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Thursday, 5 December 1985
Page: 3006

Senator MASON(12.58) —Mr Acting Deputy President, I do not want this parliamentary session to end without expressing my concern and disappointment at the failure of the Northern Territory Government to release Mrs Lindy Chamberlain on licence pending an independent judicial inquiry into the new evidence in the case. That decision was based on a report on the matter prepared by the Northern Territory Solicitor-General, Mr Brian Martin. That report is already attracting widespread criticism for its inaccuracy, bias and general failure to address the issues raised, and I predict that over the next few weeks criticism of it will become more general and comprehensive throughout the community and especially throughout the legal community.

It is interesting to note that most of the criticism now is not coming from the Chamberlain defence but from independent legal authorities and scientific people, and the information I get is that many groups are now working on an overall critique of the Martin report. The Chamberlain defence itself, of course, is preparing a rebuttal in detail which will be available to all honourable senators within another month or so.

Senator Puplick —Will you send it to all senators?

Senator MASON —I will make sure that all senators get a copy of it, Senator Puplick; that is vital. Already the report is attracting criticism from a key scientific personality in the matter-Dr Siegfried Baudner of the German firm Beringwerke, the makers of the blood testing reagent that occupies such a key position in the disputed Chamberlain evidence. The Northern Territory Solicitor-General, Mr Martin, and Dr Simon Baxter went to Germany to talk to Dr Baudner earlier this year. Dr Baudner, in contrast to what Mr Martin says in his report, believes that the information he gave them should have led to a re-opening of the Chamberlain case and he has expressed his deep concern. He is quoted in yesterdays Melbourne Age as saying:

I had the feeling the test is very problematic and that there would be a reopening of the case.

Dr Baudner feels so strongly about the matter that he is reported by the Age as saying that he is prepared to come to Australia to discuss it further in a proper scientific setting, and of course what he does say should be said in an open judicial inquiry so that the community knows what is going on in this matter.

Another development of some importance is a signed statement by the seven crown witnesses, the people who were actually at Ayers Rock when the baby Azaria disappeared and whose testimony is plainly crucial and was crucial to the crown case in every possible respect. All seven of these people-Max and Amy Whittaker, Gregory and Sally Lowe, Rosalie Whittaker and J. and W. J. West-signed the following statement late last month:

We, the undersigned, who were present at Ayers Rock camping ground the night Azaria Chamberlain disappeared, know that Mrs Lindy Chamberlain had no opportunity to commit the alleged homicide for which she is now serving a life sentence in Berrimah Jail, Darwin.

Though we were Crown witnesses at the trial, we feel insufficient weight was given to our evidence, and all of our evidence was not elicited. We demand, therefore, that there be an unfettered judicial review of this terrible miscarriage of justice.

How can anybody discount that statement by the witnesses, signed and that they are prepared to swear to, that in fact their evidence was not properly elicited and that a lot of their evidence was ignored. How can anybody claim that there is any sense in that? We can only look withsome sympathy at their demand that there be an unfettered judicial review of this terrible miscarriage of justice.

In the light of this kind of situation the failure of the Northern Territory to undertake anything other than secret inquiries into the Chamberlain case becomes more and more mysterious and less and less easy to justify on any basis whatsoever. Why then is this apparent cover-up being maintained? Some of the thousands of letters I have had on this case shed possible light on this. Up until now I have held my hand in this matter but I think it is reasonable at this stage to say that in particular one I received quite recently has given me the gravest cause for uneasiness because it indicates that evidence would be available from a person in a key position in the Northern Territory Public Service at the time of the Chamberlain affair. I make no judgments on the statements in the letter other than that the person, who does not wish to be named but whose identity I know and who seems to be of quite respectable background, claims:

What was in the files was `absolute dynamite' to the top administrators at the time.

Mr Acting Deputy President, I make no comment on that other than to say that if that sort of evidence is available it should be made to an open inquiry.

Senator Gareth Evans —It is just irresponsible to say that without giving chapter and verse. That could mean anything.

Senator MASON —The honourable senator is not listening to me. I have said that I make no comment on that other than to say that if that sort of evidence is available it should be given to an open inquiry. Would he dispute that statement?

Senator Gareth Evans —Don't set hares running unless you are prepared to give substance to them.

Senator MASON —Senator Evans was Attorney-General here not long ago. His attitudes on this matter astounds me.

Senator Gareth Evans —You are the worst enemy the Chamberlains could possibly have at the moment, the way you are conducting yourself in this matter. It is just incredibly counterproductive. Wake up to yourself.

Senator MASON —That would probably be one of the most hotly disputed statements the Minister could make; however, that aside, I hope we can keep this matter apart from the area of personal attack. I am surprised to have got such an attack from the Minister in connection with this matter. To my mind that open inquiry is absolutely necessary and I shall continue to press for it. Last week I sent a circular to all senators and members of Parliament, in good conscience and I hope above any party political considerations, asking whether or not, if a conscience vote were available-and it is disgraceful that parties here have decided there should not be a con- science vote-they would vote for a federal inquiry. So far I have had 48 responses, and more are coming in every day. Of those a small majority-25 to 23 at this stage-would vote for an inquiry. I regard that as a degree of concern within this Parliament which is significant and important and I give credit to those people who feel that there is reason to get this out of the closed offices of public servants in Darwin. That is where the inquiry has been carried out, with all respect to Mr Martin; it was a secret inquiry made in a public servant's office in Darwin, and that is not adequate.

I know that many people here feel that the Chamberlain case has dragged on long enough and they are not willing to give it their attention. With all respect, I urge any of my colleagues who might be in that category-I do not think there are very many-not to underrate the importance of the matter and especially the enormous underlying issue. We are in this place as members of parliament and I think we have a plain duty to maintain a fair and just law. The making of law is our business; surely whether that law is fair and just is our responsibility. Can we allow a situation to continue and let such a wide range of expert legal opinion and such a large section of the community believe that government in one way or another is failing in its duty to provide simple justice to all of our people? If we allow that impression to continue and to grow it must lead to a widespread loss of respect for the processes of law which I suggest is intolerable in any decent society. I had a letter only this morning from a lady in Queensland-it is so typical of the many letters that are coming in-that says some things that I will quote because I feel that they do indicate the community's feelings on the matter. This lady says:

We the people change governments but still the bureaucrats are the same and refuse the parliamentarians any say. We the people no longer govern the country. Unless the Government of the day can say to the bureaucrats that the people want a further inquiry into the Chamberlain case, we are a banana republic. No longer are we governed by the people, for the people.

One might think that is simplistic and naive, but it is not. It is an indictment of those who think they know best in this matter and who think, for whatever reasons, that it is perfectly all right for Mrs Chamberlain to stay in gaol, whether or not there is new evidence and for any amount of time to drag by without anything being done about it. Mr Deputy President, I ask honourable senators, through you, to consider this matter carefully over the Christmas period so that we can look at it again. I assure you that I will be bringing forward my Bill again in February and I will continue to bring it forward as long as I am in this place and as long as the Chamberlain matter is not resolved.