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Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 168

Senator SIDDONS —My question is directed to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce. I refer the Minister to reports last week of the smashing of a large and well organised drug ring by Australian Federal Police, with some assistance from the Australian Customs officers, resulting in the arrest of over 30 people around Australia, including a prominent Sydney doctor and a prominent Sydney solicitor. In view of the obviously complex nature of the investigation leading to the arrests, I ask the Minister: Was the material on which the investigations and arrests were based, referred onto the National Crime Authority by the Costigan Royal Commission on the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union? What action was taken by the National Crime Authority on the referral?

Senator BUTTON —I am able to say that last week's announcement by the Federal Police and the charges which have been laid are a result of months of investigative work by the Australian Federal Police. The result so far has been the arrest of some 30 people suspected of being connected with a well organised drug ring in Australia. The drug syndicate is suspected of being involved in the importation into Australia of more than $40m worth of hashish. I know that in the Press other figures have been placed on the value of the drugs concerned. There is a likelihood of a connection with an international terrorist organisation. I should say that the events of last week are a credit to those involved in tracking down the people engaged in this drug ring. In respect of the other parts of the question, yes, the matter was, as I understand it, investigated by the Costigan Royal Commission and was referred--

Senator Peter Baume —To be fair, it is an alleged drug ring at this stage. They have not come to trial yet.

Senator BUTTON —I did not say that.

Senator Peter Baume —You said `a drug ring'.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister is answering the question.

Senator BUTTON —Yes, the matter was investigated at some length by the Costigan Royal Commission. I understand it was a reference to the National Crime Authority. I am unable to say what the National Crime Authority has done in respect of that reference. I think it is a matter which the parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority would appropriately examine.

Senator Chipp —Does that mean it has done nothing?

Senator BUTTON —I am not able to say that.

Senator Chipp —You ought to be able to.

Senator BUTTON —I think that is a matter which the Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority would probably wish to look at.

Senator Chipp —How long has it had to look at it?

Senator BUTTON —I am unable to tell Senator Chipp exactly that but of course that matter has been with the National Crime Authority since that Authority was established. It is clear, however, that the investigation and the results of the investigation, which were publicised last week, have been a result of a long-standing effort by the Federal Police. As I have said, I am unable to say what the National Crime Authority did with the reference, but the parliamentary Joint Committee may well look into that matter.

Senator SIDDONS —Mr President, I wish to ask a supplementary question. Can we get any assurance from the honourable senator that the parliamentary Joint Committee will be given the reference and will report on the matter forthwith?

Senator BUTTON —I am not sure-I will certainly find out-whether it is an appropriate matter for me to refer to that Committee. It ought to be alert to what I have said today, I assume. There are members of that Committee in the Senate. Senator Missen, who is a member of that Committee, is nodding his head. Undoubtedly the Committee has been alerted by this answer. To that extent, Senator Siddons's question has made a very pertinent point for the members of that Committee.