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Thursday, 16 May 1957

Mr CAIRNS (Yarra) .- Whilst supporting the amendment moved by the Opposition, I wish, to raise a point concerning section 55 of the principal act. That is a section covering a wide range of subjects concerning offences and penalties. Sub-section (1.) (e) refers to a public servant who is -

Guilty of any disgraceful or improper conduct, either in his official capacity or otherwise.

If seems to me that within the meaning of the words " improper conduct " at the present time there is a series of conditions - I will not say offences - which is thought to be capable of being covered by the subsection. Although it seems to be difficult to convince some Government supporters that there is any sincerity on the part of a person who speaks in defence of those who might be brought under this sub-section - I refer to those who might be considered to be guilty of certain offences of political associations, or of certain subversive or security offences- I do. not think it is difficult to convince the Minister at the table, and that is why I raise the point now. It is not inconsistent with our amendment.

I suggest that the Government should take into account the possibility of creating an appeal tribunal for persons in the Public Service who feel themselves aggrieved by any decision of the Public Service Board which might attribute to them, directly or by implication, improper conduct in relation to their political activities. I make this suggestion because I happen to know that in the Public Service there is a feeling, shared by quite a number of people, that an independent appeal tribunal of this sort would meet the exigencies of this situation and provide fairness and justice. I seriously suggest to the Minister that some consideration be given to setting up a tribunal of this sort, to which people who were accused of improper conduct - for example, under section: 55 (1.) (e) - and were aggrieved by the decision, could appeal, and by which any evidence held concerning them could be examined properly, in the open.

If that course were followed, it would not in any way endanger national security. On the contrary, it would contribute to it, because there is nothing more likely to be inconsistent with national security than a feeling of injustice or the existence of some intangible suggestion in relation to his affairs that a person cannot bring out into the open and have examined, and upon which a fair decision can be given. I happen to know that quite a number of people feel this at the present time, and I think it is appropriate to suggest, in relation to this clause, that some provision be made to set up such a. tribunal.

I make this suggestion in all sincerity because I believe that liberty is of vast importance to the community - not to a few people but to all. I consider that one of the marks of an advanced society is the existence of facilities such as those I have suggested. Means to provide them have been devised in other countries, including Great Britain, and I suggest that we in Australia, could very well follow that example.

Mr Townley - The honorable member's suggestion will be considered.

Question put -

That the amendment (Mr. Costa's) be agreed to.

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