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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 817

Mr SPENDER(3.27) —The reply that we have just heard from the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) is typical of the Government's treatment of the question of the Age tapes and of phone tapping since its very inception. It was evasive, misleading and designed to confuse. Let me make just one point. The Attorney-General referred to the report of Mr Temby, QC, into the Age tapes. He said that the report shows that the Government knew about it. He is not able to read a passage of that report which says anything of the sort. The reason that he is not able to read such a passage is that it does not exist; it is not true. To suggest that that is true is utterly misleading, and he knows it. It would be the same as saying it in regard to his own Government. After all, if this phone tapping is continuing under the present Government, as seems to be the case, by parity of reasoning he would have to know. On the basis of the evidence thus far, we do not say that of him.

It is worth while remembering how this matter has been dealt with by the Government. When the Opposition first raised it it was derided. The authenticity of the tapes was ridiculed. We were accused of muck-raking and indulging in gutter politics. Contemptuous dismissal was given to the charges made by us as to the need to look into the tapes. However, finally, we had grudging acceptance and almost unqualified acceptance, so far as one can see, by the Attorney-General, because in this House on 20 March he said:

The dilemma relates to the fact that 31 New South Wales policemen apparently breached the Federal Telecommunications (Interception) Act.

That was very close to the Attorney-General saying: Yes, the tapes are authentic in the sense that there were planned intercepts over a long period. We have to ask ourselves why this interception has taken place. So far as we can judge, it has not been interception designed to advance the private motives of those involved. It was interception by a deeply frustrated police force, dissatisfied with what was happening to criminals in New South Wales; that is, that they were getting out. The police were determined to do something about it. I understand, although I did not hear it myself, that the Premier of New South Wales said on television, on Sunday last, that what they were doing was in effect working to put criminals in gaol and that the matter should be followed up. That is a far cry from the approach evidenced by the Attorney-General.

What do we know thus far? Thirty-one police officers have been involved. That is an extraordinarily large number. There have been breaches of the Telecommunications (Interception) Act. I point out that those offences are punishable by imprisonment for no more than two years. Certainly, there has been a breach of privacy. Certainly, we do not contend that breaches of the Act should be condoned or supported. The breaches having taken place, it is far more important that we get to the substance of the matters they were looking at than that we prosecute the police for breaching the Telecommunications (Interception) Act because they did not have the authority that they needed legally to do what they did.

We all know-everybody in this country who has the least interest in public affairs knows-that the Age material and the material that has since been unearthed concerns important matters of organised crime and deep criminality, criminality of a far more important consequence to this community than the breaches by the police themselves. We now know a few further things that we did not know a few days ago. It appears that the taping and the interception continued until 1984. We are told very precisely that there is anonymous evidence that says that a special squad was doing nothing else but tapping telephones for a long period; that it had the blessing of the New South Wales Police Department; that a whole series of tapes covering a multitude of people over a long period with detailed diary notes were being made and appropriate records were being made. This is all said by the Attorney-General. As I read his answers to questions, this is his understanding of what the state of affairs was likely to be. We know from what has been said in the Age very recently that the concerned police officer, the person who has provided this anonymous evidence, has apparently named senior policemen. We know from the Age and from the answer given by the Attorney-General today that at least one Labor member of parliament has been named in some way in the Age tapes. I do not say that that is any evidence that he has done anything wrong. I do say that it is very clear evidence that something needs to be looked at when we have a Federal member of parliament and also a senior official of the New South Wales Labor Party named. That had to be drawn out of the Attorney-General; it was not volunteered in his forthright, frank and open approach to questions.

This information is very precise and the very precision of the information is important. We know that it is said that some $400,000 has been spent for the purchase of equipment, so it seems, to run intercepts. We can only assume that somewhere in the Budget of the New South Wales Government that $400,000' is to be found. It either appears for what it is or it appears as a disguised item. In any event, we need to know more about that. The odds of learning from the New South Wales Government, given its track record in its approach to these matters, is just about nil. We know, as well, that this activity in sum has been carried on for years and it may have been going on until as late as November last year. Just this weekend we had some evidence from a former member of the New South Wales Police Force who, in answer to a question put to him about indemnities-the House will recall that the Attorney-General said I had misunderstood what I read-said:

I believe that to be true.

He said that in answer to the reasons why indemnities were not being given and whether or not what was being done was being done on instructions. He also said:

I believe that this section has been operating for so long and involved in so many cases it would be impossible to believe that their high ranking superior officers didn't know what they were doing. And because of the administration of the New South Wales police force I find it impossible to believe that the government in New South Wales wasn't made aware of the activities as well.

That is something more that has been added to the pot. What is the answer that has been given by this Government? The answer is that somehow or other it is under control, it has been sorted out, we have written to the New South Wales Government, and eventually we will get some sort of an answer. We are dealing with Federal matters. We are dealing with Federal intercepts. We are dealing apparently with a division of the New South Wales Police Force that has set itself up for the purposes of using intercepts to discover breaches of the criminal law. The way to find out the answer to these matters and the way to investigate the importance of the kinds of activities they have been looking at is through a royal commission. The National Crime Authority is simply not appropriate. It is not appropriate for two reasons. First of all, the National Crime Authority automatically involves the Government of New South Wales. If we are investigating the New South Wales Police Force, and perhaps also the Government of New South Wales, the last body one would want to be involved in it would be that Government. Secondly, the National Crime Authority has a limit placed on it in that it can investigate only certain kinds of offences. It cannot investigate offences that are punishable by less than three years imprisonment. A breach of the Telecommunications (Interception) Act is punishable by only two years imprisonment. So that pretty much puts the National Crime Authority out of court.

Another good reason for having a royal commission is that a royal commission is the only body with the powers of compulsion which are required to extract the necessary evidence, whether it be from members of the New South Wales Police Force, the New South Wales Government or anyone else. Its powers are in fact wider than those that are given to the National Crime Authority. It is important for that to be noted because that is the reason why we need to have a royal commission. If we do not have this commission, the evidence may be lost. Does anyone think that the police and those who may be also involved are sitting by quietly, not doing anything? What is happening to the tapes and to the transcript of evidence while this Government delays? If this Government really wants to find out what is at the bottom of things, why does it not authorise the setting up of a royal commission to act without delay, with the widest terms of reference, so that the Australian people can know what this is all about? Does the Government in fact prefer to allow things to trickle on, hoping, hanging tough, that somehow it can find its way through and, perhaps, that the people concerned in these activities will remain undetected?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.