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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1983

Senator DURACK(5.57) —I rise to speak to the motion moved by the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) that the Senate take note of the statement, which incorporates the rest of the material that he has tabled. I associate myself with the remarks of Senator Chipp and also the remarks made by Senator Chaney earlier today about the way in which all these major statements by the Government have been brought in at the end of this two-week sitting period. I hope that the Attorney-General will take note that some of the material he has tabled-that is, the amendments that the Government will move to the National Crime Authority Bill in the form in which I understand they are going to be-will be printed, which will mean that it will be much easier for us to read it, and that the material will be made available to us early next week and not when we come back here in two weeks time.

I believe that the Government's response to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on the National Crime Authority legislation is very disappointing. It is very surprising in the light of the Attorney's own response to the Committee's report when it was first tabled in this Senate about a week ago. His initial response seemed to indicate more or less a total acceptance of the Senate Committee's report.

Senator Gareth Evans —The general thrust.

Senator DURACK —The Attorney-General says he accepted the general thrust of it. We will see how far he has observed the general thrust of it. Certainly it was a very sympathetic response. It seems to me that the Attorney, his colleagues in Cabinet, or his colleagues in Caucus have succeeded in virtually emasculating the major thrust of the report. This ministerial statement, which I will deal with in a minute, refuses to accept several of the key recommendations of that report. That is why I say that the Government has made a very surprising volte- face since the Attorney spoke a week ago. I remind him that I asked him whether the education, which he seemed to think many people had had as a result of the Senate Committee report, would extend to his colleagues. It seems pretty clear from this response that it certainly has not done so.

I commend the Attorney, and the Government for that matter, for the prompt way in which they have responded to this report. The Senate Committee report is a long and detailed one and has a total of 49 recommendations. Certainly it is an area which, in some cases, is quite technical. It has been a very major task for the Government to process it and respond to it in the way it has. Of course, the Government has been working on this whole area now for over 12 months. It brought in an inadequate Bill in the first place. Preferably, if it had simply gone on with the Fraser Government's National Crimes Commission Act which had already been passed by this Parliament, this whole problem would have been resolved many months ago. But because of the dithering and the watering down of that Fraser legislation and because of the great conflicts that emerged in the Labor Caucus in particular, and between the Government and some of the Labor State governments, we have seen this pathetic exercise which went on month after month last year and finally gave birth to the National Crime Authority Bill which is now the subject of the report of the Senate Committee. This afternoon we are debating the Government's response to that report.

I cannot help recalling that, in one of the many debates we had last year, I referred to a statement of the Attorney in respect of these seemingly endless discussions that were going on over those months last year where he said, in answer to a question from a journalist: 'We will get something'. I regret to say that that seems to be the attitude of the Attorney and the Government to this most important and vital problem. The Attorney said in his statement today:

Of the total of 49 recommendations of the Committee, 31 are supported wholly or without any significant change, and 8 are supported with some modifications. There are only 10 recommendations which . . . the Government has decided that it would not be able to support.

But one cannot evaluate a response just in terms of statistics. One has to look to see what are the recommendations that are accepted, what are the recommendations that have to be modified and, most important of all, what are the recommendations that will be rejected. It is to those that I turn first of all. In my view-I would be surprised if the Committee would not agree with me- the Committee's most important recommendation is:

The Committee recommends that, where only a Commonwealth reference is involved- -

that is, a reference about a Commonwealth investigation or desired investigation into the National Crime Authority--

the approval of the IGC should not be required--

That was one of the major criticisms of the legislation-that, under this great bureaucratic superstructure the Government had created in the Bill, the Commonwealth's ability to refer a matter for investigation within Commonwealth law only could be vetoed by the inter-governmental committee. The Senate Committee, very wisely and most importantly, recommended that that veto power should be removed. The Opposition thoroughly agrees with that view. Now we find that this is the first item, certainly it is the most important item, that the Government says it will not accept. That is a most disappointing and very serious matter indeed. Even if that was the only matter rejected by the Government-the Attorney could have the statistic of only one rejection out of 49 recommendations-it would still be a major one indeed. It greatly tarnishes the Attorney's claim that the Government has accepted the general thrust of the Senate Committee report. The Committee also recommended several other important matters, namely:

. . . withdrawal of a Commonwealth reference should require an affirmative resolution of both Houses.

