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Tuesday, 1 May 1984
Page: 1398

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(5.55) —It would be quite premature at this stage to purport to give any kind of detailed Government response to this report of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. Obviously, the Government has not had time to fully absorb it, particularly its detail, nor to have the necessary consultations that are a precondition to a final position. But I can say a little today by way of initial response to the report. I believe that it is appropriate that I should, on behalf of the Government, indicate at least the initial reaction we have to it and how we propose to handle it. Let me begin by saying that the Senate Committee, under the chairmanship of Senator Tate, is to be congratulated for a job outstandingly well done. The report is comprehensive and thoughtful, reflecting an excellent understanding of the problems faced by executive governments in responding to the problem of organised crime.

At first sight, it would appear that the general thrust of the report is not likely to cause the Government any particular difficulty. There are, however, a number of matters of detail which the Government and the parliamentary party will certainly need to consider closely. A full Government response simply will not be able to be made until, I hope, next week. In particular, it will be necessary for us to consult with State and Territory Attorneys-General and police Ministers. Preliminary arrangements have been made for a conference of relevant Ministers and officials to be held in Canberra this Friday for that purpose.

Senator Durack —How do you think they will react to the report?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I should think reasonably warmly.

Senator Durack —The Committee has done a better job than you can do.

Senator GARETH EVANS —That is perfectly possible. I will say some more about that in a moment. It is the Government's hope that necessary amendments to the National Crime Authority Bill 1983 can be drafted and approved in time for introduction into the Senate before Parliament rises next week with a view to the final passage, then, of the legislation through both Houses before the end of the autumn session. Because of the complexity of at least some of the drafting that is likely to be involved at first sight in accommodating some of the--

Senator Chipp —Do we take it that the end of next week will be the end of the autumn session?

Senator GARETH EVANS —No, no such luck. I am saying that we will introduce it before the end of next week so that honourable senators may have some notice and an opportunity to chew over the textual details of the proposed amendments and so that we can debate them when we come back in the latter weeks of May. I cannot give any absolute undertaking about that because I have draftsmen in my office at the moment poring over the detail of this legislation in an endeavour to advise the Government as to just what might be involved so far as that timetable is concerned. It may be possible to produce a substantial batch of the proposed amendments-but not all of them-for example, by the time we get up next week. But there is no reason why those of them that are available cannot be made available to the Senate as soon as they are. It would also appear possible on this timetable to allow the Authority to be formally established in accordance with the Government's recently announced intention by around the middle of the year. It remains our intention that an appropriate transition period be provided before the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union is formally wound up to enable the new Authority to fully absorb and take over that Commission's ongoing inquiries.

On one minor carping note, I do not readily accept that the Bills presented to the Senate had, in the words of Senator Tate's tabling statement, 'grave defects or omissions' or that they require fundamental change.

Senator Durack —That is what the Committee recommends, fundamental changes.

Senator GARETH EVANS —That is the language of its terminology in the tabling statement. But I suggest that, on closer analysis of the matter, which I am sure Senator Durack, with his well known dexterity in these matters has been able to give it this afternoon, it would appear that although there are numerous changes , a number of them of considerable significance, they do not really amount to any fundamental root and branch attack on the concept of the authority as it was originally devised. We readily acknowledge that a number of aspects of the Bill were capable of improvement with the kind of mature reflection the Committee has now given it. I repeat the Government's congratulations to the Committee for a job well done. We will be looking at the matter very closely over the next few days, as will all the participating governments that we have to involve in this process, which, I say to Senator Durack, remains the most fundamental difference between the realistic, real world model that we have adopted and that which appealed to his outfit when in government. We will do our best to complete this process of consultation, both with other governments and internally, to produce the amendments which will be necessary to give effect to the Committee's recommendations to the extent that we can accept them, and I hope that will be to an extremely substantial extent. We look forward to effective and good debate on the Bill when Parliament resumes.