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Wednesday, 7 March 1984
Page: 541


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(3.08) —I move:

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition from moving forthwith the following motion:

That the Senate censures the Attorney-General for his handling of the Age tapes , and in particular his persistent refusal to provide information to the Parliament in order that it might properly perform its role in matters relating to the Judiciary.

I have not yet had an indication from the Government, which has only just heard of this motion, as to whether it agrees to the suspension of Standing Orders. I therefore wish to address the question as to why the Opposition believes this motion of censure of the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) should be brought on now. I am sure there is absolutely no doubt in anybody's mind that this is a matter of very great importance. It is a matter which has raised very considerable issues. It is a matter which has attracted a great deal of public attention. One of the issues which have been raised goes to the behaviour of someone who is described in the original reports as a senior judge. Subsequently , it has been identified that the person referred to is a senior federal judge. Therefore, the matter is one which goes to an important aspect of the Government 's administration of Australia. The Opposition has made it quite clear in a number of debates that it regards the activities and approach of the Attorney- General as unsatisfactory in a number of respects. The Attorney-General, for his part, has made his attitude clear by the sending off of the tapes debate until after the New South Wales election. He has made it quite clear that he believes that the decisions which he has taken are decisions which he is entitled to substitute for the decisions which are properly those of the Parliament. The Opposition does not regard that as satisfactory and believes that there are important issues of the role of Parliament in this matter and of the rights of Parliament. The Opposition has persisted in its attempts to get informaion from the Attorney-General. It has sought to use Question Time and it has made quite specific requests of the Attorney-General, which have been refused. It has requested from him the transcripts which are the basis on which he has been able to make his judgment. It has sought from him the transcripts which have been the basis on which counsel he has retained have been able to make judgments. Those documents have not been available to us and hence we, the people who have the constitutional responsibility in this matter, are left to rely upon the newspaper reports on which the public is also left to rely.

The Opposition does not regard that as satisfactory. It has sought from the Attorney-General the assistance of an aide-memoire which he told us was prepared of two conversations between him and the judge who has been named in the tapes. In a throw-away line the Attorney-General, at the tail end of a debate two days ago, offered to make that aide-memoire available. He made that offer on the run in debate. He said that it was an offer that had previously been made to the Opposition, which he later conceded it had not. He made the offer on the basis that the aide-memoire should be available only on a private basis to those to whom it was given and that it could not be used. Clearly that is a ludicrous situation in which to leave the Senate when one bears in mind that our duty, the duty we are given under the Constitution, is to have the supervision of these matters. To suggest that a number of honourable senators holding whatever office could take this information from the Attorney-General and then agree not to use it if it was relevant to the duties of the Senate is obviously laughable.

The Opposition believes that this is becoming a matter of wide public concern. It has become the subject of discussion in another Parliament in Australia. Although attempts have been made to link the Opposition with that-attempts which are not based on fact at all-the fact is that public discussion of these matters has been considerably widened by that event.


Senator Chipp —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I am sorry to interrupt Senator Chaney, but the Democrats and the Senate will be called upon at any moment to vote on a very important substantial issue. Neither I nor any member of my Party have been paid the courtesy of being told what we are debating. I was having an interview in my office at the time the matter was raised; I do not know what the terms of Senator Chaney's motion are. Is it stretching the bounds of possibility too much to ask the Opposition to inform at least the Democrats what it is asking the Senate to vote on so that we can understand more intelligently what Senator Chaney is saying.


Senator CHANEY —I certainly regret that Senator Chipp was not here when I moved the motion. I am very happy to repeat it. The motion states:

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition from moving forthwith a motion that the Senate censures the Attorney-General for his handling of the 'Age' tapes, and in particular his persistent refusal to provide information to the Parliament in order that it might properly perform its role in matters relating to the Judiciary.

I was addressing that motion and not the matter of substance.


The PRESIDENT —You are speaking now on the reasons for the suspension of Standing Orders.


Senator CHANEY —I am speaking to the suspension of Standing Orders and the reason why the Opposition believes this is a matter which should be brought before the Parliament today. This is a matter of major significance. It is a matter which goes to important areas of administration. It is a matter in which the Government and the Attorney-General in particular have had their opportunity to co-operate with the Parliament in the provision of information and in following courses which would enable this matter to be dealt with in another way . The fact is that the Attorney-General has shown himself obdurate in believing that it is his judgment which should be substituted for that of the Senate. I do not believe that this is a matter which we should leave lie. Since honourable senators on this side of the chamber have lost confidence in the Attorney- General in his handling of this matter, I believe it is a matter which properly should be brought on for debate today.