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Tuesday, 6 March 1984
Page: 440

Senator HILL —My question is directed to the Attorney-General. I refer again to the Sala case. Was the former Minister involved in the decision to release Mr Sala and return his passport one of the twelve persons interviewed by Mr A. C. C . Menzies, who conducted the investigation for the Attorney-General? If not, why not? If not, did Mr Menzies have to rely on what the Attorney passed on to him of the former Minister's recollection of his actions at the time and other extrinsic evidence that the Minister mentioned today? Perhaps the Attorney- General in his answer would advise us of the nature of that other extrinsic evidence.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have already indicated in answer to a previous question that I was the one who discussed the matter with the former Minister to seek his recollection and conveyed the content of that recollection to Mr Menzies who, to my knowledge, did not interview directly the former Minister in question. He was concerned, rather, to investigate the substance of the relevant departmental files and to investigate particularly the departmental and police personnel recorded in the file who had recorded various notations or who in other ways had participated in the original course of events.

The essence of the matter can be very simply described. Without going into all the detail of it-this case is, after all, 10 years old and there is no conclusion whatsoever that justifies any suggestion of illegality, impropriety or anything else of that order-what happened was simply that this gentleman, Mr Sala, who had been the subject of a court prosecution for taking money illegally out of Australia and for being in possession of a small quantity of drugs, was dealt with by the courts, and fined rather than imprisoned, but was kept in gaol for a period of days thereafter, without any outstanding charge existing against him, or with any imminent prospect of any other charge being laid. He was kept there pending deportation following a deportation order that had been made, it seems, as a routine precaution by the Department of Immigration and the relevant Minister some days earlier, pending the outcome of the court case. The matter was the subject of representations to the then Minister, who took the view, quite properly, in my view, that we do not run the kind of system of justice in Australia that justifies people being kept in gaol for open-ended periods pending deportation, and that if there were no outstanding charges against the man he ought to be allowed to leave the country.

The circumstances in which he left the country, by way of being given back his passport and buying his own ticket rather than being deported, occupy a further section of Mr Menzies' report to me. Those circumstances are simply as follows: It is quite common and routine practice for persons being deported to be given the option, if the circumstances are appropriate, to not incur taxpayers' expense but to go of their own free will. In this circumstance there was a question mark that had been raised about the validity of the particular passport that the person was holding, as to whether it may not have been a forgery. That matter was brought to the attention of the Minister, who took the view that the police had over four or five weeks to investigate that matter. The police failed to do so to the extent of having anything which would justify their apparently laying a charge against the person in question. Again, we did not operate in this country a system of keeping people in gaol on spec in the hope that some sort of evidence would turn up to justify a person's being the subject of further charge and detention in Australia, and under those circumstances he ought to be given his passport and allowed to leave.

I believe that a further consideration that was relevant-and in the recollection of the former Minister was a consideration, although he could not recall how much weight he had given to it-was that the gentleman in question appeared to have Spanish origins and that he had been the subject of disciplinary and police proceedings by the then Franco regime in Spain in 1974. He had suffered imprisonment-this had all been put in evidence during his court case-for a period during which time he had had his genitals smashed by the heel of a Spanish guard as a result of which he believed himself to be sterile and regarded himself as likely to be subjected to further pains and penalties were he to be sent back to Spain, which was, of course, the only option for him as a Spanish national if he were to be deported rather than allowed his passport. Under those circumstances that seems to have been another consideration that was the subject of representations, so far as people can remember, and that seems to have been a further matter of influence, although that would not have been enough by itself had there been enough hard evidence around to justify a charge at that time.

The files are noted with the comments of senior departmental officers in the Attorney-General's Department stating that they agreed with the course of action proposed by the Attorney-General. The matter as to the passport was the subject of a reference to the Department of Foreign Affairs to ascertain what would be the attitude of the country whose possible forged passport it was were he to be given back his passport in circumstances where it subsequently proved that it was a forgery. The file was also annotated with the response of the Foreign Affairs Department that in all the circumstances the country in question would appreciate that the decision taken was reasonable.

I have gone into a little detail on this matter, perhaps more than was necessary; certainly more than was really demanded by the question. I have done so because I think it is very important in these matters to demonstrate for the umpteenth time that simply because some disgruntled citizen around the place, for whatever motive, chooses to put some half-baked version of a story on the public record, to brief journalists about it and to set them going in a great surge of excitement, to get them asking questions and to get the Toorak Times to run the detail of the story-that publication is utterly without any pretension to morality in these matters-that is not enough to justify the sneers and smears and the innuendoes about particular individuals, the way in which this case was used so blatantly by Mr Hall yesterday and the way it is being used by the Opposition at Question Time today. I have nothing but contempt for those who use this material in this way. I believe Parliament as a whole ought to respond accordingly to these sorts of questions when they are raised in the future.