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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 1075

Mr N. A. BROWN(12.03) —We support the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill, but it does no credit to the Government that it should be introduced so late and so reluctantly. The Government has had to be pushed and prodded every inch of the way into taking this action, which is at least one step towards fighting and, hopefully, stamping out organised crime in Australia. The Government has resisted every move by the Opposition to grapple with the problem and to make some positive response to it. It is only when the Government has been backed into a corner, when its case is in tatters, when its Attorney-General is discredited, when its whole defence has been shown to be riddled with evasion, contradiction and prevarication, when it has nowhere else to turn, that it has reluctantly and grudgingly agreed to take this action. This Bill is part of a package-a package that is a belated response by the Government to the Opposition's demand to take action on the Age tapes, the new taped material and the matters that emerge from them. Other parts of the package are referred to in the Bill.

It should be made perfectly plain at the outset that the sophistry of the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) that we heard in the latter part of his remarks just will not stand up. The Government has had access to all of this material, and the belated attempt by the Attorney-General to say 'We have changed our position simply because there is new material which has appeared from nowhere and to which we have now given consideration' is a false defence. It is a defence which is full of holes and will not stand up.

I shall elaborate on that further. The first part of this package concerns the need for a new royal commission and the Government's reluctant agreement to establish it. The Opposition demanded a royal commission a year ago, and the Government rejected it. The Government said that there was no need for a royal commission; and it said that only three days ago. As recently as three days ago the Attorney-General was on his feet in this House saying that there was no need for a royal commission into these matters. Three days ago the Government had before it all the material it has today, all the material about which the Attorney-General now has the gall to say: 'Here is new material which should be investigated. We have only just discovered it and here is our instantaneous response'. It is not an instantaneous response. It is a response that has been drawn from the Government like drawing teeth. Three days ago it said that it was opposed to a royal commission and now it says to the public and to the Parliament that there is a need for a royal commission.

What a remarkable turnabout that is. What has brought about this death-bed conversion? Is it because of some new zeal to fight organised crime, some new commitment which has emerged in the last three days to investigate the material that has been revealed? Of course not. The Government made it perfectly plain only three days ago that it would oppose the establishment of a royal commission. Listen to the Attorney-General speaking in this debate on Monday. He said:

I think the Opposition is getting carried away with the suggestion that a royal commission will establish anything different from what Mr Justice Stewart can do.

Who is getting carried away today, if the Government is now proposing a new royal commission? The Opposition was right on Monday to propose a royal commission and it is right to do so today.

That, of course, was only Monday. On Monday there was no need for a royal commission. The Attorney-General's position on Tuesday was that the terms of Mr Justice Stewart's inquiry were 'limited'. He said: 'I think they are not sufficient. I think they have to be widened.' One can see coming up over the horizon some glimmer of appreciation by the Government that, slowly but surely, it was being dragged into taking new and positive action. What could explain such a remarkable change? On Monday the judge's terms were adequate. By Tuesday they were not. What had happened overnight? By Tuesday night there was a need for a virtually new royal commission. By Wednesday morning the Government had gone one step further, believe it or not. By Tuesday night there was a need only for a virtually new royal commission, but by Wednesday it was a fully fledged new royal commission that was needed, launched, and away and flying.

There can be only one reason for these extraordinary changes, for this death-bed conversion by the Government; that is, that the Government has been driven into the position where it has had to concede that its opposition to a royal commission simply cannot be propped up any longer against the weight of public opinion, the Press and this Parliament. To use that memorable phrase we heard the other day in this Parliament, the Attorney-General has been 'caught out'. No one can believe that the Government has any serious commitment to fighting organised crime when it has opposed, and opposed repeatedly, every constructive suggestion put to it by the Opposition and by the Press, including the demand for a royal commission.

What we have said about this death-bed conversion so far as a royal commission is concerned applies equally as far as indemnities are concerned to prove the police tapes, the raw material. What extraordinary changes in the Government's threadbare position we have seen on this issue over the last few days. What was the position last Wednesday? Last Wednesday, the Attorney-General's view was that the police 'are not entitled to indemnity'.

