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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 501

Senator HARRADINE(3.28) —I rise not to go over the ground that has already been covered by the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), Senator Durack and Senator Mason, but simply to refer to page 6 of the ministerial statement before us. It refers to certain amendments to legislation that the Government is proposing. It states:

These changes will necessarily involve amendments to the criminal law having retrospective operation.

I note that the amendments refer to placing the issues before State jurisdictions on behalf of the Commonwealth and also in the civil jurisdiction rather than having military tribunals deal with the cases. The statement deals with whether or not serious crimes committed in the course of hostilities in Eastern Europe are able to be covered and with one other point. I would point out to the Senate that it would be a very grave issue indeed for the Parliament to consider retrospective criminal legislation. Of course the issue of war crimes is a very grave issue. The war crimes committed by those involved with the nazi regime, or indeed others who may have committed war crimes against other populations-I include here those who were operating at the behest of the Stalinist regime-are very grave issues indeed. It will be interesting to see whether the definitions of war criminal cover those aspects as well.

We must give the retrospective operation of whatever legislation is coming before us very detailed consideration, because one of the foundations of a democratic society such as ours is, of course, for its citizens to have certainty before the law, particularly where that law is criminal law. It should not be forgotten that many of the crimes perpetrated against the Jews by the nazi regime were by the institution by that regime of the retrospective operation of legislation. Those honourable senators who are aware of the history of that period will know the circumstances to which I am referring. I have raised these matters so that they also may be taken on board. Senator Durack, by implication and directly, has adverted to the questions that need to be considered. The Minister, in his paper, has done so. I simply wish to add those few remarks.

Question resolved in the affirmative.