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Wednesday, 28 March 1984
Page: 779


Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security)(11.55) —I do not wish to delay the Senate on this matter. However, I wish to put the Government's view and my view about the exercise. The Senate is well aware that the motion moved by Senator Durack for the establishment of the Senate Select Committee on the Conduct of a Judge will be opposed by the Government. However, because of the numbers in this place, the Government is aware that the motion will succeed. It was to that purpose that the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) moved the amendments which, I am pleased to say, have been accepted by both sides of the Senate. The Committee having been established, we will provide members and serve on that Committee, as we should under the circumstances. However, that does not detract from the fact that we do not like this Committee being established at all.

It is about that matter that I would like to speak. The first thing I want to point out in reply to Senator Lewis is that in the normal cut and thrust of debate in this place it is not unknown for honourable senators on both sides of the House to misrepresent what others have said. Senator Lewis, in condemnation of the Attorney-General, claimed that the Attorney-General had described the Committee and its members as being part of some squalid political exercise. That is not at all fair. The Attorney-General described the process of establishing this Committee as being like a squalid political exercise. There is a difference which Senator Chaney may not realise but I am sure I do.

Senator Chipp said, quite correctly, that in taking this course we are entering a new era, that we are setting a precedent. That is right. The first question is : Should we be doing it? In justification of that Senator Lewis said, quite correctly, that ultimately the judgment of the conduct of a judge under section 72 of the Constitution is a matter for the Parliament. I accept that, but it is a very long step in logic from the acceptance of that principle to suggest that whenever an accusation of improper conduct is made-I will come to the accusations in a moment-the Senate automatically should set up a committee or investigate the matter in the way it is investigating this matter.

I remind the Senate about how this whole episode started. Allegedly, telephone conversations between the judge and another person were taped. On the admission of everyone in this place they were taped illegally. Those tapes were then selectively taken and distributed widely thoughtout this community-to the Press, to politicians and, apparently, to almost anyone who wanted them. Sections of other alleged telephone taps were transcribed and distributed widely throughout the community. We have no proof that the tapes were accurate, we have no proof that they were not tampered with and we know that they were manifestly illegal. What the entering of this new era and the setting of this precedent means is that this could happen to almost anyone in the community. I suppose the people who are most susceptible to being treated in this way and having this done to them are politicians, the members of both Houses of this Parliament. It seems that it means that, in the future, people can illegally tap telephones of other conversations between politicians and between politicians and others in this place. These tapes could then be produced and widely distributed and from that distribution certain accusations could be made. The person against whom these accusations were being made could then be on trial in this chamber. I suggest to honourable senators that that is a very serious step to take.

Senator Gareth Evans made some comments about the political nature of the process of establishing this Committee. We have been subjected, in this place and in another place, to a series of questions at Question Time. Senator Evans, in particular, has been subjected to a series of questions in this place. It is the right of honourable senators to ask those questions. The whole aim of the exercise, it seems to us, was to discredit the judge concerned. Senator Evans asked senior law officers in this country, respected people, for their views on the tapes and on the law involved. Those people gave their views. One of those people, Mr Temby, was subjected indirectly to a political attack in this place. One honourable senator got up and cast reflections on him because at one time, apparently, he had been a candidate for election to Parliament for the Australian Labor Party. Another honourable senator interjected that what we were about and what they were about was protecting our mate, the judge. During a censure debate in this place all sorts of accusations were made about the conduct of the Attorney-General and about the conduct of these two senior law officers.

This whole issue has been bandied around in the media, the Parliament, et cetera, without any concrete evidence at all being produced about the misconduct of the judge. As a result we are now setting up a Senate select committee which will be guided by a set of principles which we all accept and which we hope all Senate committees will always follow when they conduct their inquiries. The Committee will be able to sit in camera. Witnesses will be able to request to be heard in camera. The Committee will apparently make a judgment on the conduct of a judge on the basis of evidence which has been illegally obtained and it will try to make decisions on the authenticity of the tapes, I suppose as a result of technical evidence and as a result of asking questions of various witnesses, all on the basis of a sordid and squalid little affair whereby a newspaper in this country published tapes which other newspapers refused to publish and which it got wrong to the detriment of the judge concerned.

I ask honourable senators to consider seriously, as I believe many of them have , whether we should be proceeding down this line. If we set this precedent and if we enter this new era, as Senator Chipp described it, God knows where it will all end. Heaven knows how many of us will be subjected to this sort of treatment by people who have an axe to grind in another area. However, as the Liberal- National parties and the Australian Democrats seem to be determined to establish this Committee, I am glad that they will accept the amendments moved by Senator Evans. I am glad that they will accept-and I hope they will follow-the proviso that they will make judgments of the type that they are apparently setting themselves up to make only if they are satisfied that the tapes and transcripts are authentic and genuine in whole or in part. So at least, I hope, we will have that sort of protection.

However, members of the Government and I are not concerned only about the immediate case. We are concerned about the establishment of a principle whereby, on the flimsiest of evidence, we are setting up a committee to sit in judgment on a senior judicial person in this country and that we are setting up this committee following pressure from outside this parliament through the media on such flimsy evidence. I think it is a dangerous step to take. In fact, I do not believe we should take that step. The only advantage of establishing the Committee will be that perhaps some of the sordid comments which were made by honourable senators opposite in the debate a fortnight ago may cease while the Committee is operating. Although a precedent has been set, I hope that during the sittings of this Committee and after it has finished its deliberations we will think again before we take such a step in the future. As I say, heaven knows where it will end or who will be involved. I do not think that it will do this Parliament any credit. It will certainly not make any advance to civil liberties in this country.