Crime Authority, for the simple reason that it does not want those activities to be monitored, it does not want ordinary members of this Parliament-back benchers on both sides of the Parliament-to see the activities of the Authority and to ensure that the Authority is properly carrying out its functions. More to the point, I have recently discovered that it is the attitude of the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) that he does not want a committee for the simple reason that he does not want the Parliament to see his involvement with the National Crime Authority. I will come to that in a moment.

Let me go on to say in support of the proposition I have put that from the time the National Crime Authority Bill was passed through the Parliament the Government has been particularly tardy in having this Committee established. On 19 October 1984 Senator Chaney pointed out in the Senate just how tardy the Government had been. Speaking of Senator Missen, Senator Chaney said:

I express not only I think the regret that he would feel but also the regret of the whole Opposition that this aspect of the Crime Authority has been so tardy in being put into place. The Committee, as Senator Missen has said, will not be able to sit at all once the House of Representatives is dissolved. Hence we will have a very long delay in bringing this element of parliamentary scrutiny into effect. The Opposition regards that as a matter of very great regret and as being fairly typical of the lacklustre way that the Government has approached this whole question of dealing with organised crime.

Senator Chaney said that on 19 October 1984, after the Bill had been passed by the Parliament in July 1984. So it can be safely said that for four or five months the Government did nothing except obstruct the establishment of this Parliamentary Committee. Having failed in its attempts to frustrate its establishment in the legislation, it then clearly set out on a long delaying program to prevent members from being appointed to the Committee. I have no doubt in saying that now that the Committee is being established, contrary to the strong opposition of the Government, the Government will do everything it can to frustrate the activities of the Committee. I urge honourable members on both sides of the House to ensure that the Minister is not able to achieve that objective.

I will amplify that point by making my second principal point, which is that the Committee, now that it has been established, despite the strong opposition of the Government, will certainly have a lot to do. It will have a lot to do because the Opposition maintains, as it has maintained for many months, that the National Crime Authority, established as it is with the restrictions it has on its activities, is not a proper body in its present form to pursue properly and vigorously and with any confidence of success the very serious matters of organised crime that still exist in this country and which should be investigated vigorously and without restraint.

As the Opposition said months ago, the National Crime Authority is subject to political control and I have no hesitation in saying that while the present Minister is in charge he will have no hesitation in limiting the activities of this Authority in an improper way. I know that they are strong words and I wish to underline them. I say that for this reason. For a long time the Opposition has maintained that the structure, under the National Crime Authority Act, of having references for which Ministers are primarily responsible being used as the vehicle for referring matters to the National Crime Authority is an inappropriate method of referring matters which the Authority should investigate. Mr Costigan pointed that out. He said that once we embark upon this path we will find that we fall foul of two propositions. One is that we will breach civil liberties and the second is that we will end up not referring specific criminal matters to the Authority to investigate. What has happened since Mr Costigan said that, when we said that and when it was said by everyone else who knew anything about the subject, is that those predictions have come true. I submit that the references that have been given by the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) to the National Crime Authority contain massive abuses of civil liberties and they are so wide that they will prevent the Authority from coming to grips with the real criminal issues.

There are two vices, therefore, in the references that the Minister has given to the Authority. The first is that he has stumbled into the very trap that he was warned against. He is committing gross abuses of civil liberties, about which every member of this Parliament should be concerned. The second is that in the course of that stumbling exercise he has probably succeeded in referring nothing to the Crime Authority. That has a very serious consequence, namely, the criminal trail will go cold, people will vanish, assets will be moved overseas and the investigating authorities will never get to the bottom of a large number of very serious criminal activities that should be investigated.

Let me amplify that. Although it has not been made public, the first reference given by the Minister-it was given on 19 October 1984-requires the National Crime Authority to investigate-mark these words:

. . . the widespread financial and business activities . . . of a certain person, whose identity was communicated to me by the Authority . . .

That is the matter that he has referred to the National Crime Authority. It is extraordinary that the Minister should direct the National Crime Authority to embark on such a fishing expedition. I hope that the Joint Committee will investigate this matter at its first opportunity. The Minister seems to want to turn the National Crime Authority into some sort of Star Chamber and direct it to inquire into matters that may have nothing to do with crime.

The reference to which I have referred means that the National Crime Authority can use its coercive powers to roam at large through the financial and business affairs of this unnamed person, this certain person. It sounds like something out of Soviet Russia. The Authority is supposed to be investigating crime; it is not supposed to be investigating the financial and business affairs of people. I maintain that the Minister is abusing his powers by directing the Authority to go far beyond its proper role of investigating a specific criminal matter, which is what Costigan said should be investigated, what the Opposition said should be investigated and what everyone who knows anything about the subject has always said should be investigated. There are specific criminal issues. Assets are being moved overseas. Probably millions of dollars are being moved overseas due to the inactivity of this Government. But the Minister is not saying investigate that specific criminal issue which must be investigated; he is saying investigate the widespread financial and business activities of a certain person whose name has been communicated to him.

I believe it is a grave abuse of civil liberties for a Minister to direct a statutory authority to go beyond its real functions in this manner. But, of course, the direction by the Minister goes further. It requires an investigation not only of this unnamed person but also of associated persons and companies. By that direction, I presume that what is meant is that any person, any individual, who has associated with the unnamed person, or any company which has associated with that person, should likewise be investigated. As I have said, this is the first trap that the Minister has fallen into. I hope this Committee will investigate exactly what he has done in this matter. We believe he has committed a massive abuse of civil liberties.

The second defect, the second vice, is that, having committed this massive abuse of civil liberties, he is not even aiming at the target that has to be investigated. As I have said, the Government was warned by the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union that the process now being used, because it was written into the legislation, was full of difficulties. The first reference that the Minister has given and to which I have referred shows just how right Mr Costigan was in arguing against this system of references to the Crime Authority using the Inter-Governmental Committee. As we see from this particular case, if such a system is used, it is clearly quite impossible to specify precisely what the criminal matter is and what the National Crime Authority is supposed to be investigating. What needs to be investigated are the specific matters that Mr Costigan said should be taken over the National Crime Authority. I refer to specific criminal investigations. They are not being pursued as a result of these references. This can be achieved by identifying and referring to the National Crime Authority all the matters which Mr Costigan recommended should be referred.

Frankly, the system which the Government insists on using has the risk that a court will probably say that what the Minister has done is to give a reference which is so wide, so vague and so all embracing that he probably has not referred a specific criminal matter to the Authority for investigation at all. By the time that has been up and down the courts over the next few years, what will happen to the criminal trail? It will have gone cold and assets will have been moved overseas. People will have either vanished or removed themselves overseas--

Debate interrupted.