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Tuesday, 28 February 1984
Page: 67


Senator KILGARIFF(10.05) —There was a very busy Question Time in the Senate today. I was one of the many honourable senators who was unable to ask questions. I take the opportunity now to read my question, which was to have been directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Senator Gietzelt, representing the Minister for Aviation (Mr Beazley). My question would have referred the Minister to an article published in the Northern Territory News on 8 February 1984 which quoted a spokesperson for the Aviation Minister as saying that several hundred thousand dollars would be spent on the interim upgrading at Darwin Airport. I would have asked whether the report was correct and, if so, exactly how much would have been reallocated to the interim upgrading; what areas of the airport would be upgraded; what nature of work would be carried out; and finally, when would it be anticipated that the upgrading work would begin. I wish to ask that question because in an article in the Northern Territory News on 8 February 1984 Mr Beazley is reported to have said, in a statement in regard to the interim upgrading plan for Darwin Airport:

Several hundred thousand dollars interim upgrading will be undertaken at the Darwin Airport.

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Minister, Mr Kim Beazley, said plans were under consideration but it was not yet known which areas would be worked on.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works has looked at the proposal for a new international terminal building at Darwin at a cost of some $98m. We now await the recommendations of that Committee in its report to Parliament. But a very serious problem exists in Darwin. The fact is that if the international airport is to be constructed, it will not be completed before about five years. At the moment the facilities for processing overseas visitors is, without exaggeration, so appalling that I would say they are inferior to most Third World countries. Overseas visitors are severely jeopardised in Darwin and will continue to be so until the terminal is completed. Despite the efforts of Customs on the ground at Darwin to humanise the processing of inbound travellers , they are still herded through health and Customs checks under most deplorable conditions. In fact, the Customs area in which these people are herded measures only 16 metres square. Yet up to 200 men, women and children are held in that area for anything up to 45 minutes. This occurs in the early hours of the morning, at 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the morning. The building is not airconditioned. It is an old war-time hangar which was damaged during the war. Money has been spent on it occasionally to upgrade it to a minimal airport facility.

The travellers are held in this area for up to 45 minutes while their luggage is being unloaded from the aircraft and brought to an area next to the travellers' holding room. The roller doors are then lifted and there is bedlam as people fight their way to their luggage. In some cases it can take up to two hours before the traveller has been through Customs, collected his luggage and fought his way out to the fresh air. It is a most deplorable situation. The purpose of the question which I wanted to ask today was to highlight the situation and endeavour to have the Minister for Aviation proceed with the upgrading plan so that a minimum amount of money could be spent at least to bring the facilities at Darwin Airport to such a condition that people could pass through and be serviced in some reasonable manner until the new airport is constructed.

I turn briefly to another matter. Today I was very concerned to hear a question and answer in the Senate. The question came from Senator Macklin, of the Australian Democrats, and was addressed to the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans), regarding the Northern Territory Criminal Code. I believe that the situation is getting out of hand. I think a confrontation is developing when there should be no confrontation. I refer briefly to the situation which occurred last December. In answer to a question Senator Gareth Evans read out a letter on 19 November addressed to the Honourable Paul Everingham. The letter was from the Prime Minister, Mr Bob Hawke, who outlined the problems that the Federal Government foresaw in the Criminal Code. This letter was incorporated in Hansard.

On 15 December Mr Paul Everingham was at Parliament House and delivered to the Prime Minister a letter in very moderate language answering the criticisms, as the Prime Minister saw them, regarding the Northern Territory Criminal Code. In that letter Mr Everingham clearly indicated that the matter was open for further discussion. When I incorporated that letter in the Senate Hansard of 15 December I read the part which stated:

At the outset let me say that I hope my letter will not be the end to discussions between our Governments if you consider there are areas of concern.

At the end of the letter Mr Everingham stated:

As stated at the outset, I would not like this to be an end to our discussions on this matter if your concerns remain . . . In the meantime, a very careful watch will be kept and if anomalies are discovered proper use will be made of the executive discretion to remove any possibility of injustice arising from them.

Also at this time the Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, indicated his disquiet regarding the matter. I asked questions of him in Question Time. I think it was just a little later at the end of Question Time that the Attorney- General said that he would make no more public comment on the matter as he would be receiving respresentations from a Mr Des Sturgess, a solicitor who was the architect of the Northern Territory Criminal Code. He had agreed that he would see Mr Sturgess to discuss overcoming the possible problems that Senator Gareth Evans saw. We have now reached a rather silly situation. Today in answer to a question Senator Evans said:

These matters have now been the subject of a further letter from the Prime Minister to the Northern Territory Chief Minister. I am not sure whether it is accurate to say the Prime Minister has been rebuffed once again because I think the letter has been sent only in the last 24 hours or so.

That is quite correct. The Chief Minister of the Northern Territory has waited more than 2 1/2 months now for some response from the Federal Government which has now been sent, probably today or yesterday, couched, I suggest, in terms, it would appear to bring about further confrontation. As I said before it is a most serious matter. Today I received a copy of a telex to the Prime Minister from the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Paul Everingham. He said:

. . . Despite the fact that the code has now been operational since January 1 this year, and despite the fact that I have had not further response to my letter to you of December last.

