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Wednesday, 29 February 1984
Page: 165

Senator BOLKUS(5.03) —It may be a surprise to those who are listening to this debate that the matter of public importance which is under discussion is:

The handling by the Attorney-General of the Age tapes and their contents.

It may also be a surprise to them that this matter of public importance has been proposed by the Opposition. At the outset I welcome members of the Opposition to the crusade against organised crime, bribery and corruption. I especially welcome the shadow Attorney-General, Senator Durack. They are obviously very recent converts to this cause. Having presided over an explosion in this area for the last eight years, they now conveniently forget their role and their irresponsibility in the past and parade themselves as puritanical crime busters. This is utter hypocricy. What a shallow, inadequate position. They have accused the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) of lethargy, incompetence, providing an inadequate response and a lack of interest in respect of the Age tapes. But what about their record? How does that stand in the light of public scrutiny? I speak in this debate as someone who over the last 10 years or so has been concerned with organised crime, the effect that it has had on individual Australians, whether they have been young or old, and what it has done to the fabric of government in this country. I have studied and pursued this area at both a State and a Federal level for some time. As I have said, its manifestations have become very clear to me.

Organised crime does not merely cover the drug-taking offences that we often hear about and see on television. It does not cover only SP bookmaking. It does not cover only those sexy offences, as the media would like to see them. It does not just cover allegations of graft and corruption. It is in fact implacably wedded to white collar crime in this country. It is wedded to tax evasion and to the inability of society to enforce bad laws, laws over which the Opposition in this place has presided for a long time. One lesson that we have learnt out of the inquiries and reports of the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union is that criminal law and white collar crime are wedded inextricably because of their relationship with, amongst other things, the corporate veil. But the Opposition has not been and is not prepared to tackle this part of the problem. Let us look at its record, not as a benchmark on which to assess the performance of the current Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, but as a comparison with the way in which Senator Evans has approached this task. One does not have to look all that far back to find evidence of what the current Opposition has been on about. I refer honourable senators to today's issue of the Bulletin, dated 6 March. An article on page 24 quotes one of the former leaders of the New South Wales Liberal Party, Mr John Dowd. What does he say about his colleagues and their approach to organised crime in that State? The article states:

Dowd recalls: 'When I started on the Nugan Hand business I had three of my colleagues trying to deter me from going into it. One of them tried to stop me directly for improper reasons. Another went to Frank Walker (the then Attorney- General) to try to stop him going ahead with it and another spoke to the Nugans and tried to persuade me not to proceed. But I believe he was acting quite sincerely'.

Dowd remembers another occasion: 'I've had one of my former colleagues approach me and say a Mr X, who I knew to be associated with some unusual dealings, had offered such-and-such an amount to drop off this issue. But he did it in a joking sort of way and I, in a joking sort of way, passed it off but made it clear, without a formal proposition being made, that I wasn't interested. The name he mentioned was associated with some unusual activities'.

A former leader of the Liberal Party was saying that his own colleagues were putting pressure on him, on the first law officer of that State and on all sorts of people in high office not to pursue matters. Members of the same Party are today being critical of the Attorney-General, who in comparison has acted very expeditiously.

Let us look at the main person who is making these allegations today. Let us look at the shadow Attorney-General, a former Attorney-General in the Fraser Government. He is a person who for seven to eight years presided over an explosion in tax avoidance and white collar crime in this country. In 1975 in Perth first indications were made of prosecution for tax avoidance. The Commissioner of Taxation then said: 'This activity is occurring on a large scale daily'. Three years later, in 1978, the Taxation Commissioner kept on saying that the activity was occurring, that nothing had been done in the meantime, that the public purse had been defrauded to the extent of $4 billion to $5 billion a year. As we now know through Costigan, this tax avoidance racket was inextricably wedded to organised crime. In 1978 the Taxation Commissioner recommended that a new criminal offence be created to catch those involved in current year profit strips. Two and a half years after that-seven and a half years after the matter was first raised, after massive cost to public revenue and to the fabric of our society, the then Government decided to introduce legislation. But that was not the end of the story. It took it at least two years-it was basically smoked out by the Costigan report-to actually enforce that legislation. It knew for seven years of a billion dollar industry, it knew for seven years of that industry's involvement with organised crime in this country, and it did nothing. Members of that former Government are the people who are laying these sorts of charges in the Senate today.

What are the charges? They are that the Attorney-General has acted slowly, inadequately and incompetently. Let us look at the action of the Attorney- General. He found out about the tapes. They were handed to him on the evening of 1 February. He met representatives of the Melbourne Age that night. On 2 February he met with the Special Minister of State. On 3 February he wrote to the Special Minister of State formally arranging a police investigation. Do members of the Opposition suggest that he should have done more at that stage without authenticated evidence? Do members of the Opposition suggest that, at that stage, he should have embarked upon a full scale royal commission? Of course they do not! Their activities today indicate that they do not have full confidence in the procedure they set out to grab this morning. Let us also remember that once that police investigation was set in train the Opposition came into this chamber critical of the Attorney-General for not having an all encompassing inquiry. Members of the Opposition criticised him for not doing what in fact he did. The inquiry was not only in respect of the authenticity of the tapes; it was wider than that. Members of the Opposition did not accept that at the time. They were prepared to go about in their electorates and mislead the Australian public.

