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Wednesday, 5 October 1983
Page: 1349

Mr PEACOCK —My question is directed to the Prime Minister and refers to the answer given in this House last night by the Special Minister of State. With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I ask the Prime Minister: Is it not a fact that there were discussions and communications between members of his Government and his Party and members of the New South Wales Government and Labor Party-not revealed in the answer last night by the Special Minister of State-both before and after the former Special Minister of State had discussions with the Acting Premier of New South Wales? I ask the Prime Minister to reveal now the nature and details of those communications.

Mr HAWKE —I am indebted to the Leader of the Opposition for his question. I preface the answer I give to him in detail by indicating that I have received this day from the Special Minister of State this letter:

Dear Prime Minister, Commissioner R. A. Grey informed myself and Mr J. Menadue this afternoon that, as he said yesterday, he was completely satisfied with the handling of the matter by the Commonwealth Ministers.

I am coming to a more detailed answer, but I remind the Leader of the Opposition and all other honourable members opposite that this Commissioner is their Commissioner, the Commissioner appointed by them, as he is also our Commissioner . I have it in writing from the Minister that the Commissioner has put in writing-he has said it also-that he is completely satisfied with the handling of the matter by the Commonwealth Ministers. If the Leader of the Opposition or any of those tragic figures behind him wish to question the integrity of their Commissioner, the Commissioner appointed under their Government, they are free to do so.

I will now answer in more detail the question from the Leader of the Opposition . In early May of this year the Australian Federal Police received information which gave rise to concern in the mind of the Australian Federal Police Commissioner that offences under New South Wales law may have been committed in relation to the early release of prisoners. The then Special Minister of State was informed of this matter on Wednesday, 11 May. The then Minister discussed it with me the same day and I directed him to contact the appropriate New South Wales Minister. Let me emphasise that I instructed the Special Minister of State to ensure that, as far as it was possible within the Commonwealth's capacity so to do, all necessary steps were taken to investigate fully the matters in issue. I was absolutely astringent and emphatic as soon as I received that information that it had to be conveyed and that the position of the Commonwealth was to be clear-all investigations had to be pursued and nothing was to stand in the way as far as the Commonwealth could indicate its position. That was done. Mr Young passed the information to the New South Wales Acting Premier, the Hon. L. J. Ferguson, in Sydney on Monday, 16 May. On the same day the information was passed by the AFP Commissioner to New South Wales Police Commissioner Abbott.

The Australian Federal Police Commissioner has been in touch with the New South Wales Commissioner concerning this matter since 16 May to assist in any way possible. The Special Minister of State informed the House last evening that there is no foundation for any suggestion that any request was either made by New South Wales authorities or acceded to by Commonwealth authorities for removal of any Commonwealth telephone interception or that installation or removal of any particular interception during the period in question occurred for other than ordinary police operational reasons. No offences under Commonwealth law have been involved and the Commonwealth is unaware of the results of the New South Wales Police investigation.

I repeat what I have said and add to it: As soon as this matter was brought to the attention of the then Special Minister of State he acted immediately and properly. He informed me. As I say and repeat, I was totally astringent about this matter. I said that this matter had to be conveyed and that our position as a Commonwealth government was made crystal clear, that this matter should be pursued with the appropriate investigation irrespective of what or who was involved. That was the position adopted by me on 11 May and fully accepted. It was not a question of my having to force it upon the then Minister. It was a position with which he completely agreed, and he proceeded.

Mr Carlton —He understood and accepted.

Mr HAWKE —If the honourable member thinks there is something very smart in saying 'understood and accepted', I will say 'understood and accepted'. The action was followed. If there is any attempt by the Leader of the Opposition or any other honourable member on that side of the House to suggest that there is any culpability in respect of this matter, that is absolutely baseless and directly contradictory to the action taken. Of course, the propriety of the action of the Ministers, who include the then Minister, the present Minister and me, has been alluded to and endorsed by the Commissioner. The steps that were taken were to see who had to be spoken to because, as honourable members will recall, at that stage Mr Ferguson was overseas. He was to come back at the beginning of the next week. Steps were taken to see whom the information should be conveyed to. Those steps were taken. As a result of that, the Acting Premier, when he returned, was spoken to by the Special Minister of State.

Mr Anthony —Pretty slow steps. It took five days to take them.

Mr HAWKE —Not five days at all. They were immediately taken to find out whom to speak to. Honourable members will remember that Mr Wran had stood down and Mr Ferguson was overseas. Steps were taken immediately to see whom should be spoken to. They were spoken to, and they were spoken to in terms that the clear position of this Government was that the investigation should be pursued, and pursued without fear or favour. That is the position of this Government and, as I say, the action of all the Ministers was endorsed by the Federal Commissioner.

Mr Peacock —You have not answered the question.

Mr HAWKE —I have answered it.