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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 811

Mr N. A. BROWN(2.57) —There is a need for a royal commission to be established to inquire into the Age tapes matter, and I use that term in its broadest connotation. I mean not only a royal commission into those tapes, that transcript material and those tapings which had been popularly referred to as the Age tapes up until last week, but also a royal commission into the whole matter with the widest possible terms of reference. We ask the Government to concentrate on this, to do it fairly and to do it seriously. It is not simply a matter of political point scoring, because I put it to the Government that what we have discovered so far is two things. The first thing we have discovered is that there are serious problems of organised crime of which we have seen probably only the tip of the iceberg. We would maintain that it is a serious obligation on the Government to take its duties seriously and to have these matters investigated properly and fully. It is no good, with the greatest of respect, any Minister coming back and saying 'There is the National Crime Authority', because the National Crime Authority has specific responsibilities and, indeed, it has specific tasks which it is undertaking at the moment. We maintain very seriously indeed that what we have here is a situation that merits a royal commission. It is a situation which is analogous to those matters that have been inquired into by royal commissions in the past and it is a case where there is every justification for a royal commission to be conducted into this matter.

The second situation that we have is this: We have been asking the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) a number of questions about this matter. It is true that he has been forthcoming, perhaps more so than he might like to have been on reflection, and he has given half of the story. But in the course of giving half of the story he has raised probably as many questions as he has answered. There are very serious matters concerning the Attorney-General and his understanding of the principles relating to identities. There are very serious questions so far as political figures are concerned; and these matters can be investigated properly and fully only by a royal commission. That is the substance of the case that we put.

We ask the Government to look at the matter seriously and fairly. If it does look at it seriously and fairly, we maintain that it should come to the conclusion that a royal commission should be appointed. If that does not carry enough weight, I put it to members of the Government-perhaps to politicians this might carry more weight-that they can, if they wish, follow the same course as their brothers in New South Wales. They can allow it to go on day after day, with questions being asked, with the information coming out drip by drip, with scandal after successive scandal coming out. Or they can take hold of it. They can concede that there is public concern about this matter; they can concede that there are problems about phone tapping by the New South Wales Police.

Let me repeat-because the Attorney-General has only now entered the chamber-that we are putting this seriously and we make the point that it is not a matter of political point scoring. The Government should, being conscious of its responsibilities, concede-we believe that it will do so if it looks at the matter seriously and honestly-that there are serious matters of organised crime; there are serious matters concerning phone tapping; there are serious matters concerning the indemnities; and there are such serious matters concerning allegations that have been made about public figures-indeed, about politicians, in particular, one member of this Parliament-that in total the only way of getting to the bottom of the matter is to have a royal commission. I repeat the point that I made briefly as the Attorney-General entered the chamber, to make sure that he understands this. I want to make sure that it is put to him fairly and honestly. The point is simply: This Government, if it wishes, can go the same way as the New South Wales Government has gone, with this matter coming out drip by drip and with scandal after scandal. The matter will not go away. The only way in which the Government can exercise its public responsibility on these serious matters is to appoint a royal commission.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you may say to me, and you would be entitled to say to me: 'What would the royal commission inquire into? What are the specific matters that you would want the royal commission to inquire into?' I will tell you what they are. I venture to say that any member of this House who honestly and fairly looks at the questions that I am about to enumerate could not but come to the conclusion that a royal commission should be appointed. First, there is the question of the old tapes, as I will call them-the 1976 to 1981 tapes. There are still questions about the authenticity of those tapes. I suppose one should concede that at least the Attorney-General the other day, when he refused to grant indemnities to the police concerned, seemed to be making an admission that the tapes were authentic. At least we have got that far. But there is still a question in regard to the authenticity of the tapes, and particularly a question of the public knowledge of their authenticity. If they are authentic they reveal most horrific matters in regard to organised crime in this country. The public has every right to know whether the tapes are authentic.

The second thing that arises is that, on the assumption that the tapes are authentic, it is said that they reveal very serious crimes. What we want to know, and what we maintain a royal commission would investigate, is what action has been taken and what action should be taken to prosecute those crimes revealed by the Age tapes and by the other material.

The third matter that arises concerns the indemnities. I do not mean it in any disrespectful sense when I say that the Attorney-General does not seem to have or does not seem to have expressed to this House any understanding of the purpose of indemnities or the circumstances under which indemnities will be issued. It is a matter of very great concern to me that the Attorney- General does not understand this: If the Attorney-General is to consider whether indemnities should be granted, he should have a very serious grasp of the significance of the crimes which will be proved, if he gives indemnities so that the police can give evidence of the making of the tapes.

But the Attorney-General has said that he does not know the seriousness of the crimes revealed on those tapes, for the very reason that he has not read the tape material. He has not read the transcripts or listened to the tapes. Frankly, we find it quite extraordinary that the Attorney-General can be pursuing on the surface what appears to be his responsibility of determining whether indemnities should be granted, without coming to grips with the raw material. He has an obligation to come to grips with that raw material. He has an obligation to read the tape transcripts so that he can exercise that judgment.

