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Wednesday, 19 June 1996
Page: 1829

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(3.40 p.m.) —Madam Deputy President, I seek the indulgence of the Senate for an extension of this debate for five minutes because, as you understand, independents rarely get to ask a question. When they do, if they are not given a right of reply, it simply means that they do not get a right to reply for a month at a time.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Is leave granted?

Senator Kemp —I wish to make a brief comment. I have checked with the clerks and have received some preliminary advice that there is some precedence for this, but we would expect it to be kept to the five-minute limit.

Leave granted.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Thank you, Senator Kemp. In fact, it was my precedent that you referred to. I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (Senator Herron), to a question without notice asked by Senator Crichton-Browne today, relating to Mr Ian Viner QC's position as a member of the Native Title Tribunal.

I believe this to be one of the grubbiest episodes that will go down in the annuls of the Senate. It shows the level of degradation, corruption, lack of integrity and decency that is able to be portrayed by certain people for their own selfish ambitions.

Mr Viner was not the first person to go into the Justice Office and seek this unprocessed and withdrawn application. Previously, Mr Eoin Cameron's employee, Mr Gaspar, had made four applications. In fact, he got so frustrated when he was refused because he was not a party to the matter, that he demanded to see a higher person and when that was refused, he then refused the application. The very day that Mr Titelius, a known political opponent of mine, the clerk in question, ejected Mr Gaspar from Mr Cameron's office, as he had Mr Nick Nolan, a close personal friend of Mr Cameron's also—that very same day—he provided the order to Mr Viner.

And that very morning, because my wife had learnt of Mr Viner disclosing private conversations, she rang him, and, on my advice, she wrote down verbatim down what he said, and what she said. And she said, `Ian, have you betrayed my trust in you as a lawyer'? And he procrastinated and she asked him the question again, and he said, `No, I have not'. Within one hour of that conversation, Mr Viner QC, on the National Native Title Committee—that's why I raise the question—went down to the court and convinced this clerk—I must say it wasn't too much to convice him—to give him the document.

The legal practitioners complaints committee thus far has sought to draw a distinction between the fact that Mr Viner, when consulted by my wife, referred her to somebody else. To me that is analogous to a woman going to a GP, being referred to a gynaecolo gist and then the GP going around and discussing the private and intimate details of the health of the patient who went to see him. In some quaint, curious way the legal practitioners board thus far—they will find themselves in court as a result of it if they do not review their position—drew that distinction. Can you honestly believe that that is the distinction that they drew?

Let me read very quickly from the transcript of the appeal that poor old Mr Titelius put in. Talking about Mr Viner, he said he did not have an emotional interest in it because as he was requesting the order, he told me details about the incident, not the whole incident, but he was familiar with what had gone on. He said:

I wasn't telling him something that he didn't know already.

In other words, he was going down there using his prior knowledge. He said:

I gave him the order and he went off, and that was the last I—I also said, because Ian Viner was sort of like a third party—

that means, by definition under the act, an interested party—

to take into account the needs of Esther Crichton-Browne—because although it was a public record—

which, of course, he knew it was not—

just to be sensitive to her needs and be very careful with how you use the document. Then Ian Viner said, "I will use this document with the utmost discretion".

He then gave it to Mr Cameron's son, who then took it back to Mr Cameron's office which then photocopied it in hundreds in coloured paper and distributed it like confetti around the place, including to members of this chamber. It was distributed widely, together with a filthy, disgusting, diabolical, criminally defamatory dirt sheet as well. There are two copies that I know of. One was sent to Senator Bob Collins, which he had the decency to return to me, without even reading it, I believe. The President of the Senate showed the integrity for which I respect him by also sending his copy back to me as well. Mr Viner said:

I will use this document with the utmost discretion.

That tells you where we are. Except Mr Viner did say, curiously, that he wanted this information because my preselection was coming up. This is something that happened six years previously, which he knew of from my wife. He said, `I just want it in case it comes up at his preselection.' Why would it come up in my preselection if it was not for the fact that a dirty, filthy, grubby sheet was distributed using a database provided by at least one senator in this chamber and then produced by Mr Viner and Mr Cameron like confetti around the place?

That is not the sort of standard I would expect of the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. The Prime Minister at the time, Mr Keating, said on 6PR radio that he was disgusted. He thought it was filthy and it is not the sort of thing he would condone, but he would rather condemn. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.