Stepping up his long-held criticisms of the Independent Commission
Against Corruption, the former Premier Mr Neville Wran, QC, last night described
the ICAC laws as a blot on the system of justice in NSW, and called on the next
State Government to ensure the commission could be abolished.
"After the next election, the very least the new Government ought to do is
to rid the ICAC legislation of its glaring abuses of civil rights and to insert
a sunset clause to provide for the termination of this star chamber approach to
the dispensation of justice," Mr Wran said.
Mr Wran was delivering the Evatt Foundation annual address to commemorate
the 100th anniversary of the birth of the former ALP leader Dr H. V. Evatt, and
to launch a new Evatt biography.
He also said that the NSW Government's recent decision to abolish dock
statements was a continuation of the erosion of civil liberties in NSW.
"It seems that each week, in some Parliament in some State of Australia, a
law is passed reversing the onus of proof," Mr Wran said. "We may well ask
what's happened to that golden thread that was supposed to run through our
system of justice, the presumption of innocence. All too often it has been
converted into a presumption of guilt.
"I believe our society faces a genuine threat to hitherto untouchable
freedoms and civil rights - a threat of significant proportion."
Mr Wran criticised what he described as trial by media. "The most recent
instance is the Blue Mountains imbroglio, evidence and opinion relating to which
has been frequently discussed and reported in the media with scant or no regard
to the rights of people involved, or the effect upon a subsequent trial in the
event of charges being preferred."
"Doc" Evatt, whom Mr Wran described as a "true Labor leader and a great
Australian", would not have had a bar of this destruction of civil rights. "If
he were here he would be exhorting his fellow Australians to defend themselves
against this onslaught because without the guarantee of basic civil rights the
average citizen is defenceless against the dinosaur of authoritarianism."
In launching the biography, Doc Evatt: Patriot, Internationalist, Fighter
and Scholar, by Ken Buckley, Barbara Dale and Wayne Reynolds, Mr Wran paid
tribute to the Doc's great contribution as a civil libertarian, citing his
defeat in 1951 of Sir Robert Menzies' referendum to abolish the Communist Party
as his "finest hour".
Mr Wran, who heard Dr Evatt speak publicly against the referendum, said
that one speech, made at the Bondi Esplanade, was the greatest defence of civil
liberties he had ever heard.
"The Doc left no doubt in our minds that a constitutional change would be
the final step towards the creation of a police State," he said.
"It beggars the imagination to think of the diabolical authoritarianism
contemplated by the (1951) referendum being exercised today by the likes of
Bronwyn Bishop, Jeff Kennett, Peter Reith or Tim Fischer."
Too many people today, including some judges and politicians, Mr Wran
said, were willing to jettison civil liberties under the guise of maintaining
law and order.
The abolition of dock statements, he said, was "the latest assault upon
civil rights of the individual, especially the inarticulate, the uneducated and
the unsophisticated person who is easy prey for a competent cross-examiner".