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Wednesday, 5 October 1983
Page: 1364

Mr BEAZLEY (Minister for Aviation and Special Minister of State)(3.25) —The honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall) made, as was anticipated, heavy weather of his speech. He started off with his evidence. He presented as his evidence a series of Press clippings from papers that he managed to read today. That evidence was a series of police court reports and a lot of matters completely unrelated to the problem of organised crime in this country. It was not surprising that he had to proceed on such flimsy evidence because he fundamentally had nothing to say. That which he managed to say was in the main completely inaccurate, both with reference to particular individuals and with reference to the collective attitude of the Australian Labor Party. He said at one point that Premier Wran had been stood down. He at least had the decency to correct the imputation that he made by pointing out that Premier Wran had been exonerated. I will excuse him for using a degree of hyperbole when he said that Premier Wran had been stood down. What happened was that the Premier, when matters related to his probity were raised, stood himself down-nobody else stood him down-and he subsequently, as everyone here is aware, was exonerated of particular matters raised in connection with him.

The Opposition assumes that it has the privilege in this place to forget history and to enter into debates in this place with absolutely no holds barred. The Opposition assumes that the history of Australia began on the date on which this Government was elected; there was nothing to explain, nothing to justify and nothing in the past record to talk about. It ignores the fact that if there is any responsibility of a Federal government in the area of organised crime one must address the question of the record of a party that has been in office since 1949, except for a brief period of three years. The royal commissions, as the honourable member rightly said, have revealed an absolutely horrendous picture of organised crime in this country. Which party was in government for the seven years which that revelation covered? If that is the matter that the honourable member wants us to address, we are very pleased to address it.

The report of the Costigan Royal Commission on the activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union revealed an astonishing saga of negligence, incompetence and dishonesty at various levels of the Attorney-General's Department under the former Government. Subsequent evidence before a Senate Estimates committee disclosed an equally remarkable lack of concern at the highest levels in that Department for the failure of the Government between 1976 and 1982 to launch a single prosecution for tax evasion. The documents tabled in the Senate in September 1982 are equally revealing about the then Treasurer and the then Prime Minister, disclosing, among other things, that as far back as July 1977 the then Prime Minister and the then Treasurer, Sir Phillip Lynch, were aware of Slutzkin-type tax schemes. On as many as 18 occasions between February 1978 and November 1980 the Commissoner of Taxation pleaded with the Treasurer to take urgently needed legislative action against bottom of the harbour schemes. At no stage prior to the introduction in November 1980 of the Crimes (Taxation Offences) Act was any consideration given to the adequacy of existing law as a basis for prosecuting tax evaders. The primary cause of the lengthy delays in the introduction of the 1980 legislation was the weakness of the Government in the face of pressure and attitudes that circulated on the Liberal Party back bench and amongst Liberal Party supporters in the communities that were affected.

There is absolutely nothing for this Opposition to stand on when it addresses us on the question of involvement or whatever in organised crime. The Costigan report makes it clear that the failure effectively to prosecute the bottom of the harbour schemes and the failure effectively to move in and cut them off with a test case prosecution which would certainly have been successful in the mid- 1970s have cost this nation hundreds of millions of dollars. Between hundreds and thousands of individual companies have been involved in the evasion of payable taxes. Under the noses of Ministers in that Government an extraordinary situation occurred. Not only was there a small beer prostitution racket flourishing in the Deputy Crown Solicitor's Office, a mini-tax avoidance industry within the Perth DCS Office, but there was also a combination of corruption, negligence and incompetence which was rife within that Office and clearly higher up the tree, too, resulting in the situation in which a prosecution which could have been launched was left under the heap for that period. All those inquiries revealed the closest possible links between that office and organised crime, and very belatedly the then Government came round to giving them consideration.

Let us remember the circumstances in which this crimes commission was brought in. There was an election pending and the then Government had been obliged for months to explain in this House its failures, the failures of its administration and the failures of the performances of its Ministers. It was therefore obliged to bring forward an extraordinarily hurried suggestion, riding into the ground in the process of getting it through the very law enforcement authorities that the honourable member for Boothby referred to, despite the fact that in any law enforcement operation there will always be a very significant component of co- operation between the Federal Government and the States. As was pointed out by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in Question Time, when it comes to some matters, the States rights that the Opposition so proudly touts can be ridden over whenever political expediency determines it. In an examination of the record of the suggestion of a national crimes commission, nothing could better exemplify that process.

We came to office with a legacy of resentment in that matter from the very authorities with whom co-operation will be essential to make this operation effective. Since that time this Government, in a sensible and responsible fashion, has addressed itself to precisely that problem. The honourable member for Boothby quoted from the record of a conference which I had the privilege of co-chairing with the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans).

