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Thursday, 8 March 1984
Page: 621

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I refer the Attorney-General to the Sala case and ask him: Why was Mr Ramon Sala released from custody and his passport returned when there was an outstanding inquiry with Interpol as to the bona fides of that passport? In view of the fact that the Interpol report confirming the suspected forgery was received only days after Sala's departure from the country, does the Attorney agree that former Senator Murphy was clearly in error in ordering Sala' s release and the return of his passport?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have already answered this question at some length in various ways. I do not believe that he was in error, for the reasons I gave before. One might take the view that it is proper to keep people cooling their heels in gaol under cover of a deportation order when they have already been dealt with by the courts of the country on all outstanding charges, as was the case with this gentleman. One might think it appropriate to keep a person in gaol cooling his heels because of the possibility that the police might get around at some stage to charging that person with another offence. The police on this occasion had had the passport in question for some weeks and had had an opportunity to check out such suspicions as they had in relation to it. The Interpol response came, I am informed, six days after the man was released from gaol and had left the country. From my knowledge of the files and the events at the time, I do not think anybody had any reason to anticipate just when the Interpol reply would have been received at the time Mr Sala was released.

I repeat: The principle in issue here is the propriety and legitimacy in the Australian system of criminal justice of keeping people in gaol with their freedom denied, for the reason-the only reason-of enabling police inquiries to take place. That is simply not a principle which has hitherto been regarded as acceptable in the conduct of our criminal justice system whether for Australian citizens, residents, tourists or anybody else. Although there may be different views about the decision that was made-certainly, different views were taken at the time-there is no way in which the judgment of the then Minister can, I believe, be properly called into question.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Was there any knowledge in the Attorney-General's Department as to the likely contents or the contents of the Interpol report prior to its being formally lodged with the Department?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have no reason whatsoever to believe that there was any advance knowledge of the likely content of the Interpol report. The information available to me was that the report was received six days later. I presume it was telexed, vocadexed, telegrammed or transmitted in some other way, but I do not know. I will find out and give the honourable senator better and further particulars in that respect. Certainly, there is no reason to believe that anyone had the hard information in question other than a mere suspicion of something being the case at that stage.