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Tuesday, 18 April 1972
Page: 1193

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) (AttorneyGeneral10.50) - During question time today I was asked whether I would table certain letters, one which had been written by me to the Chief Secretary of Western Australia and a reply which had been given by him to me in response to my letter. I have considered the position and, whilst 1 have not approached the Chief Secretary of Western Australia, 1 note that he himself revealed the contents of his answer to me to the newspapers in Western Australia, as appears in a newspaper of Friday, 14th April. In those circumstances I feel that it would be only proper, seeing I have been asked the question in the Senate, that 1 should reveal the contents of my letter to him and his letter to me. But in doing so I feel that 1 should put into context certain of the matters which have been raised in regard to the controversy which appears to have excited a lot of interest as to what has been the attitude of the authorities in Western Australia in regard to, firstly, the granting of so-called study leave to a prisoner - Mr Gary Cook - and, secondly, the execution by the State police in Western Australia of warrants of commitment for offences under the National Service Act.

The Senate will recall that this matter was raised in the Senate first on 23rd March by Senator Durack. I indicated my concern and I indicated the grounds of my concern. While I was in Western Australia over the period from 5th to 7th April I was asked many questions by representatives of the media, seeking to have me elaborate the matters which 1 had indicated in the Senate in response to Senator Durack. As far as Mr Cook was concerned, I did nothing more than elaborate what I had said in answer to Senator Durack. With regard to the execution of police warrants, I raised matters which had come to my attention just before I had gone to Western Australia. I shall deal first of all with the position of Mr Cook.

Mr Cook,of course, was convicted of the offence of failing to answer his call-up notice in August 1971. The circumstances which attended the execution of the warrant for his arrest in Western Australia caused scenes which excited headlines on the front pages of the Western Australian newspapers. I have read those accounts and they are deplorable. Mr Cook went to gaol and the legal position is that as an offender against a Commonwealth law he is accommodated in a State prison. Having been in a country prison in Western Australia, he was returned to Fremantle after a breach of regulations. More recently he has been granted study leave. All prisoners in Western Australian State gaols for both Commonwealth and State offences are subject to the Prisons Act and the Prison Regulations of Western Australia. Under regulations made in 1970, leave of absence may be granted by the Chief Secretary for specific purposes, and those purposes include employment, family bereavement, hospital treatment and attendance on the family for certain welfare purposes. There is no provision in the regulations permitting the granting of leave of absence for study purposes.

The only reason why I did not advert specifically to the terms of the regulation when the Senate last met and when Senator Cant raised this matter was that he had referred to regulations of which I had no knowledge. I sought to ascertain whether those regulations were in existence. My researches have proved conclusively that the regulations to which Senator Cant referred - I think inadvertently as the dates would reveal - do not exist. I personally am very grateful to Senator Rae for the research which he has carried out independently. Whilst he merely stated the provisions of the regulations, his findings coincide with my knowledge, and I think everybody who reads them must form the view that the point which I have taken is the only interpretation reasonably open. I table a copy of Part VI of the Prison Regulations made under the Prisons Act of the State of Western Australia on 4th March 1970.

Senator Cavanagh - Are you tabling the letters?

Senator GREENWOOD - I am coming to that. In Western Australia there is a Classification Committee which, as a matter of administration, advises the Minister on whether leave of absence should be granted in particular cases. I have information - it is information which I accept - that prior to Mr Cook being granted his leave of absence this matter was not referred to the Classification Committee. At no stage prior to his being granted his leave of absence had the approval of this Classification Committee been given. I indicated in answer to Senator Durack that 1 would write to the Chief Secretary in Western Australia. I wrote to him as follows: lt has been brought to my notice that Garry Cook, who was sentenced on 27 August 1971 to two years' imprisonment for an offence against section 51 of the National Service Act for failing to comply with a call-up notice, has been granted leave of absence from Fremantle prison on the Wednesday of each week to enable him to attend lectures at the University of Western Australia.

