A member of the National Crime Authority misled the parliamentary watchdog on the authority, according to the Senate Privileges Committee.
The privileges committee found also that the authority’s then chairman and other members of the authority tried to prevent an officer from giving evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority.
The joint committee was set up as a watchdog to the authority, which has wide powers and extensive secrecy provisions, after concern about who watches the watchers.
The privileges committee, however, said in a report tabled last week that the then chairman, Peter Faris, QC, and the other members of the authority who tried to impose directions upon Pierre Mark Le Grande to prevent him from giving evidence to the joint committee about Operation Noah believed they were acting conscientiously and in accordance with the National Crimes Act.
The privileges committee found there was no danger Mr Le Grande would publish sensitive material to the world at large and that he believed he was fulfilling his responsibility to the authority and the joint committee.
It determined there had been no contempt of Parliament.
The case arose out of Operation Noah in South Australia on February 7, 1989. According to Mr Le Grande’s evidence, of 989 calls from the public about illegal drug activity, 13 alleged corrupt conduct by police, but no information was passed to the National Crime Authority.
The authority then under the chairmanship of Justice Donald Stewart launched an inquiry, amusingly called Operation Ark, and wrote a report. The new chairman, Mr Faris, found it defective and did not want it passed in that form to the South Australian Government. Mr Le Grande, the South Australian member of the authority, did. His evidence suggests that if asked about it by a federal or state parliamentary committee he would answer questions.
The privileges committee recommended changes to the Parliamentary Privileges Act to make it paramount over secrecy and privacy provisions of other law unless the other law says to the contrary.
It recommended: “”That the Senate should warn persons dealing with Houses of Parliament and their committees that they have an obligation to direct their attention to the real effects of their actions, and in particular to ensure that they give answers to committees as fully and frankly as possible, without recourse to legalistic or bureaucratic casuistry.”
The committee found: “”That Mr Peter Faris, QC, Mr Gregory Joseph Cusack, QC, Mr Julian Peter Leckie [members of the authority] and Mr Pierre Mark Le Grande entered into an agreement, at a meeting held in Sydney on 16 December, 1989, which, if observed, would have involved a restriction on Mr Le Grande’s appearing before, and providing documents and evidence to, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority.
“”That the answer given by Mr Gregory Joseph Cusack, QC, in confirming as the view of the authority, in the presence of Mr Julian Leckie, the answer “no’ given by the late Mr Gerald Dempsey to a question, asked on 16 February, 1990, at a meeting of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, as to whether Mr Pierre Mark Le Grande had been restricted in any way on the evidence he should give to that committee, had the effect of misleading that committee.””
It said the actions of the members of the authority were unwise and placed Mr Le Grande under undue pressure.