That was rejected by the Government. The Committee recommended:

. . . that the requirements for a judicial audit . . . and the application of the Ombudsman Act should be removed.

That has also been rejected by the Government. I am just giving examples of the importance of the matters. When I say 'the importance of the matters' I mean the importance with which the Government should view them in order to ensure that this Crime Authority will be able to act fearlessly, effectively and independently. These are terribly important matters which were recommended by the Committee with those purposes in mind. They have now been rejected by the Government. I refer to another important modification of one of the Senate Committee's references-I do not intend to go through all of them in detail-which states:

The Committee proposed that the definition of 'relevant offence'--

that is, offences that the Authority would have the power to investigate-

be rewritten so as to broaden very significantly the jurisdiction of the Authority.

Again, this is a very important restriction on the Authority which is written into the National Crime Authority Bill. I was very pleased to see that the Senate Committee had recommended much widening of this definition. I agree that there could be debate about how it could be done. The Government, stated in its response:

The Government's view, strongly supported by State Ministers--

I can understand that-

is that while the section can be re-drafted to accommodate some of the Committee 's concerns, the jurisdiction of the Authority should continue to be as precisely defined and limited as possible.

There is probably no matter in this whole question which will trammel the Authority more and make it more likely to be challenged by these crime bosses with vast sums of money and prevent it going forward as expeditiously and efficiently as possible.

I believe that the Government, far from having accepted the general thrust of the Committee's report, is emasculating the Senate Committee's response. It is making a mockery of its professed resolve to fight organised crime. As I have said, crime bosses will sleep much easier as a result of this Government's weak- kneed rejection of the many excellent recommendations of the Senate Committee. There is no possible justification for the Government's rejection of the Committee's recommendation that the approval of the inter-governmental committee should not be required where only a reference under Commonwealth law is proposed . The removal of the State veto on purely Commonwealth investigations is absolutely central, as I said, to the Committee's findings. The veto power in the Government's Bill was a major point of criticism by expert witnesses who appeared at the inquiry. I have had some opportunity over the last week also to give some study to the Committee's recommendations. But at this stage the Opposition has been awaiting the Government's response before it considers what its response will be and I am able to speak only in the general terms in which I have been speaking.

Senator Missen —There is no response to my report either.

Senator DURACK —I am coming to that. I would not dream of overlooking the honourable senator's report. I regard Senator Missen's report as a most valuable one.

Opposition senators-Hear, hear!

Senator DURACK —I am glad to find that obviously I will have some votes from my Party if I recommend the acceptence of some of Senator Missen's recommendations. I believe that his dissenting report shows a very good understanding of the practical necessities of criminal investigation and the needs of this new body which we would prefer to call a national crimes commission. I know that the name is somewhat embarrassing for the Labor Party because of the initials NCC. But I think the Committee made a good suggestion to overcome that problem. I assure Senator Missen that I personally and the Opposition will be giving very sympathetic consideration to all his recommendations. Whether they will all be accepted is another matter but certainly I believe that they show a very real understanding of the problems and the way to overcome them. The Opposition will be giving them very sympathetic consideration in the next fortnight.

As I have said, I am most disappointed by the Government's response. I would not have been surprised if it had not been for the response that the Attorney- General made himself the other day when he spoke initially. I refer to the Government's record in relation to this vital matter and all the shilly- shallying which went on all through last year. I have some sympathy for the Attorney-General because I believe he has been anxious to have a more effective body than has been thrust upon him by his colleagues here and in the States. This response is in line with the general weak-kneed approach to this matter by the Government. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) made a promise in his usual flamboyant style in this chamber at the opening of the National Crime Commission conference. We learnt, as we have learnt in so many other matters, that there is a great gulf between the promise and the performance of this Prime Minister.