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Wednesday, 27 November 1935

Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - I support the amendment because the inclusion of the words referred to by the

Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) might easily lead to the introduction of star chamber methods. We do not wish the way to be left open for the employment of either the old time French lettrede cachet or the modern American " third degree " practice. In the United States of America innocent persons are sometimes subjected to atrocious treatment in order that information may be wrung from them. A man may be for 30 or 40 hours subjected to almost continuous questioning, or it may be that policemen merely walk through the room without questioning him at all. At- first sight the latter method may not appear to be a form of torture, but the strain becomes more and more intense as the hours pass. Whilst the Labour party does not desire to obstruct the law, it wishes to safeguard hh innocent, person against methods which may be adopted by those who have a vested interest in procuring a conviction. The police force, has in one sense, a vested interest in procuring convictions. Men, Australian-born, but not having the Australian spirit, may go to any lengths to obtain a conviction in order to gain promotion in the police force. Why is it necessary to insert the words " without just cause"? What is meant by "just cause " ? A person may have a cause, and may give his interrogators certain reasons for being unable to give acceptable answers, but the proposed new subsection places upon him the onus of proving the justice of his cause. The police may take the view that the cause is not just, although the unfortunate individual lias given an explanation which, in his opinion, is perfectly correct and proper. But if he refuses or fails to answer questions put to him, to furnish information, or to give his approval in writing to the police to obtain documents in his possession, he will be guilty of an offence and be subject to imprisonment for six months or to a fine of £100. The new clause begins with the statement that if a police stipendary or special magistrate is satisfied by information laid before him by any person duly authorized . . . Will the Minister explain the significance of the words " any person " ? Can the Attorney-General empower any person under this clause, regardless of whom he may be, to collect information upon the receipt of which another person may be taken into custody? Such a person may be a "pimp or informer, or a low-down scoundrel. A police force has been established to do this class of work, but apparently any person whatsoever may now be enlisted to obtain information against a citizen in return for a few pieces of silver.

Senator Sir GEORGE Pearce - Such person must be authorized by the AttorneyGeneral.

Senator BROWN - The AttorneyGeneral may authorize a superintendent of police, who in turn may in a roundabout way use persons other than the police. The police may direct a series of questions, either orally or in writing, to a suspect, and he must answer them. The Labour party considers that the proposed powers will make it possible to bring within the scope of the measure individuals associated, for example, with the trade union movement. They may be quite respectable citizens of the realm, but in time of industrial trouble they may experience the harshness of this law.

Senator Sir George Pearce - They have nothing to fear from this legislation.

Senator BROWN - But they may be charged with being members of an unlawful association.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Not a bona fide trade union; only those person = who live on the trade unions - the parasites - need fear this legislation.

Senator BROWN - Presumably the parasites will be declared unlawful associations. That is a silly and puerile statement. The honorable senator pretends that the parasites will be the only class affected. The Labour party is based on the trade-union movement, and I am in close touch with many industrial organizations in this country. I admit that a few persons associated with industrial, social, and political organizations, may be termed parasites, but, on the other hand, there are many earnest men who have spent a life-time to their own detriment in unselfish efforts to ameliorate the conditions of those whom they represent. They see a danger that in a time of industrial strife, when they are battling to obtain better conditions, this legislation may be used against then] To pretend that the measure will be confined to the parasites is sheer " bunk ". The Australian Council of Trade Unions met in Melbourne to-day; the delegates to that conference represent thousands of persons and they are performing really useful work in this community. They have a right to discuss the Crimes Bill, and they have decided that it is a dangerous measure, which can be used to imprison men who are working on behalf of the industrial classes. The Minister maintains that safeguards have been provided. What are they?

Senator Dein - Is the honorable senator afraid of the bill?

Senator BROWN - My opposition is not actuated by personal fear. Justice and right and the administration of the law constitutionally placed on the statutebook, are the considerations that are involved. The freedom of the individual should not be prejudiced in any way. Such drastic amendments to the Crimes Act, in order to safeguard Australia, are unnecessary. The trade-union movement of Australia is law-abiding and it is composed of citizens who are held in high esteem. Respectable and hardworking persons in the movement fear this measure, and honorable senators should pay heed to them and to their representatives, who are endeavouring to show where the dangers lie. I trust that the Minister will explain the need for this legislation.

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