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Friday, 2 March 1984
Page: 313


Senator WITHERS(11.38) —As one who was involved with this matter many years ago, I hope that former Senator Lionel Murphy does not read the remarks of the present Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button), because it was the then Senator Murphy, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, who joined with a number of Liberal senators, among them Senator Peter Rae and myself, in the 1960s, who started to force on the then Liberal- Country Party Government a more civilised attitude to the right of entry and search.


Senator Button —It did not work, though. You did not take any notice of it.


Senator WITHERS —I thought that we had basically come to that view. The fact that we have been passing legislation since then just highlights the need for the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills because everyone does not pick up everything. That was one of the things that so many of us had in mind when we supported the setting up of a Scrutiny of Bills Committee, because these things do get through.

It has always been the excuse of the bureaucrat that he wants life made easy for him. If every bureaucrat, every public servant, every officer is so marvellous, as Senator Button would have us believe, and never abuses his authority and always exercises his discretion so magnificently, what about our getting rid of the Ombudsman and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal? They are but parts of the checks and balances which it has been necessary to set up in recent years, due to what is perceived as bureaucratic arrogance, bureaucratic sloth and bureaucratic misconception of the exercise of discretions. Why do we have ombudsmen? Why do we have an Administrative Appeals Tribunal? It is because people were dissatisfied with the working of the administrative practice of government. What Senator Peter Rae is proposing this morning is but another check on the exercise of bureaucratic discretion. Of course, the Department will always say to a Minister: 'If you should accept this, the whole of the administration will break down'. Senator Peter Rae may well remember that back in, I think, about 1968 a Bill was before this Parliament concerning the mapping and surveying of Australia.


Senator Peter Rae —I have referred to that Bill.


Senator WITHERS —The honourable senator has referred to it. We were told that if this provision went in, the whole of that would stop. Of course, that Bill was never passed, but the mapping and surveying of Australia has proceeded ever since. However, that has always been the bureaucrat's argument.


Senator Peter Rae —But in those cases the Australian Labor Party was concerned about these issues.


Senator WITHERS —Yes, and at least it was going to vote with us. But it was in Opposition. I must admit-I say this quite frankly-that once in government one becomes more concerned about administrative convenience than about the rights of electors. That is a normal government attitude. I have been in opposition, in government and in opposition again, and I have seen the change in myself. I admit it freely. I used to have people from my Department pleading with me that if we did not do this or get this power or get this Bill-most of it was absolute humbug and nonsense, of course--


Senator Button —Senator, could you address yourself to the issue of how you find hidden dumping without such a provision?


Senator WITHERS —I have no objection to people going in and inspecting the books . Of course one has to do that. But Senator Button will not meet the threshold question. Why should his officers just have an absolute discretion?


Senator Button —Tell me what you would say to the judge.


Senator WITHERS —One would not be asking the officers to do much. All that one would be asking would be that the officers go before a justice of the peace or a magistrate, the normal people who issue warrants, and say: 'We have cause to believe that we should inspect these books'. The justice of the peace or the magistrate should satisfy himself that they have a reasonable excuse for doing so. He does not have to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt, or anything like that. He is not put to that standard of proof. But why are the departmental officers so reluctant to apply for a warrant? It is mainly because they do not want to be inconvenienced, and maybe, also, they do not want to be able to be examined as to why they want this power. I suppose that in 1984 this is a very good subject for us to argue about. We are supposed to be in the Orwellian year.


Senator Peter Rae —We now have to listen to Buttonspeak.


Senator WITHERS —Buttonspeak, is it? I can well understand why the Minister has no doubt been given all that material by his Department. Every attack on the individual's liberty in the last 10,000 years during which man has been on earth has all been in the name of administrative convenience.


Senator Button —You are making the Western Australian tax avoiders' speech all over again.


Senator WITHERS —Oh, no. Most of the tax avoidance in this country occurred through bureaucratic laxity. If that laxity had not been so rife, tax avoidance would have stamped out years previously as a result of the Brinsden opinion. It was bureaucratic laxity and lack of proper supervision that let that horse out of the stable. But why should the officers be so reluctant to go before a justice of the peace? Why are they so afraid of that? I can understand Senator Evans wanting to stamp out dumping. I thought that we all did. That is why we are supporting this legislation. No one is opposed to departmental officers having the capacity to discover this thing. All we are saying is that before they knock on a person's door, at whichever time they choose and within fairly broad parameters, they should go before a justice of the peace.

Senator Button says that there have been no complaints about this. Perhaps Senator Button lives in a different world, but I would have thought there was a general community complaint about too many nosey little bureacrats being able to barge into people's houses. In my own State, for far too many years the health inspectors have had a right of entry and search. There have been some quite interesting cases of how they have abused that power at times. I know that some of the statutory marketing board inspectors abused their rights of entry and search. Senator Button should know as well as anybody else that anbody who is given too much power will eventually overuse it. I think it is shame that, after a mere 12 months as a Minister, Senator Button has now been submerged into bureacratic convenience. He used to be a man who stood up for civil liberties, the rights of the individual, et cetera. But now he does not care. All he wants is for his Department not to be fussed. Evidently, the Australian Democrats do not mind either. They say they believe in the right of small businessmen and all the rest. I know what I will do with all of the complaints who come to me in Western Australia. I will just refer them to Senator Jack Evans. I will say to the people who have been harrassed and annoyed: 'Put your complaint at his door because it is due to him that you were harassed.'


Senator Button —You won't get any, because you are never there.


Senator WITHERS —They will get complaints.


Senator Button —You won't.


Senator WITHERS —No, I am never there. Thanks very much!


Senator Jack Evans —Have you had any complaints about section 214A of your own legislation?


Senator WITHERS —I get a number of complaints about the way in which the Customs Service handles people. The problems generally are able to be solved. Of course there will be complaints. How many officers does the Minister have? Some hundreds?


Senator Button —Have you had any complaints about section 214A?


Senator WITHERS —I cannot recall under which section people have complained. I get complaints about most governments departments-about their inertia, their stupidity and their incompetence-and any senator who does not is obviously not in touch with his electorate. That is why we are so keen to do something about this legislation.


Senator Jack Evans —I was wondering whether you were going to send me complaints about 214A as well as 214B.


Senator WITHERS —The main complaints I receive in Western Australia are about Senator Jack Evans. People just wish he would lift his game. In conclusion, I hope that Senator Button will re-read the speeches made by his predecessor some time back, Senator Lionel Murphy. He may then not altogether think that we on this side are chasing some stupid sort of rainbow and that we do not know what we are talking about.