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Thursday, 4 May 1989
Page: 1792

Senator McLEAN —My question is also directed to the Minister for Justice. I draw the Minister's attention to the 30 affidavits concerning bank fraud which I have tabled since December last and I ask the Minister: firstly, given the Minister's early assurances of interest and the interest of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in bank fraud, how many of the allegations have been investigated by the AFP and what is the progress of those investigations? Secondly, is the Minister aware that, until two weeks ago, neither the AFP nor the banks involved had contacted any of the 26 providers of affidavits whom my office was able to contact concerning their allegations, and does he consider this to be indicative of the `thorough investigation' which Mr Don Sanders, the General Manager of the Commonwealth Bank, assures us has occurred or even of an adequate level of inquiry into those allegations? Thirdly, is the Minister aware that Mr Sanders has provided me with personal explanations of five cases and that, in at least four of them, there are serious contradictions between the information provided to me by Mr Sanders and information, substantiated by documentation, provided on the same cases by the alleged victims of the Commonwealth Bank? If so, will he ensure that, wherever serious contradiction is apparent, a thorough investigation is undertaken?

Senator TATE —This is the second, third or fourth occasion on which Senator McLean has posed questions to me with an underlying suggestion that somehow there has been a deliberate attempt by me or by the Australian Federal Police to cover up or fail adequately or with sufficient vigour to pursue matters that he has brought to the attention of the Senate. I recall in a debate in this place a few weeks ago that he made the allegation that I had refused a briefing that he had sought from the Australian Federal Police on this matter. As far as I know Senator McLean is not a legal representative of any of the persons he describes as victims, nor does he have any legal responsibility for the conduct of the Australian Federal Police investigation or prosecution for possible breaches of Federal law. That is my responsibility.

Senator Walsh —Just as well.

Senator TATE —As Senator Walsh interjected, it is just as well. Naturally, I adopt it. It is much better that Senator McLean be on the front page of the Bulletin and me be in charge of the Australian Federal Police than the other way round. I am quite prepared to accept his moment of glory as long as I discharge my duties correctly. Of the matters that Senator McLean has brought to our attention over the past several months, my office has forwarded to the AFP copies of all materials tabled by Senator McLean since December. I have been advised by the AFP that it has examined all of the documents and that investigations were conducted into one of the cases raised by Senator McLean. It was a matter that was already under investigation by the AFP before Senator McLean began his campaign. These investigations were completed by the AFP and no evidence was found to corroborate the allegations that Senator McLean put forward. The final page of the memorandum to me, which is dated 31 March and signed by P. J. Lamb, Assistant Commissioner Investigations, reads:

In summary, the AFP has examined the papers tabled by Senator McLean and forwarded by your senior private secretary in December 1988 and March 1989. Apart from the Poppet case, referred to above, which has been investigated we do not propose to investigate the other matters unless we receive evidence to support allegations that Commonwealth laws have been breached.

Of the matters which Senator McLean raised, many do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Australian Federal Police in that they do not, on the face of it, disclose any breach of Commonwealth law. Many of the matters to which he referred either fell within State jurisdictions or appeared to be matters for civil litigation. In fact, as we know, many of the matters are, indeed, before courts for civil judgment. The AFP cannot follow up matters which do not come within its jurisdiction.

With regard to Senator McLean's constant requests that matters be followed up, the AFP has the task of marshalling its resources in order to fight organised crime and deal with major fraud against the Commonwealth and other breaches of Commonwealth law. It cannot devote trained investigators to the time-consuming pursuit of allegations about which there is no sufficient evidence. I cannot direct the AFP to chase every rabbit into its hole in the way that Senator McLean might do if he were in charge of the Investigations Division of the Australian Federal Police. Unless further evidence of offences against federal laws is produced by Senator McLean, this matter cannot be advanced much further.

Senator McLEAN —I have a supplementary question. In view of the fact that the Minister has previously acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations which I have advanced and will continue to advance, could he, as Minister for Justice, recommend to me and those who are using me to advance these allegations which courses are available to them to obtain justice?

Senator TATE —I have already indicated that some of these people are already seeking justice in the correct forum, which is to do with civil litigation. Breaches of fiduciary duty were alleged and I believe that they are being followed up in those proper forums. It is only in relation to alleged breaches of federal law that the Federal Police have a proper role to play. So far, whilst Senator McLean may have uncovered a certain amount of unhappiness and people with grave misgivings about the way in which they have been dealt with by banking institutions, no evidence has been brought forward which would enable the Australian Federal Police, for whom I take responsibility, to proceed, for example, to charge a person for breach of federal law. In that situation, unless Senator McLean, his constituents or their advisers can come forward with better material, the matter must rest there and be determined in the sorts of forums-judicial or political-to which they are taking this campaign.