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Wednesday, 18 September 1985
Page: 734


Senator MASON(7.17) —I draw the attention of honourable senators to the unsatisfactory situation that still obtains in the Lindy Chamberlain case. In spite of the fact that very carefully researched and documented evidence was presented to the Northern Territory Government some two months ago which rebuts the two main areas of forensic evidence on which Mrs Chamberlain was convicted and imprisoned, the Northern Territory Government has not agreed to what are demonstrably very reasonable requests for a fresh inquiry. This is not a matter for a leisurely approach. The arguments put forward by the Innocence Committee, of which I am a member, are clear and straightforward enough and I can see no reason at all for delaying a decision which ought to have been possible long since. On the other hand, I can see many reasons for not delaying a decision. Injustices which involve money, after all, can be redressed and any financial harm repaired, but when the days, months and years of a person's life are involved no such compensation can be provided.

If there is the least doubt of Mrs Chamberlain's guilt-I am personally convinced that those doubts exist-she should not be confined in Berrimah Gaol in Darwin but released until such time as an inquiry of one sort or another can be held into the new evidence. On that basis, Mrs Chamberlain's continued imprisonment is an affront to all reasonable opinion and an affront to any rational view of what ought to constitute justice. I feel sure that all honourable senators would agree with that view. It is a serious situation and I believe that because of it a first step must be to release Mrs Chamberlain on licence as soon as possible.

The Innocence Committee is heartened by the support now coming forth from the Leader of the Opposition and shadow Attorney-General of the Northern Territory, Mr Bob Collins. I have had conversations with Mr Collins today and he said that he had no doubt at all in his mind of the necessity for a judicial inquiry into the Chamberlain case with terms of reference as wide ranging as possible. Mr Collins was good enough to telex me a copy of a letter he sent yesterday to Mr Tuxworth, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, and because of the basic significance of this document I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard. I believe that both the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) and the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney) saw this document earlier today.


Senator Button —I have not seen it, but I have absolute confidence in the integrity of the document if it is verified by you.


Senator MASON —I have a copy of it, which I will send to Senator Button.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Dear Mr Tuxworth,

The convictions of Lindy and Michael Chamberlain have created unprecedented controversy throughout Australia.

Thousands of Australians firmly believe there was a gross miscarriage of justice.

Fresh evidence which was not available at their seven week trial in the Northern Territory Supreme Court has now come to light and must throw enormous doubt on the convictions.

The jury and the appeal courts were swayed in their verdicts against the Chamberlains by:

1. Forensic evidence which overwhelmed eyewitness evidence, including a crown witness, that nine week old Azaria was not murdered.

2. Foetal blood was allegedly found on Michael Chamberlain's camera bag and in the family car, especially in a spray pattern under the dashboard.

3. Azaria's jumpsuit was allegedly cut by scissors or a similar instrument rather than the teeth of a dingo.

4. There were allegedly no dog hairs found on the jumpsuit.

A vast body of research has been gathered since the trial and appeal and the Chamberlain Innocence Committee tendered much of this as new evidence to your Government on June 4 this year.

I understand they believe that this proves beyond any reasonable doubt:

1. The reagent used to detect foetal blood was unsuitable for that purpose. The manufacturer, Behringwerke of Germany, has confirmed this.

2. The spray pattern found under the dashboard, which was alleged to have been consistent with an arterial spray of blood, has been found in a significant number of similar Holden Torana models and is, in fact, a sound deadener, known as dilux.

3. The jumpsuit was cut by canine teeth.

4. Hairs found on the jumpsuit were definitely canine hairs.

5. Further evidence to add to that presented at the trial to show dingoes are predatory killers capable of having killed the child.

This must be added to the already extraordinary features of the case and I refer of course to the absence of any motive, body or confessions.

Legal counsel retained by the Chamberlains has advised that there is grave doubt on any further appeal to the courts.

It has been their advice that an application should be made to your Government for the establishment of a judicial inquiry either under the Northern Territory Inquiries Act or under the prerogative power to establish a royal commission.

I believe a judicial commission of inquiry should be established with the widest terms of reference.

I am advised that special legislation will be needed to set up a judicial commission to look at aspects of the case. Obviously the legislation would specify the terms of reference as well as the powers etc.

The Ananda Marga case in New South Wales took the form of an inquiry into the conditions under section 475 of the Crimes Act. The Governor directed a Supreme Court judge to inquire into their guilt or mitigating circumstances or evidence.

It was found that doubt remained as to their guilt and on the basis of the report, the Attorney General recommended a pardon.

In this case there had been a lot of controversy and call for an inquiry but at the same time the main prosecution witness had changed his story.

In the absence of our own Commission's legislation, I believe the best course is a special Bill to provide for a commission of inquiry in terms similar to those used for the Ananda Marga case.

I also believe that the person (1) or persons (3) who receive the Commission should be of Supreme Court calibre and not District Court as in Splatt's case which I suspect was more straight forward.

It is my belief that there has been an extraordinary miscarriage of justice in this case.

I urge your Government to consider this as a matter of urgency.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed)

BOB COLLINS


Senator MASON —Mr Collins has also told me that he intends to bring forward a private member's Bill in the Northern Territory legislature to institute such an inquiry. Unfortunately, that House does not sit until 12 November and, while I appreciate Mr Collins's intention and see it as being of first importance, it certainly may be desirable for the matter to be resolved well before then. There is every intention on the part of the Chamberlain Innocence Committee that it will be resolved before then, one way or another. There will be an important policy meeting of the Innocence Committee in Sydney on Friday and I feel compelled to recommend to it that the major groundswell of public support for the Chamberlains, now in restraint pending a Northern Territory decision, should be organised for yet another mass campaign. That would be an enormous cost of human effort, goodwill and time, but believe me, it is something that can and will be organised if necessary. That massive repeated campaign could be averted now by a wise decision by Mr Tuxworth to free Mrs Chamberlain and institute a judicial inquiry as soon as possible.