As you are probably aware, under the Administrative Arrangements of the Commonwealth I have the responsibility, as Attorney-General, for the administration of Commonwealth legislation with respect to Commonwealth prisoners and related matters.

The granting of leave to Mr Cook has been raised in the Commonwealth Parliament and T indicated in the course of a response to a question, that T proposed to write to you concerning the matter. I should say that information available to me is to the effect that leave of absence from gaol for study purposes is not authorised by the Prison Regulations. 1 am concerned also that the granting of study absence to Mr Cook will be construed, particularly among those who urge non-compliance with the National Service Act, as an indication that imprisonment for breach of the Act will not unduly interfere with any university studies. This, you will appreciate, may tend to encourage a defiance of the law.

I would be glad, therefore, if you will let me know:

(1)   the basis on which leave has been granted to Mr Cook;

(2)   whether leave for Mr Cook was approved by a Classification Committee in the Western Australian prison system;

(3)   if not, what procedure was followed in this case:

(4)   have other prisoners, Commonwealth offenders or others, previously been granted similar study facilities; and

(5)   are fees payable to the university by Mr Cook. If so, who paid them and from what source.

I would appreciate your assistance in this matter.

That letter was sent on 24th March. I received a reply dated 1.1th April, which reads: 1 apologise for the delay in answering your inquiry concerning the treatment of Mr Gary Cook.

I would hasten to reassure you that Mr Cook is being treated on similar basis to other prisoners sentenced under both State and Commonwealth legislation.

Mr Cookis attending the university one afternoon a week, and in keeping with the policy of the Department of Corrections in this State, Mr

Cook's application was referred to the Classification Committee. There are, at this time, approximately 20 prisoners throughout the State being granted similar study facilities as to Mr Cook. The fees in each case are met by the Department from Consolidated Revenue Funds. 1 trust that this information will be of assistance to you. lt will be noted that, in response to a letter in which 1 sought information as to the grounds upon which this leave of absence has been granted, I was afforded no reply whatsoever. It was ignored in the reply to me. I note also that I was not given an answer to my question as to whether a Classification Committee had approved of the granting of leave of absence to Mr Cook. All I was told was that the matter had been referred to the Classification Committee, and I was given no indication as to whether the Classification Committee had approved. I would be very interested to know when it was referred to the Committee because my very strong belief, which is based upon grounds which are acceptable to me, is that the reference was made only after it was revealed in this Parliament that Mr Cook had been granted leave of absence - and 1 have that on very good authority.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - They should have told you to mind your own business.

Senator GREENWOOD - 1 hear from Senator Douglas McClelland that I should have been told to mind my own business. 1 can only suspect, when that interjection comes from an honourable senator who on many occasions has said that nothing which the Government has done ought to be excluded from public scrutiny, that the reason why he makes that interjection is that he fears something will be revealed in Western Australia which he would not like to be revealed. The point is that this is a matter of public interest and 1 am concerned because I accept an administrative responsibility in this area. If there is an attitude being adopted which involves the granting of unauthorised leave of absence to a National Service Act offender - and his fees at the university are paid - I am concerned that it will create a situation in which people may well feel that they can defy the National Service Act because they will not be impeded in their university studies. That to me, in terms of law enforcement, is a matter of some concern. I think it ought to be a matter of concern to anybody who believes that the rule of law requires that it be administered fairly and evenly and in accordance with the strict letter of that law. 1 will be very interested to hear any member of the Opposition - Opposition members have been fairly vocal while I have been speaking - who has any considered answer which will stand examination in reply to what I have said. I await it with interest. I do not believe that these questions are answered simply by abusive interjections or comments which are quite irrelevant to the issue which I have quite objectively raised.