Mr Young —He did not quote very much. He could not have read it.

Mr BEAZLEY —That is true. At that conference there was very wide representation of law enforcement officers, members of the legal profession, Attorneys-General and State Police Ministers. They all met to advise us on the best way to tackle this problem. The honourable member for Boothby suggested that there is something improper in the Attorney-General addressing the points that these people told us were important in forming a national crimes commission. They included the resources that ought to be devoted to police, the protection of civil liberties and the rights of individuals affected by a possible investigation, and the appropriate level of co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth. But the honourable member for Boothby said: 'Walk out and ignore that completely. Strut across the stage like we did when faced with the consequences of our own incompetence, marching all over the attitudes expressed to us by members of State governments, not because we want to do anything about organised crime, not because we are deeply moved by the revelations of our own incompetence, but because we have a little election problem over the next month or two. We cannot be absolutely certain when the election will be determined by the latest public opinion poll, the state of the Prime Minister's back or the degree to which we manage to explain away the matters raised by the Opposition in this House. But in some point of time we will have an election and we will have to have a crimes commission in place before that election is brought about' .

This Government is serious in its determination to deal with organised crime. We are serious in our determination to ensure that, as we go about that process, we have the co-operation of authorities whose resources, in conjunction with our own, will be absolutely essential if we are to tackle the problem of organised crime. However, we are making a useful start at our end of the period of endless neglect. One thing that the Opposition spokesman on Special Minister of State matters did not address when he spoke at the Committee stage of the Appropriation Bill was the amount we have devoted in the Budget this year to the Australian Federal Police. I am not surprised that he did not address that matter because, had he done so, he would have been obliged to acknowledge that we have made an increase of $6.2m over the previous year in the provision of resources which the police need to deal with such problems. The bulk of this will be used to recruit a further 250 police, releasing resources to work on investigations into organised crime.

One thing standing very clear in all the propositions that have come from the Costigan Royal Commission and other royal commissions is that at many levels, including personnel, the equipment available to them and procedures, State and Federal police forces in this country are totally inadequately served. We are addressing that problem with dollars and cents in a way that actually means something. As a result, we have provided for an extra 250 police to release those police necessary to investigate organised crime so that we do not have the Public Accounts Committee and others complaining, for instance, that there are inadequate police resources to investigate medifraud. The honourable member who will follow me in this debate, as I understand it, was a member of the Public Accounts Committee at the time it investigated medifraud. No doubt he will have more to say about the fact that a bipartisan committee in this place commented on the inadequate resources devoted to the Australian Federal Police by the previous Government, a problem addressed by this Government but ignored by the previous Government.

We will undertake also a management review of AFP staff to examine the utilisation and employment of present staff as well as AFP recruitment, training and promotion practices. It will be the first externally based review of AFP staffing and will begin very shortly. Since we came to office we have appointed a second Deputy Commissioner to allow closer co-ordination of AFP operations throughout Australia. The Australian Federal Police will be dealing with the problem of organised crime. That body will provide at least some of the investigators for any national crimes authority which this Government establishes. It will be co-operating with State authorities to make absolutely certain that State authorities have the capacity to do what they need to do in this regard. We are addressing that problem; the previous Government did not.

The question of the sort of authority which will ultimately be agreed on and embodied in legislation has to be sensibly and seriously addressed, first by the party which introduces it and then by the Parliament. In the fight against organised crime in this country we cannot afford to go through the type of process, the type of ad hockery and the type of response to electoral expediency represented by the activities of the previous Government. If we go through that process we will be distrusted by the States, whose co-operation will be important. That does not mean, in my view, that we have to agree with every point that the States wish to address to us or that we need to agree to follow their procedures. But if we fail to address those questions, whether or not we agree with them, we will do so at our peril and at the peril of a decent fight against organised crime in this country.

The honourable member for Boothby followed in the noble tradition of his predecessors from both parties in the coalition in many front bench positions by engaging in a broad and generalised slander of the Labor Party. The Labor Party, he alleges, is the party of treasonable sentiment and the party of devotion to the criminal orders by a commitment to civil liberties questions. In that position he betrays the principles of liberalism which allegedly underpin the Liberal Party. That is a pathetic position. It is a position which honourable members opposite have dealt with in the past. It is a position which has brought them into extraordinary discredit with those groups in the community, which are growing, to whom those things are important. There is no embarrassment on this side of the House about our record in fighting organised crime. We are proud of the advances made in that regard in this Budget, and there will be advances in future Budgets. We are proud of the expedition with which we are addressing the problems that have been raised in this debate. This matter of public importance simply cannot stand. It is an irrelevancy and a piece of trivia introduced without evidence by an Opposition spokesman who made extraordinarily heavy weather of the way in which he went about it.