The police investigation was arranged on 3 February. On 13 February a preliminary report was received from the Commissioner of Police detailing three areas of investigation and suggesting procedural avenues for the Government to follow. It did not take all that long; in fact on the same day the Attorney- General proceeded with the matter to Special Prosecutor Temby for an opinion. As we have heard today his response was extremely quick. The Attorney-General, having received the response on 15 February, set up a joint investigating team on 17 February consisting of the Australian Federal Police and New South Wales police officers under the authority of Special Prosecutor Temby. But he did not leave it at that. Matters were referred to the Stewart Royal Commission. Other matters were referred to Special Prosecutor Redlich.

What does the Opposition expect the Government to do in this instance when it still has inadequate information and evidence to go before a court of law? Does the Opposition expect the Government to go into an almighty witch hunt again? I submit to the Senate and to the people of Australia that the course of action taken by the Attorney-General at the time was indeed the proper one. He could not proceed without evidence which can stand up in court. He did not proceed without that evidence. He has been criticised for his response to the position of the judge involved in these tapes. Let us have an honest look at the opinion of Mr Ian Temby in respect of the judge involved. Let us not look at this situation in the way that has been suggested by Senator Sir John Carrick and Senator Missen. Senator Sir John Carrick's speech was highlighted by the selectivity of his quotation from Temby's report. Senator Missen's speech was highlighted by the disgraceful manner in which he treated Special Prosecutor Temby. Let us look at the different ranges of impropriety at which Temby looked in respect of the judge. In a number of instances in his report he declared that no offence occurred. I quote briefly from page 7 of the report. Mr Temby says:

Except in relation to the aspect to be dealt with in conclusion, I can find nothing in the material which provides any strong indication that any breach of federal law has been committed by any person.

He was canvassing the position of the judge. Let us look at the question of injudicious behaviour which Mr Temby deals with on page 6 of his report. He says :

Has [the Judge] acted injudiciously? On the material I have seen his conduct cannot be so categorised . . .

Let us remember that, in all these instances, Mr Temby prefaces his opinion by saying that he is accepting for the moment that the tapes are authentic. But he makes it very clear early in his report that he cannot give an opinion in that case. He says:

Whether the documents or the tapes, or both, are genuine, in whole or in part, is not known to me or to those who instruct me.

He makes that very clear. What have we here today? What has been requested by the Opposition? Members of the Opposition want a broad witch hunt on the basis of inadequate provable evidence. The Attorney-General should also be applauded for the way in which, having sought clearance from Special Prosecutor Temby and the Australian Federal Police, he spoke to the judge in question and got his side of the story. That is important, as has been evidenced in one instance already in this brief saga.

Honourable senators will remember that the Age, in its printing of the tape transcripts, made one very basic mistake; a mistake which was highly embarrassing to the people involved; a mistake which is inexcusable. Therefore, it is extremely important, when one looks at tapes such as these-even if one accepts that they are authentic-that they be checked out. Are they reliable? Have they been tampered with? What were the relevant times when they were made? Do the tapes require a certain amount of validation? Should they be looked at in their context? All these sorts of questions are important. It is pleasing to me to see that the Attorney-General has pursued these matters with the judge.

What then does the Opposition want? In this instance I submit that it wants a broad witch hunt. Essentially, if the tapes were collected by police officers, that raises the question of the way in which law enforcement agencies are operating. Is it their duty to go out collecting information generally, or is it the duty of law enforcement agencies to target offences and individuals and pursue the enforcement of laws? I submit that it is the latter. If they performed the latter function more effectively maybe a certain degree of organised crime could be cleared up. I can see one major problem arising from the tapes. If the tapes are authentic there seems to be an allowance by the enforcement agencies of a continuation of the organisations. If the tapes are authentic would it not have been better for the agencies to have stepped in and made an arrest rather than to allow the organisations to continue and to blossom ?

In summary, I put it to the Senate that there is an obligation in this instance not only on the Government to act properly but also on the Opposition and the media. If there were tapes at an early date they should have been produced for law enforcement at an early date. If Mr Bottom and some of his friends have tapes that have not been produced it is their clear obligation to produce those tapes for investigation. If any member holding public office is in possession of tapes which have not yet been produced it is not only their legal obligation to do so but also it is their obligation to do so as holders of public office.

The attack on the Attorney-General this afternoon has been a very shallow and ineffective one. It has not stood up in the course of the debate. Accordingly I move:

That the order of business be proceeded with.

Question resolved in the affirmative.