A further question arises which goes to the public confidence in the public's elected representatives. It has been said that a New South Wales politician used the tapes to escape prosecution. One report is that he used the tape material to head off an embarrassing court case. Whether it was a criminal case or whether it was a civil case probably does not matter for the purpose of the point I am making. The fact is that the allegation has been made and there seems to be some evidence to suggest that some elected public figure in New South Wales used this material for an improper purpose. Not to put too fine a point on it, he used it to stop a court case. Whether he was personally involved in it, I do not know. But if that is the case, that is a very serious allegation and it is a disgraceful situation if an elected person, having access to that material, used it to pervert the course of justice.

If there were ever a justification for having a royal commission into any subject at all that would be adequate justification. Even if there were nothing else concerned in this whole sordid matter other than that allegation made by someone already proven by his track record to have been right in the allegations he has made in drawing attention to matters of public concern, that is sufficient justification by itself to have a royal commission into this whole matter.

It is not as if it is simply a matter of the Age tapes, as we knew them until last week. We now know that there is a collection of recorded material conducted by the police. Presumably it has something to do with crime. We know this material covers the period 1981 to 1984. The Attorney-General told us that the recording went on until January 1984. We were told on a television program last Friday night that apparently it went on until November 1984. It gets worse and worse as we go on. The Special Minister of State (Mr Young) has told us today that the Australian Federal Police did not have any involvement in or connection with that matter. Perhaps, for all we know, that is the real situation.

Mr Young —Since the new Commissioner was appointed.

Mr N. A. BROWN —Since the Commissioner was appointed; I am indebted to the Minister for his correction. The fact of the matter is that from 1981 to 1984 the police conducted what the Attorney-General has told us was illegal phone tapping. This is a matter of great public concern and should also be the subject of a royal commission. I refer also to the matter which we have been pursuing the Attorney-General on today. We have been told that there was an anonymous letter sent to Mr Justice Stewart that contained some very serious allegations. This was an anonymous letter to the effect that the taping was far more extensive than most people may have realised until the matter was made public. Indeed, as a result of that anonymous letter it is said that one member of Parliament and one other figure in a major political party were involved. It was said that they were caught out as a result of this. We do not know what they were caught out about. The Attorney-General keeps saying that Mr Greiner in New South Wales has a copy of the letter. I do not. I have not seen that letter. I have not the faintest idea of the contents of that letter.

I simply say that it is alleged that one Federal member of parliament has been involved in this matter. It is sufficiently serious for telephone conversations to have taken place with the Attorney-General and it is sufficiently serious for the New South Wales Premier to go on record and say that he knows who the person is. We say that it is a matter of public interest that this should be pursued and the person revealed. If that person's record is clean, that person should have nothing to be afraid about. If there was no impropriety on this person's part, let there be an end to the matter. However, the public concern will not be allayed until the matter is investigated thoroughly and in very great detail.

We are concerned about the way in which the Government has handled this matter so far. It has been handled in an amateurish way, particularly so far as the indemnities are concerned. What do we find so far as the indemnities are concerned? We have the situation where the Age tapes and other material reveal a series of serious criminal allegations. However, the Attorney-General says: 'My personal view is that they should not get indemnities'. We say the police should, at least so far as the facts brought to our notice are concerned.

Mr Young —Indemnities for everything?

Mr N. A. BROWN —No, not indemnities for anything. I made that point perfectly clear on Friday. I repeat: We do not say that. What we say is that the Government has already had revealed to it a serious situation so far as certain limited numbers of police are concerned and so far as certain limited activities and conversations are concerned. We say that the Government has an obligation to give them indemnity so they can prove the raw material and hopefully bring the miscreants, whose deeds are revealed on the tapes, to justice. That is not done simply by saying: 'I cannot make up my mind', which is what the Attorney-General says. He says that Mr Justice Stewart does not want his report made public, but when Mr Justice Stewart contributes to the debate, he says: 'I have done my report, I have given my advice, it is up to the Attorney-General'. For some reason the Attorney-General seems constitutionally incapable of making one of those vital decisions which is in the personal control and decision-making jurisdiction of the Attorney-General.

The Opposition believes that this has been a lax exercise in the granting of indemnities and that the Attorney-General has not focused his mind on the matter. We want to know why indemnities have not been granted. We want to know why the Attorney-General has not turned his mind to this matter properly. We want to know how on earth he can possible make a decision at any stage if he refuses to read the raw material itself. We ask: How can the Attorney-General make a decision on the significance of the crimes revealed on the material, and hence go on to decide whether indemnities should be granted, if he will not read the material himself? These are just some of the unanswered questions in this matter.

But I come back to the point I made at the outset. The Opposition puts this matter not simply as a point-scoring exercise, but as a serious problem in regard to organised crime which has been brought to the notice of the Parliament. We cannot stand by and do nothing about it. There is an obligation to have it investigated. We are not satisfied that it has been investigated properly so far, and we believe that the only way of doing it properly is to have a royal commission. The matter can go on without a royal commission. There are other alternatives open to us. We can pursue the matter in the Senate. If the Government wants to end up at the end of the day or at the end of the week with a Senate inquiry, so be it, but it is the Government and it has an obligation. It has to pursue the best course for the people and the public interest to have these matters investigated properly. The matter will go on and on until the Government follows the best course. The best and the proper course, if the Government has the slightest concept of public responsibility, will be to appoint a royal commission into this whole matter.