He went further than that. Not only were the police not entitled to indemnity, but they were criminals so far as the Attorney-General was concerned; they had committed crimes and they were deserving of what he called punitive action. It is a black day in the long history of Attorneys-General when we hear one Attorney-General in the Parliament of the Commonwealth saying: 'These people are criminals. Do not wait for the trials. Do not wait for the charges. The police are criminals and they are deserving of punishment'. That was the position on Wednesday. I make it clear that last Wednesday his view was that the police are not-I repeat, not-entitled to indemnity. Until Thursday on the AM radio program he was-I give him this-at least consistent. On Thursday he said: 'I cannot give them an indemnity'. By Thursday night, not surprisingly, there had been another change; his office, presumably with his authority, was saying that those views were the Attorney-General's personal view; that no formal decision, one way or the other, had yet been made.

By Thursday's Question Time, needless to say, there was another variation, another grudging step forward. The line on indemnities was: 'The matter has not been finalised'. I repeat that the Attorney-General had all the facts, all the taped material-whatever form the material may be in-while these sea changes were under way. By Tuesday of this week, the Attorney-General was off again. By this time the Director of Public Prosecutions, who had been the great prop of the argument the week before, had been abandoned. He had been left behind as being of no use at all to the Government's case. According to the Attorney-General on Tuesday: 'If Mr Justice Stewart recommended an indemnity I see no reason why I should not give it'.

What a remarkable series of changes from a government in such a short time from 'They are not entitled to an indemnity and they are criminals who should be punished' to the final stage-'I see no reason why indemnities should not be given'. Can anyone believe that this Government is committed to the fight against organised crime? Can anyone believe that the Government has its heart in these proposals? Can anyone believe that the Government has a firm commitment on these matters when, with all the material before it during the whole period of this pathetic, tragi-comedy, the Government makes so many changes in its position. What a remarkable somersault! Last week, the police were branded as criminals deserving of punishment and certainly not entitled to indemnities. This week, the police, reluctantly so far as the Government is concerned, may be given indemnities in appropriate cases.

This whole history has been characterised by shifting ground, double-talk and arguments thrown up and abandoned when they have been exposed for exactly what they are-shallow and utterly destructive of any prospect of proving the tapes and prosecuting the crimes revealed on them. Then came what I could call the final capitulation-the amendment in the Bill before us today to allow the taped material to be used before the new royal commission, which the Government was opposing root and branch only days ago.

This Bill allows documents in the possession of the Director of Public Prosecutions to be used in any new inquiry, and that is good. It allows unlawfully obtained material that discloses an offence to be given to Mr Justice Stewart and used in his inquiries. I wonder-perhaps I can have this explained to me-whether the Government still has this matter straight because in the Bill which we have been given we are told that the definition of 'unlawfully obtained material' means:

. . . a document or information arising out of or relating to the unlawful interception--

of telecommunications-

(whether before or after the commencement of this section).

I read that to mean that the unlawful interception may take place after this section comes into operation. From what the Attorney-General put earlier, I understood him to say: 'There are some limits on this. Nothing that happens after today will have any effect at all'. In the Committee stage he might explain this. But this proposal, with that qualification, is a good one. It allows Mr Justice Stewart to give to the Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the National Crime Authority and the police documents or information disclosing an offence, and likewise that is a useful power. So we will support the Bill. We will have more to say in the Committee stage on particular provisions of the Bill.

Let me say in addition that we will want an assurance that Mr Justice Stewart is in fact able to do this work. I hasten to say that I have the highest admiration for Mr Justice Stewart and many of his achievements, but the facts are that he still has the remnants of the Mr Asia drug inquiry, he still has the Nugan Hand Bank inquiry and he is head of the National Crime Authority, which the Government keeps telling us is applying itself day and night with great industry to investigating organised crime. We make no criticism of the judge at all, but we want an assurance from the Government, and an assurance based on reasonable grounds, that Mr Justice Stewart can do the job. We will be moving an amendment to the effect that this should be carried out. We will be moving in effect that he should be provided with personnel and material resources, including the services of senior counsel and other assistants, resources that are sufficient for the inquiry to be completed with thoroughness, effectiveness and expedition. We will be moving further that the House calls upon the Government to be satisfied that Mr Justice Stewart's other important inquiries into the Nugan Hand Bank and the Mr Asia affair and his work as the Chairman of the National Crime Authority are able to proceed without hindrance or disruption in addition to the further inquiries which are the subject of the Bill before the House.

