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Thursday, 20 October 1983
Page: 2019

Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(3.0) —I raise as a matter of public importance the increasing alarm and concern in the community at the growth of criminal activity and corruption. I say 'growing alarm and concern in the community' because a recent McNair-Anderson poll showed that 84 per cent of Australians think that organised crime has increased over the past 10 years. This percentage has increased by 7 per cent over the last few years. The poll also showed that 78 per cent of Australians are in favour of the establishment of a Federal crimes commission.

Let me say that I do not allege that criminal activity and corruption is occurring and has occurred under Labor governments alone. Though there is a fair degree of evidence to show that it festers to a greater extent, it certainly has not occurred only under a Labor government. What is occurring under both this Federal Labor Government and the New South Wales Labor Government is a refusal to confront the growth in criminal activity and corruption in Australia and a refusal to recognise that it is a national problem which requires strong national action.

The previous Federal Government recognised the problem and we established a number of royal commissions. Mr Justice Williams looked into the problems of drug trafficking throughout Australia. Mr Justice Stewart was appointed to look at the ramifications of the Clark drug syndicate in this country. The Costigan Royal Commission is still looking into the activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union. When we saw the extent of organised crime raised by these commissions we introduced a Bill to establish a national crimes commission . We are not saying that our Bill is the only model which could be used to fight the growth of organised crime. We have previously looked at alternatives and we are certainly prepared to look at any alternative that the Government may introduce. But the question arises: Where is the alternative?

On 19 May this year in this House the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) promised that an effective national crimes commission would be in operation by early 1984. On 5 October the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) said that he hoped all details of his proposed crimes authority would be revealed in a week or two, but by 12 October the Attorney-General was forced to admit that he was just not in a position to say when a Bill would be introduced into the Parliament. Then last Sunday the Attorney-General could not even confirm whether a body to fight organised crime would in fact ever be established. This is just another example of broken undertakings. But it goes beyond that. Is it simply an example of the Attorney-General being rebutted by Caucus-we have seen that before-or does it indicate a lack of will to investigate allegations which could seriously embarrass other Labor governments?

In relation to the allegations in New South Wales, I am certainly forced to the conclusion that the delay in this area has a great deal to do with what has been transpiring between members of the Labor Party in this Government and members of the Labor Party in government and in their organisation in New South Wales. It has to be stated that another element involved is a reaction to this inept Prime Minister's inept handling of the allegations against Mr Combe. I pass no judgment on what will transpire as a result of the Hope Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies, but the reality is that there is a very real fear in the minds of members opposite at least that civil liberties were trampled on and as a consequence they are using that argument to ensure that a national crimes commission is not brought down. The community is suffering as a result of the Government's inept handling of the Combe affair. It is a classic example of the double standards whereby the Prime Minister, as honourable members will recall, could leak national security information himself , then threaten to leak information about a member of the community, but pin to the wall any other people against whom the same sort of allegation could be made .

There is a ramification far beyond that. There is no doubt that there is not merely concern in the community regarding growing organised crime; there is the reality of the growth of organised crime and it is not being addressed by this Government, despite its firm undertakings that a crimes commission would be established. Whatever the reason, and I have canvassed a number, the fact is that the problem has become a matter of national concern. Every element of the media is now quite properly directing its attention to this area. We have been frustrated in our endeavours to elicit the truth in regard to particular areas of concern both to this Parliament and in New South Wales. Meanwhile the Attorney-General stumbles on and on and is unable to give an indication as to when a crimes authority or a crimes commission will be established. I am not alone in my concern about organised crime. Honourable members should remember that the Special Prosecutor, Robert Redlich, called it a 'national crisis' in his report tabled in the Senate last week. He is not alone in his opinion. Mr Costigan has frequently referred to it as the 'cancer of organised crime'.

Dr Klugman —How much does he get paid for that?

Mr PEACOCK —Is the honourable member concerned solely with the payment for the investigation or is he concerned with eradicating the problem?

Dr Klugman —As long as he continues to get $400,000 a year, he will continue to argue that he should continue to get it.

Mr PEACOCK —That is the classic paranoid approach of someone who has ejected himself from his profession. I have never heard such nonsense. The honourable member is prepared to attack a man of professional standing, whose evidence stands up time and again, and to thwart him in his endeavours to uncover further crime in this country. The honourable member knows that that is what he is about . He is part of a group, masquerading under another guise, which is trying to ensure that either the Costigan Royal Commission does not continue or that a body is set up which would allow State governments to veto the authority so established.

Dr Klugman —It includes the Bar Council of New South Wales and the Bar Council of Victoria.

Mr PEACOCK —I could talk for the next half hour and the honourable member would continue to interject. There is an increasing majority in the Labor Party ranks which does not want to see this cancer attacked. The moment I mention Costigan or anyone associated with these sorts of inquiries I fuel responses from the right, the left and the delinquent, and sometimes they are not all mutually exclusive.

