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Tuesday, 1 May 1984
Page: 1406

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(8.13) —I am grateful for the fact that so many Government senators have answered the call. I do not wish to speak at length on the report on the National Crime Authority Bill 1983 which has just been put down by the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. No doubt Government senators will be anxious to hear Senator Crowley, who is to be the next speaker. Everybody taking part in this debate is justifiably very pleased with the results of the exercise which has been conducted by this Committee. Even the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) has responded in terms which Senator Chipp described as 'generous' to a report which suggests a very substantial amendment to the Government's Bill. However, I wish to remind the Senate that on 17 November 1983 when the Senate was debating this Bill and the Opposition suggested that the Bill was defective and required committee consideration it received an extremely ungracious reception from the Attorney-General and, indeed, from a number of Government senators. I do not wish to quote from what was a rather unpleasant debate. Senator Chipp will remember, for example, some of the rather unflattering remarks that were made about journalists in the National Times of whom he thinks a great deal. I do not wish to go over a lot of old ground but I want to remind the Senate that, among other things, on 17 November the Attorney-General said, when he was objecting to the Opposition's attempt to send this matter to a committee:

There is no excuse whatsoever for the change of attitude that has been demonstrated here other than a willingness at all costs, irresponsibly, to score political points and to obstruct for its own sake.

The idea of Senate obstruction is something about which we hear a great deal from the Government when the Opposition, the Australian Democrats or Senator Harradine raise some matters which are not to the Government's liking. When later in that debate we were taken to a vote the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Tate, Senator Crowley, Senator Cook and the Attorney-General himself all voted against the reference to the Senate committee. I believe that they were opposing that because they saw a political point in not having the reference to a Senate committee. They were acting more in accord with the Attorney-General's own criticism than was the Opposition or the Australian Democrats. The important point-

Senator Peter Rae —They are bound by Caucus.

Senator CHANEY —As Senator Peter Rae has said, they are bound by Caucus. For all I know Senator Tate, Senator Crowley and others may have thought that the reference to a Senate committee was a very good idea. But the key point is that once again the value of parliamentary consideration has been demonstrated. I have joined the debate in part to congratulate the Senate Committee for the fact that, true to the general traditions which have been established in this place, it has been able sensibly to consider the evidence which has been brought forward and, to a very large extent, arrive at a common view as to what the form of the legislation should be. I want to remind the Senate and the public-to the very limited extent that Hansard gets read by those outside this Parliament-that this was a case of what was described as Senate obstruction. What we have here is a Senate committee report which unanimously says that there should be substantial amendments to this legislation to make it workable. The Attorney- General has indicated that he thinks it likely that the Government will accept, or will not find it difficult to accept, many of the Committee's suggestions. Yet the same suggestions, when they were made by the Opposition, were pooh- poohed and abused by the Attorney-General, who claimed that the Senate was acting in an obstructive manner.

When the Government plays its Senate obstruction card it will be important for the people of Australia to remember that when the Senate challenges the Government's legislation very often there is a benign result. I believe, for example, that the threat that we made in this Senate-a threat between the Australian Democrats and the Opposition-that we would delay the assets test legislation until February was a threat which has served the people of Australia well. That piece of Senate obstruction resulted in the Government having time to have a second look and second thoughts. In February the rather churlish Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), who had been so critical of the Senate, admitted that the Government had got it wrong. That was a classic example of the Senate doing its job and doing it properly. This exercise, which has culminated in this report which was put down this afternoon, is another classic example of the Senate doing the job for which it was established. It has established that legislation brought into this place by the Government is defective and in need of substantial amendment. I agree with Senator Hill, who spoke earlier in the debate, that this report once again vindicates the role of the Senate.

The Opposition expects the Senate to continue to exercise its constitutional function in this way. It believes that that is in the interests of Australia. It objects to the categorising of such action as obstruction, which is the usual action of a government when it is faced by this sort of Senate action when in fact the results are so generally benign. In this case we have had the ready admission by the Attorney-General, who was so churlish on 17 November 1983, that this is a report which is valuable and which will be able to improve the legislation.

The legislation hung in the balance for some time. Some honourable senators were concerned about the urgency of the need to establish the crimes authority as against the remedying of the defects that many of us thought existed with respect to the legislation. I am pleased that the doubts which many of us felt and expressed have been vindicated by the very careful work of the Committee, which has acted in a splendid bipartisan fashion and in a way which I believe is typical of the best work which is done in this place. Again I thank and congratulate those honourable senators from the Australian Labor Party, the Democrats and the Liberal Party of Australia who have performed such a signal service. I think it is important to note that organised crime has been exposed as a very significant problem in Australia. The ability of this authority to act independently and effectively was very limited. I hope we will now see effective legislation put in place without delay. I hope we will see an effective crimes authority put in place without delay. I believe if that is done all of those honourable senators who have played such an effective role in this committee will have performed a very great service for Australia.