These reforms are desirable but it does no credit to the Government that the reforms contained in this Bill and the package of which they are a part come so reluctantly and so grudgingly from the Government and only after the Attorney-General, in trying to maintain his untenable defence, has been caught out, and so frequently, and only after the Government, of which he is a part, has been caught out so frequently.

In the few minutes remaining and without delaying the House any further I mention some other matters of organised crime because this Bill is part of a package and part of the response of the Government. We should be looking at the other matters that have been put as far as this issue is concerned. The first point that should be made is that the Attorney-General has been guilty of a foolish and childish attempt to pass the buck on some of these matters. The Attorney-General maintains, as I apprehend, that it was the Opposition that did nothing when it was in government as far as the matters that this Bill covers are concerned. But the Opposition is proud of the record of the actions that it undertook and the results it achieved when it was in government by starting the fight against organised crime. People should not forget this basic fact: When it became apparent, through royal commission reports and other sources of investigation, that there was a serious problem so far as organised crime was concerned, our Government acted promptly and effectively. The Opposition would like to remind this Government of the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union. Who established the Costigan Royal Commission?

Mr Price —Bash the unions. What about Askin?

Mr N. A. BROWN —Yes, yes, but why does the honourable member not listen for a change. I will tell him something else about the Costigan Royal Commission report. It was this Government that set it up. I am very interested to know what the Government's response is to its recommendations. Those honourable members opposite who are backbenchers should join with me in saying that it is an absolute disgrace that although the Costigan Royal Commission report was given to the Government during the election campaign, four months ago, it has not been tabled in this House. Government backbenchers should be joining us in asking: 'Where are the recommendations?' What is the response of the Government to these recommendations?' The Government keeps saying, as one hears in gossip in the corridors, that it is working on a statement of response to the Costigan recommendations. Where is it? Why should Government backbenchers have to wait for four months to hear what the Government's response is to the recommendations that Costigan made. We could ask: 'When are we going to hear the Government's response to these matters?' It is all very well for the present Government to point the finger at us and say that we were embarrassed by some of the Costigan recommendations. Frankly I could not care less whether we were embarrassed. We want to see some reponse from the Government. Does it accept his recommendations or not? When will the Government get off its backside and tell the Parliament and the people what its response is to the Costigan Royal Commission recommendations?

Secondly, let it not be overlooked that the former Government established the Stewart Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking. The Government is trading on Mr Justice Stewart's good name and achievements in the very action it is taking today. Do not forget who initiated that inquiry. It was initiated in the time of the previous Government. I remind honourable members, thirdly, that it was the previous Government that introduced the Special Prosecutors Bill 1982 and appointed Mr Gyles and Mr Redlich, who have been just as responsible as Mr Justice Stewart in the achievements made so far in this country in the fight against organised crime. So do not point a finger at us and say that we were lax in taking steps to combat organised crime. We did far more in our term of government than the present Government has done, and we did it far more honestly.

Let me elaborate a little on that point of honesty. One of the things the Attorney-General says is: 'Look at the powers we are giving the Director of Public Prosecutions. We are giving him power to take civil proceedings'. If we look at the record during the election period we will find that the Opposition put that as part of its policy to the people. When I introduced a private member's Bill to give the Director of Public Prosecutions power to conduct civil proceedings and recover moneys due to the Commonwealth and to the people, the Government within hours announced it was going to do the same thing. It would not have moved an inch if the Opposition had not threatened it with taking parliamentary action. The Government's record is slack, and it continues to be slack. The slackest performance of all is the disgraceful charade we have seen over this whole matter in the last two weeks. The Government's record is weak and dishonest.

