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Monday, 11 May 1987
Page: 2939

Mr GRIFFITHS(8.21) —The honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender), as usual, embraced a judicious mixture of polemics and sensible comment on the legislation currently before the House, the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill and the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters (Consequential Amendments) Bill. It is probably fair to say that his contribution is most accurately summed up by repeating his terminology, his contribution, that this legislation is good legislation and that `we'-the Opposition-welcome it. When we strip all the polemics away, the Opposition has, I think constructively, endorsed the substance and spirit of the legislation before the House.

It is inevitable, I suspect, in discussing legislation of the import of this legislation that we consider the whole trifecta-if I can use that rather unfortunate analogy, given the comments of the honourable member for North Sydney on SP bookmaking-of legislation that will be proceeding through the House this week; that is, the mutual assistance legislation and proceeds of crimes legislation currently before the House and the telecommunications interception amendment legislation. The reason I name the legislation is in response to the comments of the shadow Attorney-General, the honourable member for North Sydney, about the Government allegedly lacking a strategic plan in its fight against organised crime. If there is an argument that we lack a strategic plan-an argument which I will address in a moment and vehemently oppose-we have certainly, through this House and another place, brought to bear the tactical weapons that would be a condition precedent to any effective fight against organised crime. Not only do we have the raft of legislation I have just referred to, but ever since this Government was elected one of the main areas it has had to direct its attention to is the area of organised crime.

The Opposition rightly says that the genesis of the National Crime Authority lay in the National Crimes Commission which was a product of the Fraser Government. Certainly that is the case, but it is worth noting that that long overdue initiative was taken very much in the autumn of the Fraser Government's life. It had many years in government. The Fraser Government's record in this area is bereft of any substantive initiatives. To that extent the Opposition comes to this argument with little standing.

If one looks at this Government's contribution in the area of organised crime over a relatively short time-frame, as I have indicated, a whole range of initiatives need to be acknowledged. This Government has significantly upgraded the resources and improved the personnel of the Australian Federal Police, referred to earlier, through its managerial efforts of the AFP. That is a matter of record, not a matter of opinion. The computer capacity of the Australian Federal Police has been significantly upgraded. Once again, perhaps the genesis of the acknowledgment of the role of computers came about during the Fraser period but it was really the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union which concentrated everybody's mind on the importance of appropriate computer facilities. In regard to the independent Australian Customs Service, the honourable member for North Sydney, referred to the allegedly disparate number of ministries involved in the fight against organised crime. I do not think anyone in this House would argue with the proposition that the Australian Customs Service is now a much more effective body in the context not only of its wider duties but also of the fight against organised crime since its rather substantial reorganisation.

The establishment of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions was recommended by one of the royal commissions. I am afraid that I cannot recall which one now, however, I think it was Justice Stewart's Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Activities of the Nugan Hand Group. In any event, the establishment of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is acknowledged by most observers to be one of the most significant contributions to facilitating the processes that need to be brought to bear in this very important fight. I can recall Opposition members implying at one stage that it was going to be a rather partisan organisation until a couple of very famous Labor Party identities became the subject of its sometimes over vigorous response to some issues.

Mr McGauran —Are you criticising it?

Mr GRIFFITHS —Yes, I have done so on a number of occasions. I remind the honourable member that I have criticised the Office, particularly in the context of the theory that has emanated from it which is that people in public positions ought to bear a higher burden than ordinary members of the community. That is a relatively unique approach to fighting crime. It is not reflected, to my knowledge, anywhere else in the world. I believe that Mr Temby has brought quite an inappropriate test to bear. Nevertheless, the Office of DPP is an independent body and I suppose that it is up to that body to make such a decision. However, I think it is worth noting that, almost with total unanimity, commentators from across the whole political and legal spectrum have indicated concern, and in many cases opposition, to that type of test. So I certainly reserve the right-and indeed the duty-to criticise that organisation where I believe it is appropriate. I hope that we all reserve such a right in relation to any Australian institution. The national drug summit and the resulting campaign were another major initiative of this Government and, at the margin, an important initiative in the fight against organised crime.

I will now address the detail of the legislation. In some of the debates my colleagues and I had leading up to this legislation coming into the House a concern was expressed about how this legislation was likely to impact in circumstances where Australian citizens were facing the death penalty in many of the countries with which we would be dealing as a result of the legislation. Concern was expressed that, for example, not only in those contemporarily well known countries such as Malaysia where there is a death penalty for certain drug offences, and a range of other offences for that matter, but also in the United States, for example, where a whole range of States now have the death penalty, the legislation could act to implicate an Australian government-I am not talking about the Labor Government in this context; in a couple of decades time there might be a Liberal-National Party government--

Mr Maher —No; too early.

