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Tuesday, 1 May 1984
Page: 1359

Senator DURACK —I refer the Attorney-General to the extraordinary speech by the Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, Professor Richard Harding, to the New South Wales Branch of the Royal Australian Institute of Public Administration on 4 April. I particularly draw the Attorney's attention to comments by Professor Harding concerning the Opposition's role in the debate over the so-called Age tapes. A large amount of the speech is, I think, relevant to this matter. In particular he stated:

In ignoring the deliberate, systematic and flagrant illegalities that must have been committed to obtain the ''Age'' tapes (or those of them that have ever existed), the alternative government is throwing away one of the few values that is integral to the functioning and survival of the modern democratic state. They are doing so for short-term political gain.

A little later Professor Harding stated:

In my view, the ''Age'' tapes affair depressingly testifies that the right in politics have yet to recapture any sense of responsibility for the overall political health of the nation.

I ask the Attorney to put aside his agreement with a number of these statements made by Professor Harding. Does the Attorney believe that public officials- Professor Harding holds an independent statutory office-should make such deplorably partisan political statements? Has he or anyone on his behalf spoken to Professor Harding about the speech? If not, will he do so and suggest to the Director that if he continues making this sort of contribution to current political debates his only proper course is to resume his academic career?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is the Government's view that independent statutory office holders such as Professor Harding should enjoy very wide freedom of public comment in relation to matters coming within or related to their functions. I appreciate that that is not a point of view that has been traditionally shared by the Opposition parties in this place but it is one that is very much associated with our commitment to free speech and open government.

The fact that an issue is controversial and that the comments are robust in character does not remove the matter from being a proper subject for comment by a statutory officer or anyone else. The fact that those comments might be unpalatable either to the Government or to the Opposition of the day as the case may be is, I believe, irrelevant.

However, I think it is fair to say that the expression of comments in a way that could be construed as politically partisan should be avoided, and I have discussed this aspect of the matter with Professor Harding.

Senator DURACK —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the Attorney tell us what advice he has given to Professor Harding?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I do not propose to add anything to the answer I have just given.