Let me point to the dishonesty. The Attorney-General is parading a Press release and saying: 'Look what we have done with our task force on extradition treaties. Aren't we good? We have actually got an extradition treaty with Finland'. What a remarkable achievement. We have an extradition treaty with Finland. I know the Attorney-General is reluctant to read anything-he will not read the transcript of the Age tapes and he will not read any of the raw material; if he did he would not be making the stupid statement of the sort he is making today-but if he reads the Stewart Royal Commission report he will see that Mr Justice Stewart told the Government two years ago that an extradition treaty was being negotiated with Finland. It is there in black and white. To come out and say, as the Attorney-General said two days ago, that the task force, which had been established in February of this year, had produced its first remarkable achievement, an extradition treaty with Finland, is an absolute distortion of the truth because the Government was told by Mr Justice Stewart, at the beginning of 1983, that this extradition treaty was being negotiated. The Government has the gall to adopt this dishonest-and I use the word advisedly-position that the extradition treaty with Finland was the result of its great task force on extradition treaties. What an absolute distortion of the facts. If the Government is parading its record on organised crime it should look at its performance with Mr Trimbole. I do not know whether any of the people to whom we are giving taxation assistance to make films are making a film about that, but they should, and they should call it the Keystone Cops. The Government's handling of that matter, from beginning to end, was an absolute shambles.

Mr Lionel Bowen —What happened under your Government?

Mr N. A. BROWN —I suppose the Attorney General is entitled to interject because his position is pretty hopeless. He says now: 'Your record on extradition treaties with Ireland was pretty hopeless'. I would have to concede that the Whitlam Government's performance was appalling. The Attorney-General can tell Mr Whitlam that when he sees him next, if Mr Whitlam is still talking to him. No government in Australia has taken a proper and responsible attitude to extradition treaties. It is a fair defence for both the Whitlam and Fraser governments that neither government took adequate action on extradition treaties until the problems of organised crime became so apparent and until organised criminals started to use their current method of bribery to obtain passports and forgery of passports.

What has the Government done since it was told by the Stewart Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking that it should be monitoring its extradition treaties, keeping them in working order and making sure that they were effective? The Government has done absolutely nothing about that. The Government says that it has established the National Crime Authority-this powerful body which will get to the bottom of organised crime. We will keep the pressure on the Government and we will be asking how many prosecutions have been brought as a result of the activities of this Authority. We will be expecting some answers. We say that the Authority does not have enough powers. The Government is deficient in exercising its responsibility in not giving the Authority the powers that it needs. We will continue to ask about the results of the National Crime Authority's work and we will expect some answers.

In addition to those matters we say to the Government that it should not think that simply by putting the word 'indemnities' into the concocted speech of today it will bring the indemnities issue to an end. I think that the indemnities, as the Government has them set out in the statement, are probably not as adequate as they should be. I do not know what sort of indemnity the Government proposes. I do not know whether the Government proposes the functional indemnity, as it is called, or the more all-embracing indemnity. But it will have to set to work because it has plenty of work ahead of it in working out exactly what sorts of indemnities should be granted. It is not apparent from what the Attorney-General has put to the House today exactly what sorts of indemnities will be granted. He has an obligation to make that apparent. We say in addition to that that there should be a full statement on the terms of reference of the Royal Commission so that everyone knows exactly where they stand and what the Government is proposing about those precise terms.

I simply say to the Attorney-General that there should be a detailed statement of what the powers of the Royal Commission and its terms of reference will be. We will want a full statement to satisfy us that Mr Justice Stewart has the time and the resources to carry out his activities. Finally, we will be following what happens in this matter. It is no credit to the Government that at this late stage it should be taking these measures. It is no credit to the Government that it should be taking those measures only as the result of prodding and pushing. Its case has been utterly defenceless right from the beginning. Now, at least, it has been forced, grudgingly and reluctantly at the last gasp, into taking some action. I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

'Whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House calls upon the Government:

(1) to ensure that Mr Justice Stewart is provided with personnel and material resources, including the services of senior counsel and other assistants sufficient for this inquiry to be completed with thoroughness, effectiveness and expedition, and

(2) to be satisfied that Mr Justice Stewart's other important inquiries into the Nugan Hand Bank and the ''Mr Asia'' Affair and his work as the Chairman of the National Crime Authority are able to proceed without hindrance or disruption in addition to the further inquiries which are the subject of this Bill'.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cowan) —Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Moore —I second the amendment.