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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1198

Senator MAGUIRE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Communications. I refer to the regulation of the use of telephones in Australia under the Telecommunications Act. Does the Telecommunications Act make an offence the use of abusive language on the telephone?

Senator WALSH —Section 86 (c) of the Telecommunications Act states:

A person shall not without reasonable excuse send over a telecommunications system a communication of information likely to cause reasonable persons, justifiably in all the circumstances, to be seriously alarmed or seriously affronted.

Whether that has any relevance to recent news events--

Senator Chaney —You are not going to give us a legal opinion, are you?

Senator WALSH —No, I am certainly not going to give a legal opinion. Whether the celebrated telephone conversation in Melbourne, which contained a good deal of language which was not only abusive but also, I would say, obscene--

Senator Richardson —Shocking! I was appalled.

Senator WALSH —Senator Richardson was appalled, and I am not surprised that he was appalled. Indeed, nobody who presents himself as a high profile Christian could contemplate a political alliance with a person who used such obscene language in the way in which both of the people who participated in that conversation did. Whether that conversation constitutes an offence under section 86 (c) is something for, initially, the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide.

Senator Gietzelt —You are not going to refer it there, are you?

Senator WALSH —It is up to Mr Duffy to decide whether the DPP should become involved in it. But one would think that the legislation was framed with a view to not allowing one person to abuse another person by ringing him up on the telephone. If that were held to be the case, in this instance of the call between Mr Peacock and Mr Kennett the object of the abuse was a third party who was not even listening in on the call-unlike a few other people. I will not attempt to give a legal opinion, but I would have thought that it was designed to stop one person ringing up another and abusing him on the telephone. That is not what happened in the celebrated case in Melbourne last Saturday night.