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Monday, 1 June 1987
Page: 3743

Mr RUDDOCK(10.06) —The Opposition has moved an amendment that suggests that this legislation has been considerably delayed. The honourable member for Dobell (Mr Lee) who spoke before me was inclined to defend the Government against criticism that important matters relating to the investigation of organised crime in this country had been jeopardised by the delay that has occurred. I was somewhat surprised at the sensitive way in which he responded. I would have thought that, in the spirit of the discussion that took place in the Joint Select Committee on Telecommunications Interception and the way in which this debate has been taken, the honourable member would have participated in the debate in the same spirit in which the Opposition has contributed. I very much regretted those comments that reflected on those who have departed this world. If one were to look at the record of more recent times in New South Wales one would be more concerned about what has happened, or not happened, in the field of organised crime than about the points the honourable member wanted to draw out of the book to which he referred.

There was a joint select committee examination of a Bill that had been introduced into the Parliament. After taking a great deal of evidence, and notwithstanding the expeditious way in which the Committee carried out its inquiry, there were not many matters of significant difference between the members of the Government and the Opposition who participated. One might have expected that there would have been a good deal more division among members of the Government, between its right and left wings, on this legislation than appeared in the ultimate report. The main reason for the delay was the inability of the Government to reconcile its differences without the committee examination. More significant was the time the Joint Select Committee had in which to undertake this examination to help out the Government with the problems that existed between the members of the Right and the Left.

On a number of issues Government members, in order to try to get some degree of unanimity among themselves, moved further away from the view that was proposed by the Government in its original legislation. It is an interesting exercise to go through the dissenting report of Senator Archer, the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGauran) and me. The Government has picked up many more of the dissentient views than one might have expected. I was pleasantly surprised when I went through the Bill and the statement that was tabled by the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) in relation to this set of recommendations and the comments made by those who had dissented. The first matter was addressed by the Chairman of the Committee, the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Martin). He argued, and still argues, for the view that Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill 1986 should be withdrawn and that there be substituted a new Bill to consolidate and restructure the principal Act. He was putting the view again tonight that this is something that could be dealt with quickly and expeditiously tonight and that there should not be further delay occasioned by that. I must say that the view I came to was that it would not be reasonably possible to withdraw legislation of this sort and to consolidate it without occasioning a further delay. Interestingly enough, when we read the comments of the Attorney-General we find this statement--

Mr Martin —He's a lawyer, too.

Mr RUDDOCK —I do not know whether the comment from my colleague was a reflection on the Attorney, but I certainly would not want to reflect on him. I regard him as a man of very considerable ability; at times he is misguided in some of the judgments he comes to and that is ably pointed out from this side of the House. In relation to the point that the Bill be withdrawn and substituted with another Bill he makes this point:

Not Accepted. A re-structuring of the Act would delay introduction of necessary legislation. A review of the new provisions will be conducted in 2 years' time.

That gives some idea of the amount of time that might have been involved in undertaking a major exercise of that type rather than looking at specific recommendations of the Joint Select Committee.

The second matter I want to deal with relates to the form of the Telecommunications Interception Agency that has been proposed by the Government. In this respect it appears that the Government has accepted, except perhaps for the qualifications mentioned by the honourable member for Gippsland, the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee, that State police, except where they make a request of the National Crime Authority or the New South Wales Drug Crime Commission, should not have direct access to telephone tapping facilities. The view was formed by the Government members that there ought to be a central agency that would engage in this tapping task when appropriate warrants were obtained and that if it received information that might be relevant, it should pass it on to those other authorities that were seeking it without directly intervening. It seems to me that the view that Government members came to was not based upon the evidence that we received but more on pique. I think that came out in the comments made by the honourable member for Macarthur and the honourable member for Dobell because each structured his argument on the fact that certain State governments had not responded to the Committee's invitation to seek evidence. It was based upon that view that they were not prepared to accept the validity of the arguments as to whether there should be a central body. I have looked again at this table to refresh my memory and I must say that one should not be influenced by the fact that some of the smaller States were not anxious to engage in telephone interception. I was not surprised that Tasmania might not put in a submission in relation to this matter because I very much doubt that there would be a demand in Tasmania for this facility. But the fact of the matter is that we have the view of the police forces in the two populous States, unambiguously expressed in table 3.1 of the Committee-- Mr Lee-Wrong.

Mr RUDDOCK —The honourable member says that I am wrong. I challenge the honourable member to look at the table again. The two populous States, New South Wales and Victoria, in their police force submissions to the Committee say, `Yes, yes'. When asked whether they supported extension to the States they said, `yes, yes'; and in respect of extension to serious offences they said, `yes, yes'. That is the view of the police in the two populous States of New South Wales and Victoria.

Debate interrupted.