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Tuesday, 1 May 1984
Page: 1399

Senator CHIPP (Leader of the Australian Democrats)(6.00) —I must comment on the generosity of the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) in the comments he has just made. The last thing he will hear from me in regard to his concession that the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs has done a good job will be those hateful words 'I told you so' or my trying to score points. He has been very generous in his praise of the work of the Committee and, I think, generous in conceding that improvements were possible and could well have been made. I, and I am sure other members of the Committee, welcome that conciliatory, consensus seeking attitude that the Government has expressed through the Attorney-General. I find it, without putting too fine a point on it, quite overwhelming that we could have such a generous response so soon afterwards. I pay tribute to the outstanding job done by Senator Michael Tate as Chairman, who was given an extraordinarily difficult task to do in such a short time, with a group of seven other senators who--

Senator Gareth Evans —Not a prima donna among them.

Senator CHIPP —I cannot agree with that, because there were six lawyers among them. I must thank those six lawyers for being extremely kind to the only two non-lawyers on the Committee, Senator Crowley and me. In that praise I join the Deputy Chairman of the Committee, Senator Robert Hill, for the support and guidance he gave the Chairman and the rest of the Committee, and also the secretariat, headed by Mr Christopher Fogarty.

One of the features of the Committee was that at our first meeting I think it would be fair to say that of the eight of us present there were probably six or seven different viewpoints as to how various aspects of the legislation might be addressed. Some of us had strong views in opposite directions. But I found it quite exciting. One of the few exciting things that happen in this profession of ours is the different way that politicians behave and think during committee hearings from the way in which they behave when they are on their feet in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. I was quite proud to be associated with this Committee. In fact, during the service that I have given this Parliament this has been the most successful and rewarding committee work that I have ever done, and I thank my colleagues for that.

I was puzzled by the force of Senator Missen's attack on me. To have heard Senator Missen's speech without looking at the report one would have been entitled to conclude that he massively disagreed with the report of the Committee. I think it is fair to say that he agreed with 90 per cent, or maybe 95 per cent, of the recommendations of the Committee. He has some firm ideas on certain things-for example, the formation of the intergovernmental committee, the hearings in private, self-incrimination provisions and vetos. I hope the Government will realise that there was a fairly strong view that the body should be called a commission. We know the natural reluctance, which I share, of members of the Australian Labor Party to call it the NCC, the National Crimes Commission. We are suggesting, and strongly commend, that it be called the ACC, the Australian Crimes Commission. I believe that in balance Senator Missen would agree with 95 per cent of the Committee's recommendations.

He quoted me accurately and in context with regard to what I said about the crime problem in Australia, what should be done about it and the inadequacies, as I saw them, of the National Crimes Authority Bill. I do not resile from one thing that I said during the debate on that Bill nor one thing that he quoted from me today. But I challenge him to say how what I said then is inconsistent with my putting my name to this very excellent report. I believe I have been consistent. I believe that the recommendations of the Committee, if implemented by the Government, will work in suppressing crime-not doing away with it, but in suppressing it-whereas the model put forward by the Attorney in regard to the National Crimes Authority, in my view, would not have done so. We received overwhelming evidence to the effect that it would not have done so.

While serving on the Committee I learned a lesson as a politician about how careful we should be in granting coercive powers to any body. We heard evidence from all sorts of people-civil liberties organisations and lawyers. I was very impressed with the evidence, particularly that of Mr Justice Nicholson, who said : 'Yes, these sorts of bodies need coercive powers, but for heaven's sake, don't let them roam at large without any checks or balances with coercive powers because there are little people who need protection'. I believe that we have struck a fine, delicate and, if I might say so, clever balance between giving the Commission enough power and authority to go after criminals and protecting the rights of little people.

I think it is an ingenious device at the two levels. We recommend that the new Crimes Commission should have authority to roam at large in any area it determines and not have its field of endeavour predetermined by some Attorney- General or vetoed by some State. It can roam at large at the information gathering stage until it is at what could be described as the stage of having established a prima facie case against a target. It will then say: 'We have gone so far in gathering information or intelligence. We now need to go further and hone in on our target. Therefore we now need coercive powers, the powers to be able to go to a bank and say that we want bank records'. Let us remember, while we are on the track of this debate, that every time Mr Costigan and Mr Meagher went to a bank manager-and Mr Costigan and Mr Meagher were deeply conscious of this-and said 'We want to see the bank accounts of Mr Jones' that immediately put Mr Jones in great peril of being bankrupt within a relatively short time. If Mr Jones happened to be an innocent party, that would be a massive injustice. I imagine that after a bank manager hears that a crimes commission is inquiring into a client's affairs he would be less than sanguine about the size of the overdraft of that person the next day and would not be very enthusiastic about granting him or her a business loan. So the granting of coercive powers is a massive step. Mr Justice Nicholson said that it would have a salutary effect on an authority or a commission in asking for them. In other words, it would not ask for them unless it could satisfy somebody else that they were needed.

I believe the Committee has struck a magnificent balance on the question of vetoes by the States of the intergovernmental committee. I sympathise with what Senator Missen said about the clumsiness of such a committee. But those of us who advocated an intergovernmental committee wanted a vehicle that could work. I am blessed if I know how a national crimes commission can work without the co- operation of the States, the State instrumentalities and State Ministers. I know Mr Costigan has received remarkable co-operation from the States. But he had a reference from one State, and the co-operation that Mr Costigan received in a one-off operation might not necessarily be repeated with an Australian crimes commission.

I can understand Senator Missen's misgivings about private hearings. But would it not be better to err on the side of protecting civil liberties, provided that one is still getting at the truth, as is done in grand jury investigations, than to destroy a person's reputation nationwide forever by having a public hearing and having an allegation or an innuendo on page one of all newspapers? I am very happy about the way in which the suggested amendments of the Committee will do away forever with this hideous exercise of Government departments, both State and Federal, protecting their turfdoms. Explicitly, we recommend that the Commission can demand information and not have other authorities withhold it.

I am sure that other members of the Committee would not mind me saying that we are all in a dilemma as to what sort of watchdog we should put on to this new Crimes Commission. Clearly it needs one or should have one. But do we want an ombudsman sort of fiddling around in there, gearing up the works? I do not know. Is it possible to have a judge sit in judgment as to whether the Commission is doing its job? Would that not need a full time judge cloistered in an office of his own somewhere? Perhaps a parliamentary committee? Goodness knows, we have enough other responsibilities. Finally, I have agreed with Senator Missen on the question of a parliamentary committee being a watchdog. That is not to say that I believe that it will be outstandingly successful in preventing any intrusions into civil liberties or whatever; but the mere fact that the Australian Crimes Commission will know that there is someone there looking over its shoulder will have a salutary effect on it.

In conclusion, I thank my colleague members on the Committee again for what was to me a most valuable, exciting and rewarding experience. Once again, I extend warm congratulations to the Chairman, the Deputy Chairman and the staff who served the Committee.