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Thursday, 22 August 1996
Page: 2993


Senator ELLISON(8.55 p.m.) —I am glad that Senator McKiernan is here tonight to hear what I have to say because it is largely in reply to what he said last night. I will just summarise the allegations made by Senator McKiernan, as I recall them. He said that the current royal commission in Western Australia, which is looking into the Wanneroo matter, was biased, that it was aggressively discrediting whistleblowers—namely, Mr David King—that the counsel assisting the royal commission was engaging in an attack on the ministry of justice, and that the royal commission was artificially interpreting evidence before it. I will deal with those allegations in turn.

Suffice to say, Senator McKiernan's comments were reported in the West Australian today. The heading was entitled `Commission under attack'. At the outset, Narelle Johnson, counsel assisting the royal commission, was reported as not making any comment. Of course, that was entirely appropriate for her because the royal commission is continuing and any comment from her, as well as from the commission, would be entirely inappropriate. Therefore, I think the record needs to be clarified on that point. Where the West Australian reports that there was no comment forthcoming from the commission or Ms Johnson, it must be understood that the only thing they could do was to remain silent. It cannot be interpreted in any way that the commission or Ms Johnson agreed with anything that Senator McKiernan said.

Let me go to the allegation made that the commission was aggressively discrediting whistleblowers—namely, Mr King. Narelle Johnson, counsel assisting, stated:

King was ultimately forced to concede that he had no evidence to support the allegation he had made against Mr and Mrs Edwardes.

That was based on the facts as presented to the royal commission. King himself had made the concession. There was no artificial interpretation of the evidence by Ms Johnson. Ms Johnson is a lawyer of experience and great reputation. She is not the sort of person, I would submit to the Senate, who is prone to making artificial interpretations of evidence. Furthermore, Senator McKiernan stated that Ms Johnson went on to attack the intelligence unit of the ministry of justice. This is not true. What Ms Johnson said before the royal commission was:

. . . the intelligence unit was not supposed to gather information in relation to the wider ministry. Its role was limited to prison-related activities and that must clearly be the case. The concept of intelligence gathering units within the public service departments as a general proposition must be anathema to any sensible member of the community. The potential for abuse is manifest.

Ms Johnson was saying that the unit concerned had obviously exceeded its charter. I would take her point that to have such intelligence gathering units within a department could well be the subject for potential abuse. This does not have the ramifications for the fight against crime and corruption that Senator McKiernan says it has. Really, the investigation of crime and corruption is not up to some unit in a department of the public service; it is up to the police. Indeed, the police force in Western Australia has been investigating this matter surrounding events in Wanneroo competently, so much so that people have now been gaoled and further charges have been laid against others.

What I am saying to the Senate is that a properly constituted royal commission is fulfilling its duties to the state of Western Australia and the people of that state and that, furthermore, the law is taking its course. There are those in Western Australia who simply are not happy with the interim report of the royal commission which cleared Cheryl Edwardes, the Minister for Family Services, and her husband of any wrongdoing whatsoever. In fact, Norm Marlborough told the Western Australian parliament on 4 August 1996:

I am one of the majority who wants to see her—

Mrs Edwardes—

banished. I want to see her out of Parliament, and I will. That will happen.

Obviously, people of that sort are not happy with the result, so they are now attacking the people who are working in the royal commission. We saw a similar attack in relation to the royal commission dealing with Carmen Lawrence. If you don't like the decision, you attack the integrity of the royal commission and the commissioner involved.

The record has to be set straight. Ms Johnson is not at liberty to say anything at this stage, nor is the royal commissioner, Mr Davis. I defend the way in which that royal commission is being conducted and the integrity of the people involved in that. I say to the Labor Party in Western Australia that, if it intends winning the next state election, it should stick to arguing policies and not attack members of the judiciary or the police force.

Finally, the true political motive in this whole matter is revealed when one looks at Senator McKiernan's attempts to link the Howard government with playing a role in any alleged cover up of corruption in Western Australia. I say to Senator McKiernan: that really is drawing a very long bow indeed. Such a flimsy allegation will be seen for what it is and rejected out of hand by the people of Australia.

I thoroughly condemn the corruption which has been found to exist in certain aspects of this matter pertaining to Wanneroo. However, I fully support the due process of the law, which no-one is able to show is not taking place in that state.