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Wednesday, 2 May 1984
Page: 1522

Senator COOK(6.20) —I rise to speak to the report by the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on the National Crime Authority Bill 1983. In doing so I join all other honourable senators who have spoken in this debate in commending the quality of the report. The report reads extremely well. It is certainly not a dry document. It is very succinct in expression and clear in the portrayal of complex issues. It is a report that lay people can come to grips with very easily. They can come to understand quite complex questions. The honourable senators on the Committee who have contributed to the report also, I believe, deserve the sincere thanks of the Senate for the role they played in bringing this document forward, as of course do the Senate staff who assisted in the inquiry.

It has been said by all other honourable senators who have spoken on this report this afternoon that the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Tate, has played a vital role and has involved himself deeply in the construction of the report and the conduct of the hearings. My experience of Senator Tate in the chair of this Committee is that he performs his role judiciously, astutely and in the responsible way we have come to expect from his performance in this House .

The contribution of the witnesses also requires some comment. The list of people who appeared before the Committee, and indeed the organisations and individuals who put submissions to it, reads almost like a Who's Who of legal experts in criminal law and all the various organisations that have a rightful point of view on that subject. Quite clearly they have given their time generously and their expertise fulsomely. I believe that without that very strong support from the experts in the field the Committee would not have been able to present such a report. I think the report reflects extremely well upon the role of committees of the Senate. A number of comments about that have been made by various honourable senators in their contributions. I support all those comments. For me it has been an experience to see a committee start with a reference and end with a report. I believe that has broadened my horizon quite a bit in understanding the role, importance and significance of what Senate committees can do.

I now turn to the report itself. The first comment that has to be made is that the report deals with a problem in Australian society of horrendous dimensions. In this country criminal organisations and organised crime are a major problem. It is a problem that has defied other remedy until this point. Many of the honourable senators who spoke earlier in this debate, particularly Senator Crowley, Senator Lewis and Senator Bolkus, spoke about aspects of the report and removed from me the obligation to go into some detail about them. I believe that the role of the Committee that inquired into that legislation was to find the necessary balance between the very real need to detect and suppress organised crime in this country while at the same time protecting the civil liberties of people in our community and ensuring that by protecting those civil liberties people are able to do things properly and rightly, as they should be able to in a democratic society.

As I said earlier, the report in fact has come up with many recommendations which would improve upon the legislation. I know that the Attorney-General ( Senator Gareth Evans) has indicated his willingness to consider those favourably . It is important in the intelligence gathering role of the commission or authority-'commission' is the recommended title in the report-that it be able, as an ordinary function of its role and of its own volition, to investigate matters, collect and analyse information and inform itself on all relevant criminal activity so that it is able to receive references and also initiate recommendations for references. It should be able to do that without the granting of an authority or without necessarily having to consult the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence.

It is important that it have that role of being able in the ordinary course of events to initiate information gathering; so that there is prima facie evidence to justify specific references or to help frame specific investigations. It is important that there be a body of monitored information which enables the money trail to be followed much more quickly and so that recommendations on law reform that might issue from the authority or commission can so issue. At pages 27 and 30 of the report references are made to the need of the authority or commission to be able to obtain information from other government bodies and government records, specifically tax. I think that a reading of that section of the report would repay anyone handsomely.

In the debate this afternoon some comment has been made by various honourable senators about the role of judicial audit. I think that, quite clearly, a body such as this requires absolute scrutiny at all times to ensure that civil liberties are protected while its role is in fact made successful in suppressing organised crime. But whether a judicial audit is an effective way of doing that is a matter for proper debate. It is my view that the work of such an authority or commission is so immense, its activities would be so complex, that it is not possible, with the best will in the world and the greatest faith and sincerity, accurately to conduct an effective judicial audit of all of its aspects. To propose the idea of judicial audit is to suggest in the minds of the community that there is a process going on which in reality cannot be achieved. Therefore, I think it is wrong to suggest judicial audit and it is right for this parliament and for the community at large to keep a constant weather eye cocked to the activities of the authority or commission and to make sure that it fulfils its purpose. Senator Bolkus said a number of things about derivative use protections against self-incrimination. Again, I think a reading of that section of the report would repay anyone handsomely and I commend such a reading to the community.

I have to remark on one other matter. Yestereday, in debate on the report-this is recorded at page 1394 of the Senate Hansard-Senator Missen made some remarks concerning me and my role in this industry. I think that I should say something about those remarks as the matter has been raised in the chamber. The first comment I make is that I respect absolutely the integrity of Senator Missen and his intent. I do not regard the remarks he made as politically motivated in the sense of trying to best one person against another. I consider that he is concerned, as he sees it, about the role of the Committee. If he is concerned, as clearly he is, in my view he is right to come forward and say so publicly. I do not in any sense criticse him for doing that.

However, the fact that he has raised the matter has caused me to examine the purport of his remarks and my role in terms of this Committee. I think in the end it comes down to whether I can sincerely and conscienciously be of the view that rightly my name should appear on the report. That seems to me to be an act of private conscience. I believe I have attended as best I can to obtaining a full understanding of the activities of the Committee by reading the transcripts and considering the evidence. Therefore, while Senator Missen, if he considers it a concern, is right to raise the matter, I am right to say that in those circumstances I do not think it correct that my name should not appear, because I believe I undertook a genuine and conscientious consideration of the issues and can rightly append my name to the report. I commend the report.