Mr GRIFFITHS —Too early? Perhaps there will be such a government in three decades, towards the end of the century or a decade or so after. In any event, there may be circumstances in which an Australian government, acting consistently with this legislation, was effectively involving itself in a process the result of which could be to effect the death penalty on an Australian national.

Mr McGauran —That's not our decision. That's their decision.

Mr GRIFFITHS —I think that in his interjection the honourable member for Gippsland is saying that that is a decision of another country. If honourable members of this House have a strong and fundamental opposition to the death penalty-as I do-it would be quite inconsistent with that approach to facilitate the death penalty by co-operating under this legislation. For example, a whole range of protections are built into the legislation, such as refusal of assistance in clause 8 where we specifically say that we will not co-operate where the prosecution of a person is related to an offence of a political character. I think the honourable member for Gippsland would agree that that is an appropriate and sensible approach. We could also refuse assistance if the prosecution were related to a person's race, sex, religion, nationality or, again, political opinions. I do not think there would be any doubt in this House that that is an appropriate injunction.

Clearly there is a possibility that Australian nationals could eventually be dealt a death penalty as a result of our co-operation under this legislation. I simply wish to make the point for those in this House who strongly oppose the death penalty for most types of offences that would be relevant pursuant to this legislation-I think it is important to place this on the record-that there are people who would strongly oppose co-operation where that penalty is likely to result. I do not need to remind the House of the documented cases under our own system where people have been executed for crimes that subsequently they were clearly established not to have committed. The reason I bring it to the attention of the House is that while we must accept that that danger is an ongoing risk of a judicial process that has, as its final sanction, the death penalty and that that judicial process is part of our own system, certainly as a matter of logic we would have to conclude that the dangers of a wrongful death penalty being imposed could be much greater in jurisdictions over which we have little direct control.

I believe that a number of provisions might be used by future Attorneys-General to ensure that the possibility does not arise where Australian nationals could effectively suffer the death penalty under judicial processes with which we might have concern or in circumstances where, on objective criteria, we would have the same concern. I specifically refer to clause 8 (2) (e). This is an area where we would be likely to refuse assistance. It states:

. . . the provision of the assistance would, or would be likely to, prejudice the safety of any person (whether in or outside Australia); or

I think it is probably the case that that clause is meant to relate to other circumstances, but I think it is one that an Australian Attorney-General could rely upon in the circumstances to which I have referred.

My time has nearly expired, but I will just run through the substance of the legislation in terms of how it will be translated in specific instances: Obtaining evidence, documents or other articles relevant to a criminal prosecution; provision of documents and other records; the location and identification of witnesses or suspects; the execution of requests for search and seizure; the making of arrangements for persons to give evidence or assist in investigations; the forfeiture or confiscation of property in respect of offences; the recovery of pecuniary penalties in respect of offences; the restraining of dealings in property or in the freezing of assets that may be forfeited or confiscated or that may be needed to satisfy pecuniary penalties imposed in respect of offences; and the location of property that may be forfeited or that may be needed to satisfy pecuniary penalties imposed in respect of offences and the service of documents. Some of those areas were previously the subject of co-operation between Australia and other countries, but this legislation effectively provides the basis upon which we can ensure that other countries will honour their obligations to Australia; that is, they will be enjoined with a legislative base on which to take certain steps subsequent to requests by this country and vice versa.

There are a range of other matters that I would like to have gone through. I simply conclude by repeating the theme I started with-it is perhaps inevitable that the Opposition will get up in this House, particularly on issues such as this, and seek to attack this Government's record. I believe any objective observer, particularly on consideration of what this Government has brought about compared with its predecessor, can only conclude that the Government has made a significant contribution to the fight against organised crime. It has not ended with the passage of this raft of legislation by any means, but on any comparative basis it is a significant improvement on the previous position. I think that most objective observers, when stripped of the need for polemics, will agree with the approach that we have taken. I believe that we have brought in legislation rather speedily when one takes into account the enormous complexities involved. I believe that the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) and his colleagues should be congratulated and the legislation-indeed, it is being supported by the Opposition-should be supported on a bipartisan basis.