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Tuesday, 6 November 1973
Page: 1559

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - I raise a matter of concern, that is, the ability of honourable senators to utilise the procedures of the Parliament to obtain information. We have often expressed our concern in Opposition- I suppose if one looked back through the record members of the present Government would have expressed their concern when in Opposition, but I think with less justice- at the inability of honourable senators to obtain information from Ministers on matters of public interest. The difficulty has been adverted to in numerous questions without notice. The Opposition has taken the view that on occasions questions have not been answered, because of an unwillingness to answer, because of an evasion or because it was thought to be more appropriately a matter for debate. But I leave that matter aside. The basic means by which honourable senators can obtain information is by putting questions on notice. Some questions are appropriately for notice and should not be asked without notice.

In pan, what I am saying now has been preempted by comments which were made during question time today. I recall that Senator Geitzelt asked Senator Murphy a question about certain persons who were convicted quite recently of an offence which occurred in August 1972. 1 do not move into the comments which accompanied the question. Senator Murphy, in responding to the question, had available to him information which he was able to give in response to the question about names and details of the persons who had been convicted. I raise the matter because I feel that there is one aspect in a related area which has been left unanswered for far too long.

It is well remembered that on the night of 3 1 March- 1 April this year a number of raids took place on Sydney homes which were unprecedented in the history of this country. As a result of those many raids a number of prosecutions were launched. It is a matter of some concern to know whether or not those raids were well based to ascertain the results of those convictions. I asked the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) many questions without notice about the availability of the warrants under which the raids took place. In answers given to questions which I asked, I was denied any access to those warrants. On 5 June of this year I asked certain detailed questions on notice in respect of those raids. I refer to question No. 333 of 5 June this year. That question remains unanswered. At the same time I was concerned to know the results of the prosecutions which had been instituted. There were conflicting Press comments. On the same day I asked question No. 334 as to how many premises were raided, the purpose of the raids, how many persons were charged with offences, who were the persons charged, what were the offences with which they were charged, what has been the outcome of the hearing of each charge, and if the charge has not been completed at what stage are the proceedings. That question was asked on 5 June. It has not been answered.

I pursued the matter when the Senate resumed after the recess. I asked a similar question which was more specific in certain parts because it took account of the fact that some of the charges might have been made under State law. It was asked on 2 1 August this year. I asked how many houses or premises were raided, whether or not it was a fact that a total of 14 persons were charged with offences, if not how many people were charged with offences, and generally what was the result of each prosecution. These are questions which I think are of fundamental importance about which a person is entitled in this place to ask the relevant Minister. The relevant Minister is very interested in the area because of the controversy which occurred in this place earlier this year. It is an area in which it may be supposed, having regard to his express concern, that he would be keeping very much in touch with what was the outcome of each of those prosecutions.

One picks up from newspaper reports aspects of what has happened in some cases. Some publicity was given to the fact that a charge which had been sustained in the lower court was not upheld on appeal. In fact, the authority of the police was not shown to have been properly exercised. Of course, the person who had been convicted in the lower court was acquitted. There have been other comments which I am unable to verify, but there is a general understanding in the sources from which I have sought information that very few of these charges have been sustained. I should have thought that it would have been a highly significant event if, in the outcome, it was found that of all the raids that took place and of the relatively few prosecutions that followed only one or two convictions were forthcoming. If those convictions were for matters of assault or for the use of insulting words at the time the raids took place they would have even greater significance.

I have raised these matters in the adjournment debate because they represent the only way in which one can hope to bring some impact to bear in support of the view that far too long a period of time has elapsed during which these questions have not been answered. I know that in regard to the controversial events of earlier this year there is still in the notice paper a host of other unanswered questions that go back, in my case, to one asked early in March of this year. They are matters upon which honourable senators are entitled to have information. I do not go to the record, but I am sure that Senator Murphy and other Government senators will recall the type of plea which they made when they were in Opposition that these matters should not be left unanswered for long periods. I only add that for a Government which obtained office on the promise that it was going to provide a greater openness in government and that it was going to ensure that things were not withheld, it is making a pretty sorry effort at giving effect to that promise. In raising this matter I have directed myself essentially to the subject of when these questions will be answered. I think it is unsatisfactory that this matter is still unresolved at the present time.

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