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Tuesday, 28 February 1984
Page: 38

Senator DURACK(5.20) —The Opposition is not satisfied with the statement which has just been presented to the Parliament by the Attorney- General (Senator Gareth Evans) in relation to the Age tapes. The Opposition believes that this matter, which the Government accepts is of great importance, should be the subject of full debate in this Parliament after there has been further and more adequate time to consider the statement and the opinions that are attached to it; although, of course, I acknowledge that we were given-and I thank the Attorney for having given-the usual notice in relation to them. However, it is a matter on which I propose at this stage simply to make a few general comments and seek leave to continue my remarks in an early debate, which I am hopeful can take place tomorrow.

In the statement that he has just read the Attorney has attempted to defend the Government's actions by seriously questioning the authenticity of the material, and the motives and ethics behind its publication. However, it seems that the Attorney is totally confused on the question of authenticity. Obviously the material was authentic enough for the Government to decide to appoint a special prosecutor and to set up a joint police task force. Clearly the New South Wales Government, after initially attempting to denigrate the material, also felt there was enough substance in it-or there was certainly enough pressure being brought on the Government-to ask for a proper inquiry into the whole matter. The Attorney himself emphasised that fact from the word go. He was concerned not simply with investigating the illegality of the circumstances by which the material was obtained but with investigating the contents of the material. Obviously it was authentic enough for the Attorney himself to speak to the judge . Also it appears from the opinion of the Solicitor-General of New South Wales, and indeed from Mr Temby's opinion, that they believed that there was sufficient substance in it for further investigation. Senator Evans, in his joint statement of 17 February with the Special Minister of State (Mr Young), appeared basically to accept the authenticity of the tapes. Indeed, he raised the question of authenticity only in relation to the conduct of the judge.

I must say that I was very surprised by the vehemence of the Attorney's attack on the Age newspaper. I do not believe that that attack is justified. The Attorney must be living in an unreal world if he believes that a newspaper which has a reputation for investigative journalism would be so trusting of the probity of government simply to hand over material to law enforcement authorities, some of whom were alleged to be involved in the matters raised, and trust in their determination to put things right. In the Opposition's view the Age handled this matter quite responsibly. It avoided publishing names of those involved and has passed the material only to the Federal Attorney-General. As the Age stated, after successive royal commission inquiries into matters involving the spread of organised crime in our community, it would have been acting against public interest if, after having satisfied itself as to authenticity, it had decided not to publish. That is a matter which it said it investigated. It obtained legal advice in relation to the matter before doing so .

We do not believe that it is possible-or that it would be responsible-for this Parliament simply to dismiss the question of the conduct of the judge. The Attorney's discussion on that matter needs much further consideration. All we are told is that the judge specifically denied some matters of fact or-I quote from the statement-'gave explanations which put those allegations in a rather different context than that evident at first sight'. Certainly the Opposition believes that the sort of behaviour alleged in the published material, as I said when the Age first published the material, would be viewed with great concern by the overwhelming majority of the community.

Although this perhaps needs further discussion and consideration, we do not accept at this stage the restricted view of misbehaviour as outlined in the opinion of the Solicitor-General. But certainly, if there is some constitutional problem about the meaning of misbehaviour or Parliament is restricted in what action it can take in that way, a responsible debate in the Parliament-I agree with the Attorney-General on this point-about the conduct of a judge is clearly within the responsibilities of this Parliament. To say, as the Attorney-General tried to say, that some great issues about separation of powers are involved is another attempt to divert this issue and to suppress proper public discussion of matters of such great importance.

I also believe that the Government's handling of this matter leaves a great deal to be desired. Much more needs to be said and questioned about that aspect. But I place on record the concern that I have expressed about the appointment of Mr Temby in the dual role of Special Prosecutor, heading a very special police task force, and his new and most important role as Director of Public Prosecutions. This is a new position which was recently created to strengthen the prosecuting arm of the Commonwealth. Mr Temby has been appointed to take up that position on, I think, 5 March. It will involve an enormous task and will be a challenge in itself. The problem that we are discussing today is a separate and challenging problem which certainly demands the response of at least a special prosecutor, if not a greater response in the form of a royal commission or judicial inquiry. But it certainly requires the attention of a special prosecutor who can give special and sole attention to the enormous problem that is presented by this material. Mr Deputy President, I seek leave to continue my remarks.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Is leave granted?

Senator Georges —No, leave is not granted. I wish to make a few comments.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Leave is not granted. I understand that there is an arrangement that you will be given leave to make a statement if you so wish.

Senator Georges —The matter is of grave importance and I believe it is my right to speak to the motion.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Leave is not granted--

Senator Chipp —If you give Senator Durack leave, then you can seek leave.

Senator Georges —How can I?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Georges does not need to seek leave. He is on his feet and he may get the call now.

Senator Georges —I cannot grant leave. When I have spoken I will seek leave to continue my remarks and that will leave the debate in the same position as it would have been had I granted leave.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —As a matter of fact it would not. If leave is not granted, Senator Durack is not entitled to speak again--

Senator Georges —But if I seek leave to continue my remarks the matter will be placed on the Notice Paper for debate.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Georges, I think the simplest thing would be to adjourn the debate and give you leave--

Senator Georges —It is important that I make the statement which I wish to make right now, and I seek your call.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Leave is not granted for Senator Durack to continue his remarks. The debate is now continuing. I call Senator Georges.

Senator Chipp —Mr Deputy President, I take a point of order. I am sure Senator Georges does not mean to do this, but it is a breach of an arrangement. Would not the simplest thing be for Senator Durack to be given leave to continue his remarks and for Senator Georges then to seek leave to make a statement on the matter? He will get leave as far as we are concerned.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —That is what I proposed to Senator Georges, but he did not accept that, and any single senator refusing leave does--

Senator Georges —Would you give me leave?

Senator Chaney —Yes.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The question is: That Senator Durack have leave to continue his remarks. Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Debate adjourned.