Organised crime has reached major proportions now. It is one of the major and most serious threats which has ever confronted Australia. I am stunned that honourable members opposite are running away from the matter. The problem and the urgency of it have been clearly identified. A responsible government would have lived up to its promises by now and at least would have introduced into the Parliament legislation dealing with the problem. It is not as though enough ground work has not been done. The Bill of the previous Government was discussed at great length in this Parliament. Senator Gareth Evans saw it as meeting 'most of the concerns we have expressed'-that is the Labor Party-'about the Crimes Commission'. He said:

The basic model seems to strike a reasonable balance between civil liberties and the interests of the community in effectively dealing with organised crime.

Mr Howard —Who was that?

Mr PEACOCK —That was Senator Evans, the Attorney-General. We are now in danger of having either no national body at all to fight organised crime or some type of body which is so shackled that it cannot operate effectively. This is in danger of happening simply because this Government cannot come to grips with the issue. In promoting the concept of a strong national crimes commission we fully recognise the concerns expressed by Mr Justice Michael Kirby and other experts in the field of law reform and civil liberties. The Bill introduced by the previous Government aimed first at safeguarding those very liberties. That Bill also recognised clearly views similar to those of Mr Redlich in his report which was tabled last week, in which he said:

Now is the time to implement a scheme which will result in an effective national law enforcement through co-operation and co-ordination. What is required is a national response to a national issue. A robust, independent national authority, unfettered by jurisdictional or bureaucratic restraints.

All Mr Redlich is doing, of course, is reinforcing the view expressed by Senator Evans-he was not then the Attorney-General-during the election campaign, when he said:

Labor supports the concept of a Crimes Commission with sufficient powers to continue and widen the vital investigative work commenced by the Costigan Commission . . .

Again, after seven months, we have nothing. We find that this is the case day after day in so many policy areas. We have nothing at all. It appears that the very best Senator Evans may be able to negotiate with the Caucus is a shell of an authority which cannot possibly deal effectively with the problem. The Attorney-General himself has highlighted a number of times another reason for the urgency of a crimes commission. That is the fact that royal commissions unfairly label a lot of innocent people against whom no criminal action can be sustained. Royal commissions are clearly not the fairest or the best approach. While we have the Government procrastinating the community has no other way of being assured that they are being effectively protected. Only a strong crimes commission could adequately substitute for royal commissions.

There are those in the community who legitimately fear that, in establishing a new body, we risk the creation of either the cosmetics of an ineffective agency, or a too powerful institution unaccountable in practice to the courts and our democratic institutions. We have long recognised this problem. I said before that we took these concerns into account when drafting our own Bill last year. However, the critics often point to the solution as being to tackle the problem of the criminal justice system. We said last year that we had two problems with this approach.

Mr Jacobi —That is right.

Mr PEACOCK —I am glad that the honourable member for Hawker agrees with this. We have difficulties in two particular areas. Firstly, it is an argument which has long been put forward but with little effect on the States. Secondly, and more importantly, it does not recognise that the growth of organised crime now transcends State boundaries and that it is often beyond the resources of State law enforcement institutions. Time and again they have expressed that to us. There is no attack on the Federal system because we are talking about doing it by co-operative means. But as I said, the reality is that organised crime has become a national problem and can only be effectively handled by a strong national body. The most obvious examples of this are the recent and on-going allegations in New South Wales against a wide number of drug traffickers, government officials and even a Minister. We cannot get to the bottom of it in this Parliament because transcripts will not be made available here, although they will be made available in certain other areas. I will not go into the matter even further.

Mr Beazley —This is outrageous.

Mr PEACOCK —It is not outrageous. The Special Minister of State (Mr Beazley) would not give me any answers today. He expressed general propositions and would not address either what the honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall) asked or what I asked. In my case I was simply quoting from what had been said in the New South Wales Parliament today. I remind the Minister of the series of events there and the implications for the Federal Government. On 16 May the Acting Premier of New South Wales was told by the Special Minister of State that a New South Wales Government Minister may be involved in criminal activity. We know the tick-tacking that went on between the Labor Party, Federal and State, using wheels within wheels even before that formal meeting occurred. It hardly need have occurred after the tick-tacking that went on between this Parliament, the State Parliament and the Party organisation. The New South Wales Commissioner of Police advised the New South Wales Government to take no action because it might compromise drug trafficking inquiries.

Then on 12 June, as a consequence of matters raised by the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales, the Sun Herald newspaper published allegations of corruption on early release from New South Wales prisons. Only then did the New South Wales Government order an inquiry and then only an internal police inquiry . The head of the inquiry was not provided with the tapes which were the basis of the original allegations. The Minister knows that only too well. It took until early September for the police inquiry to be completed. Even then the Minister involved in New South Wales had not been questioned. On 18 September the Commissioner of Police informed the Government that he recommended no criminal action.

Did the Federal Government express any concern at the fact that no inquiry began until the allegations were made public? Not that we are aware of. Did the Commonwealth Government express any concern over the length of time the subsequent inquiry was taking? Not that we have been told. The Federal Government has not been willing to confirm that all the information it holds on the allegations has actually been passed to the New South Wales Government. This is only a long list of recent major crime allegations against officials in New South Wales, including those allegations made to the Street Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Committal Proceedings against K. E. Humphreys.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The Leader of the Opposition's time has expired.