The other matter which arises relates to the proposed non-execution by the Western Australian police of warrants of commitment in national service cases. I should indicate that the number of Commonwealth warrants in the State of Western Australia is very small. I mention this only to suggest that if any work load is involved it is not of proportions which ought, reasonably speaking, to give concern. There were 25 Commonwealth warrants of commitment in Western Australia in 1971. Of those 25 warrants, 8 related to National Service Act offences. I simply stated that I was concerned because I had been informed by the Commonwealth police that it appeared that the State police would not be prepared to render any assistance if, on a person being before the courts and being ordered to be taken into custody, there were no Commonwealth police present to take him into custody. That was the matter which the Commonwealth police in Western Australia brought to the attention of the Commonwealth Commissioner of Police here in Canberra and which automatically came to my attention.

I made the statement on the programme "This Day Tonight' on Wednesday, 5th April, that the Western Australian police had been instructed not to execute national service warrants. I said also that I did not know whether the instructions had come from the Western Australian Government. I did not know the source from which the instructions emanated. There is abundant evidence to support the statement which I made. I make the statement only because the Premier of Western Australia, without seeking any information from me as to what was the source of my statements, said that I was prepared to make statements recklessly without any belief in their truth. That I categorically deny.

The abundant evidence to which 1 refer is contained, first, in the statement which I gave to the Senate earlier today, which has been tabled and which indicates that there was an instruction issued above the signature of a senior police officer of the Western Austraiian police force. Secondly, there is the statement, which I have mentioned also, that the Commonwealth police were informed by the court orderly of the Court of Petty Sessions in Perth that Commonwealth police should be present if any national service offenders had to be taken into custody as the State police were not to render any assistance if the offender was to be taken into custody. That information, 1 am assured, was checked out by the Commonwealth police. Originally it had been given to the Department of Labour and National Service representative. It was in the course of checking that out that information was forthcoming, as I indicated today, of the instruction which had been issued. In those circumstances I found it quite incredible that in the Press comment which followed that statement there should be this statement attributed to the Minister for Police in Western Australia. I quote from "The Age' of 7th April 1972. On many occasions I have had cause to challenge the accuracy of 'The Age' reports and therefore I must make the qualification that maybe Mr Dolan also has been misreported. This report states:

The Minister for Police (Mr Dolan), in a telephone interview from Darwin yesterday, gave a categorical denial' that the WA police had been instructed not to execute warrants against alleged draft offenders.

There is no truth in this whatsoever,' said Mr Dolan. 'I have never given any such direction - nor have T ever spoken to the police on the matter. It is disgraceful that any responsible Minister should make such a claim. It is blatantly untrue. Such instructions could not be issued without going through me.

I have indicated merely that there is basis for what I have said. In the circumstances I cannot see how it can be said that it is blatantly untrue.

Further developments arose out of this. I appeared the following night on the same programme in company with Mr Tonkin. While Mr Tonkin did say that there had never been any problem, he certainly said that, because there had not been any problem, it meant that there would not be any problem in the future. I accepted that for the future there would be cooperation between the State police and the Commonwealth police. That seems to me to be consistent with the general attitude in regard to law enforcement which Mr Tonkin has displayed in times past, and I said so publicly on television.

I am grateful, because I think this should be revealed, that today a National Service Act offender appeared before the court in Western Australia and refused to enter into his recognisance. There were no Commonwealth police present in court and the State police took him into custody. That is pursuant to the general assurance given by Mr Tonkin in the interview to which I have referred. 1 can only believe, and I do believe, that for the future there will be this co-operation which is absolutely fundamental if the laws of the Commonwealth are to be properly enforced. The Commonwealth has not the type of police force which the States have. The Commonwealth Police Force is not geared to the ordinary functions to which State police forces are geared. I feel that we as a nation must rely on the State police forces being prepared to regard no distinction existing between offenders under Commonwealth law and those under State law. 1 raised these matters, Mr President, and have gone to some detail in regard to them, because I feel that in the light of all that has arisen it is fair to state my position, to give the facts upon which these matters have arisen, and to indicate quite clearly that there is a basis for what was stated. 1 am sure that if anyone examines what was said he will have no doubts about it. I formally table the 2 letters which I quoted and which have been read into Hansard for the purpose of enabling any honourable senator to peruse them if desired.

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