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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 6460

PRIME MINISTER'S STATEMENT TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES CONCERNING CORRESPONDENCE FROM MR COMMISSIONER COSTIGAN

Photo of Hawke, Robert

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 to 20/12/1991

More information about Hawke, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 13/09/1984

Release Type: Statement in Parliament

Transcript ID: 6460

PRIME MINISTER'S STATEMENT TO THE HOUSE OF' RE PRE SENT AIVE S
CONCERNING CORRESPONDENCE FROM MR COMMISSIONER COSTIGAN
Mr Speaker
I seek leave to make a Statement relating to the documents.
Last week the Leader of the Opposition asked a number of
questions about the concern expressed by Mr Costigan
regarding the progress of the transition from the Royal
Commission to the National Crime Authority on 6 September.
I informed the House of the position in the following terms:
' It is the wish of the Government to see an
effective transition from the proceedings and
processes of the Costigan Royal Commission to the
National Crime Authority. It is clear that Mr
Costigan and the National Crime Authority have a
different view on the adequacy of the transition
arrangements. While Mr Costigan appears to believe
that there will be problems with the transition,
the National Crime Authority has advised that its
members ' disagree' unanimously with Mr Costigan's
assessment of the situation. Clearly this is a
matter between Mr Costigan and the National Crime
Authority. I am pleased to say that to assist the
House I will table later this day the full
correspondence from Mr Costiqan and the National
Crime Authority on this matter. ( House of
Representatives Hansard 6 September 1984 p.
706).
That is exactly what I did last Thursday. Indeed a broad
view was taken of what documents were relevant to the
exchange of views on the progress of the transition. The
correspondence tabled last Thursday went back to the letter
I sent Mr Costigan on 21 June 1984, upon the passage of the
National Crime Authority Act. This letter confirmed the
arrangements for the transition agreed between the Special
Minister of State and Mr Costigan at their meeting in March
of this year.
On 1 September the Leader of the Opposition read out a list
giving the dates of other correspondence between Mr Costigan
and me. As he indicated, these letters were not included
among those tabled on Thursday. A cursory inspection of the
dates involved would have shown that they all dated back to
at least March, and in a number of cases to 1983.
These letters cover a period well before the transition
commenced, and well before the National Crime Authority had
come into existence. Indeed, the date of the first letter
mentioned by Mr Peacock showed it was written four days
after this Government was sworn into Office.

I at no stage indicated that I was purportinq to table
related correspondence with Mr Costigan extending back to
the commencement of my Government. Nor was this sought by
the Opposition prior to the tabling. But, to make it
crystal clear that this Government has nothing to hide in
this matter, that is what I have just done.
I am sure Honourable Members will be interested to examine
the correspondence which was of such interest to the Leader
of the Opposition last Friday. Let me outline some of its
contents to Honourable Members.
Mr Costigan first wrote to me about his activities on
March 1983, a mere four days after this Government had
formally assumed Office. In that letter Mr Costigan
referred to the investigations which had taken place under
the previous Government. He referred to the methods by
which organised crime had ' raped the Australian community'.
The Commissioner stated:
' Quite frankly, I am appalled at what I have found'.
He referred me to a number of letters he had written to my
predecessor. He reminded me that his previous report had recommended that
a permanent body was needed to maintain the impetus and
trend of his investigations. He expressed concern that the
proposed National Crimes Commission Act had been
' emasculated' by the ' Spender' amendment. Mr Costigan sent
me a further letter 10 days later, following his meeting
with the Attorney-General, raising similar concerns.
I met with Mr Costigan on 30 March 1983, to discuss those
matters and indicated subsequently, in a letter of 11 April,
that the Government had decided to consider the matter at
further length before making any final decisions on the
future of the Crimes Commission.
The Government, as part of its consideration of the issues,
subsequently conducted a National Crimes Seminar in the
Senate Chamber to discuss the kind of body which might be
established. There followed an extensive period of consultation with Mr
Costigan. As the correspondence I have tabled demonstrates,
the Government made every effort to respond to and to
accommodate the requests made by Mr Costigan. Indeed, on 26
October 1983, I indicated that the Government would extend
the Commission then due to terminate at the end of the
year for a further four months. This offer was made
without any written requests from Mr Costigan for an
extension.

