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Thursday, 7 May 1970

The Postmaster-General wrote to me on 8th January. When I returned to my office at the end of February his reply was drawn to my attention. Early in March I had discussions with him and he explained to me further the difficulties of prosecuting Mr Neylan in view of the fact that upon interview by departmental officials Mr Neylan had claimed that no recording of a telephone conversation had actually been made.

Honourable members can imagine my utter amazement when I learned that during my absence overseas the Abortion Inquiry in Melbourne had accepted taped evidence of a telephone conversation, the recording being made by a Mrs Berman who has been referred to throughout the case, often with great affection. I am fully aware that from a legal point of view there is a Privy Council decision in the case of Kuramu Son of Kari v. the Queen, 1955, in which it was ruled that the way in which evidence had been obtained, whether proper or improper, did not affect its admissibility. I respect fully the question of sub judice but I am not questioning the decision to accept this evidence.

On 2nd April I wrote to the AttorneyGeneral expressing my fears as to the pattern which seems to be developing in this nation. Regulation 16a under the Telephone Communications Acts was inserted in the Telephone Regulations in 1935. The regulation provided that it was an offence, unless authorised by the Department, inter alia to use any apparatus or device to listen to communications passing over authorised telephone lines. In 1960 the regulation was amended to make the recording of such communications an offence. Two decades ago a penalty of a lousy $50 was imposed for infringement. In 1950 Sir Robert Menzies said that he 'gave directions to the Director-General of Security with respect to telephonic interception' and that he required that authority for interception should be given by the Director-General of Security only when on examining a specific case he was perfectly satisfied that the telephone service to be intercepted could reasonably be suspected of being, or likely to be, used for espionage or sabotage or subversive activities'. That is vastly different from the case in Cairns. In 1960 Sir Garfield Barwick, in his second reading speech on the Telephonic Communications Interception Act, said:

Eavesdropping is abhorrent to us as a people . . This Government ... has approached this question of permitting the interception of telephonic messages from that point of view It has decided that the security of this Commonwealth is paramount and that it affords good and sufficient reason on appropriate occasions to justify interception. The safety of us all must overbear that desire for individual privacy which we would otherwise wish to accord to everybody.

That is different from the Penridge case and a lot different from the present Abortion Inquiry case in Melbourne.

According to Sir Garfield Barwick, Mr Chifley authorised telephonic interception or telephone tapping about 3 months after he had initiated ASIO and had given his express approval to the then DirectorGeneral of Security authorising the interception of telephone messages. In the 1970s I am completely opposed to the view expressed in 1937 by the then Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia,. Sir John Latham, who said:

.   . however desirable some limitation upon invasion of privacy might be, no authority . . . exists which shows that any general right of privacy exists.

The discussions which I had with the PostmasterGeneral and the Attorney-General have led me to believe that these gentlemen do not support telephone conversations being recorded and used as Court evidence. It is my view that the present situation is such that the laws of the Government of Australia in relation to the aforementioned subject are an absolute mockery. I ask: Why did we not prosecute the person who had made the recordings used as evidence in Cairns? Do we intend to initiate proceedings against Mrs Berman? These are questions which deserve an answer.

In this day and age when bugging devices are so easily obtainable it is time we adopted an electronic outlook. I have here a booklet advertising tape recorders, published as a handbook for recorders sold in Australia. On page 19 it actually advertises an instrument to attach to the base or handset of a telephone by a suction cap to record both sides of a telephone conversation. It is time we put an end to this. It is time that we amended the Telephone Communications Interception Act to allow the Commonwealth to prosecute any time up to 20 years after a recording has been made, instead of a few measly months which is the present statutory period and which affords sanctuary to these law breakers and holds our Act to ridicule. It amazes me that the law reform committees and the civil liberties organisations in the various States have never raised this matter. I commend the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) for his action last year when he raised the Cairns case in the House. Unfortunately, as is typical of the Labor Party, he dropped the matter quickly and did not follow it through. 1 know that there are great arguments for the use of telephone information in assisting in the detection of crime, but 1 sincerely believe that we have to keep our values and our liberties in perspective. The security of this nation is foremost, but where is this going to stop? If doctors, policemen and nurses in the Abortion Inquiry are to be convicted on the evidence of tape recordings what hope has any man in the street of preventing greater prosecutions once a heavy precedent has been established? I hope that the matter will not rest here and that the Ministers involved, the Cabinet, the Parliament and the people of Australia will examine the question very closely.

MrDEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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