That was when he was seeking some response from the Federal Government in an endeavour to have an exchange of views and to overcome the problem. Mr Everingham continued:

I myself, my Attorney-General, our law officers and Mr Sturgess can make ourselves available to meet you and your Attorney-General at any time of your convenience. I am most anxious to head off any confrontation in this matter and I don't believe anything can be gained by your acting precipitately. The Criminal Code has been passed into law by a democratically elected government after an exhaustive process of consultation. It was raised as an issue in the recent Northern Territory election by yourself and the Territory Opposition. The results speak for themselves.

I hope that before the Federal Government takes any action in Parliament the matter will be discussed government to government. I think it would be most unfortunate if we saw intervention by the Federal Government in the affairs of the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory has now been granted responsible self-government by enactment of the Federal Government. I suggest that even though the Federal Government has the ability to intervene in the affairs of the Northern Territory in the present circumstances it would be most improper. Once again I ask the Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, before he flies off on another tangent, whether he would please receive representations from the Northern Territory Government and Mr Des Sturgess, the architect of this Criminal Code, so he can understand what the situation is all about. I suggest that there is good reason for the code. I recall of course that the crime rate in the Northern Territory for serious crime, whether it be rape, murder, bashings and so on, is 400 to 500 per cent higher than the national average. It was implied in the question asked today by Senator Macklin that this was a disadvantage to the Aboriginal people. Does he not realise that it is mainly the Aboriginal people who are the victims? Therefore, how can they be disadvantaged? This code will protect the Aboriginal people. There is far too much violence in the Northern Territory. As I said before it is the Aboriginal people themselves who are the victims. Murder and rape are increasing. I would expect this code to alleviate the situation. I say no more for the moment except that I believe the situation is now quite serious. There are increasing reports in the media as to the proposed action of the Federal Government. It has been said that Cabinet will discuss the matter next week. I hope that if the report is accurate Cabinet will take a reasoned, sensible attitude to the whole situation and at least accept the request by the Chief Minister, Paul Everingham, that he with his officers of law be received here in Canberra so the matter can be thrashed out properly. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the telex I referred to earlier .

Leave granted.

The telex read as follows-

SENOPP AA62659

BCA AA36733

84-02-28 1545 MT *

SENOPP AA62659

STBY BCAST 85356 CLG

FOR THE ATTENTION OF:

Senator Don Chipp

Senator Peter Durack

Senator Brian Harradine

Senator Bernie Kilgariff

Mr Andrew Peacock, M.P.

Mr Ian Sinclair

Set out below is telex sent to the Prime Minister a.m. today re. the Northern Territory Criminal Code for your information.

To: The Hon. R. J. L. Hawke, A.C., M.P., Prime Minister

From: The Hon. P. A. E. Everingham, M.L.A., Chief Minister of the Northern Territory

CC: Attorney-General Senator G. Evans

Dear Prime Minister,

I continue to hear media reports that your government in some way intends to interfere with the due administration of the Northern Territory Criminal Code. This is despite the fact that the code has now been operational since January 1 this year, and despite the fact that I have had no further response to my letter to you of December last.

It is difficult for me to conceive that you or your government would contemplate the grave breach of constitutional convention to which your interference with the Criminal Code would amount.

You of all people should be aware of the attitude of many Australians and of your Party to the last intervention by a Governor-General into matters politic and decreed by convention.

As I say the Criminal Code has now been in operation two months. This is far too soon to determine its effectiveness but obviously after twelve months or so of its operation the Northern Territory government is going to have to review whether it is operating fairly and effectively. This has always been our intention and has been stated in the past.

It is a matter of some regret to me that your Attorney-General, Senator Evans, did not himself take the opportunity of a briefing from Mr Des Sturgess, our principal adviser and draftsman of the code, but delegated one of his officers for this task. Even at this late stage I would still be happy to meet with Senator Evans and his officers to discuss any lingering concerns he may have. I do reiterate however the following points:

Unsworn statements by the accused from the dock have been abolished in Western Australia, and Queensland, New Zealand and many other British jurisdictions.

A sub committee of the Law Council of Australia has endorsed the terrorism provisions contained in the code.

Provisions relating to intoxication are designed to take account of the shortcomings in O'Connor's case, shortcomings foreseen by the High Court and for which the court suggested legislative amendment. Our law should be compared with that applicable in the code States of Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania .

I myself, my Attorney-General, our law officers and Mr Sturgess can make ourselves available to meet you and your Attorney-General at any time of your convenience.

I am most anxious to head off any confrontation in this matter and I don't believe anything can be gained by your acting precipitately. The Criminal Code has been passed into law by a democratically elected government after an exhaustive process of consultation. It was raised as an issue in the recent Northern Territory election by yourself and the Territory Opposition. The results speak for themselves.

As I indicated earlier, the Northern Territory will be reviewing the operations of the code after twelve months or earlier if it should prove necessary. We have not rejected or refused consultation in this matter. Indeed I am seeking discussions. I await what I hope will be a constructive response from you.

Your Sincerely,

Paul Everingham