I wish to outline the nature of subsequent exchanges in some
detail. Mr Costigan, in reply to my proposal of 26 October
1983, criticised the powers that were proposed for the new
Crime Authority, and indicated his view that no date for the
termination of the Commission should be set until the
legislation was passed. He stated that he found it
difficult to believe that I would wish to have the fight
against organised crime abandoned, but said that if that was
the decision of Government so be it.
Such was my concern over these remarks from Mr Costigan that
I immediately instructed officials to meet with Mr Costigan
as soon as possible to discuss his concerns with him, and
proposed that Ministerial discussions also be held if
necessary. A few days later Senator Evans also met with Mr
Costigan.
Mr Costigan wrote to me on 24 November expressing ' a degree
of optimism' that the handover to the Authority would work.
In the same letter he sought a twelve months extension of
his Royal Commission. I replied by proposing a six months
extension, with a report to be provided in April, but
anticipating a further extension if this was necessary to
ensure that the transition to the National Crime Authority
proceeded smoothly. Mr Costigan replied in February 1984,
saying that he was unable to provide a report by April.
Following further representations from Mr Costigan and
discussion between him and the Special Minister of State, it
was agreed to extend his Commission to 30 September 1984.
Mr Costigan expressed his satisfaction with these
arrangements and the press statement issued at the
conclusion of the meeting was agreed by both parties.
I have gone through these exchanges with Mr Costigan in some
detail to show that the Government made every effort to meet
Mr Costigan's concern about the duration of his Commission
consistent with its overall belief that the Royal Commission
model does not provide a suitable long-term body for
fighting organised crime.
The Government has remained committed to the establishment
of a National Crime Authority able to take over, on a
continuing basis, those of the Costigan Royal Commission's
investigations which bear upon organised crime more
generally than just in connection with the Painters and
Dockers Union.
Through the period of this Government, it has taken Mr
Costigan's comments very seriously. It has sought to be
helpful and to offer support to him. Indeed in his
correspondence, Mr Costigan acknowledged the support I and
other Ministers have given him.

I would like to acknowledge again the Government's
appreciation of the valuable work which Mr Costigan and his
Commission have performed. It is now of vital importance
that the task of fighting organised crime in this country be
carried forward by the Crime Authority.
It is obvious from the correspondence that the Government
and Mr Costigan had differing views about the timetable
which should apply to the winding up of the Royal
Commission. But I warn the Opposition that it would be
unwise to seek to make any capital out of that lest their
hypocrisy be exposed again.
I refer the House to page 4 of Mr Costigan's letter to me of
2 November 1983.
' I have repeatedly requested over the past 18
months some finality on the future of the
Commission, and have asked for it in adequate time
to allow me to do my job properly. Neither
Government has ever attended to that task with
sufficient appreciation of the lead time required
and this is no exception.'
Mr Speaker, this Government is confident that its record of
combatting organised crime will withstand any scrutiny. The
documents tabled today demonstrate that we have given Mr
Costigan total encouragement and support.
My letter of 26 October 1983 to Mr Costigan stated that ' I
personally and the Government collectively support strongly
the work of your Commission and the way in which you have
been conducting your Commission.'
Mr Costigan referred to this interest and support in his
letter of 2 November 1983:
' When I saw you in April this year you indicated
your wish, with which I concurred, that the
Commission should concentrate on painter and docker
activity, with particular reference to drugs. That
is the course I have followed.'
These sentiments give the lie to the Opposition's contention
that we have sought to thwart Mr Costigan's activities, and
have attempted to frustrate the fight against organised
crime.

Again, let us look at Mr Costigan's own words. In his
letter to me of 5 March this year, Mr Costigan wrote:
' I am anxious both that the new Crime Authority
commence operation as soon as possible and that I
hand over to it in an efficient manner the
investigations I am now conducting. Your
Government's determination to establish the body is
welcome to me and in the public interest. My
concern is that there may be a lack of continuity
in the investigations.'
In a letter of 27 February 1984, I had already assured the
Commissioner that, in the context of the transition, the
Government would ' co-operate fully in ensuring the
continuation of those inquiries.'
Mr Speaker, let us compare that concern with the cavalier
attitude of our predecessors. How did they demonstrate
concern for continuity of investigation? How did they seek
to avoid any thwarting of Mr Costigan's inquiries?
Let me quote from Mr Costigan's letter of 24 November 1983:
' the uncertainty surrounding the life of the
Commission has made forward planning very
difficult; by way of example last year my term,
which was due to expire on 31 December, was not
extended until 25 December. Such uncertainty is
very disruptive to the work of the Commission and
harmful to the morale of staff.'
Mr Speaker, that cavalier approach compares starkly with our
constant encouragement and support of Mr Costigan and our
continuing consultation with him.
Mr Speaker, last Thursday I met with the Chairman, Mr
Justice Stewart, and the other members of the National Crime
Authority. We discussed matters relating to the transition,
the winding up of the Costigan Commission and the
considerable amount of work which the members of the
Authority have already carried out as they commence their
task of fighting organised crime.
I asked Mr Justice Stewart, one of this country's most
experienced and knowledgeable fighters of organised crime,
whether there was anything further the Government could do
to assist the National Crime Authority carry out its
responsibilities. He replied that there was not.
I asked him whether he was confident that the National Crime
Authority would be an effective body in fighting organised
crime. He replied that he was.

6.
I suggest that if the Opposition is really interested in the
fight against organised crime it should cease its futile and
deceitful attempt to score political points over this issue.
The Opposition should get behind Mr Justice Stewart, the
Hon. Max Bingham, QC, a former Liberal Attorney-General of
Tasmania, and Mr John Dwyer, QC the latter two members
chosen on the unanimous agreement of the eight participating
governments and support them and the Authority as a whole
in the challenging and important work of fighting organised
crime.

Transcript 6460