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Thursday, 17 November 1960


Mr L R JOHNSON (Hughes) . - I have been intrigued to-night to hear a number of honorable members refer to legal precedents. I cannot help but wonder why they resort to this practice of quoting what Lord Mansfield said in 1781 and the like. I am well aware that some enthusiastic lawyers from various parts of Australia inundated members of Parliament with this kind of thing some weeks ago, but I think it is a reflection on honorable members that we should have to resort to this kind of second-class mail to the extent that we have. We have been hearing about Lord Mansfield for some days now. My colleague, the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), has suggested that we might do better to talk about Jayne Mansfield and about other things in which the people of Australia might be more interested.

The incredible part of the whole business is that we are hearing now about what Lord Mansfield said in 1781. No doubt, in twenty years we shall hear what was said by Sir Garfield Barwick - an eminent lawyer in the opinion of most Australians and most honorable members in this place - but I am beginning to believe that some honorable members on the Government side do not hold him in such high esteem from the point of view of legal ability. I know that some honorable members opposite - the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby) for example - in the near future will talk about the legal precedents which were set down by Dr. Evatt who, during his sojourn in this place, was completely and consistently vilified by honorable members on the Government side. Dr. Evatt is a lawyer who can lay claim to long experience in law, and what he says must be given weight.

The honorable members who consistently quote Lord Mansfield are like the honorable members who consistently quote the Sydney " Daily Telegraph ". They would not recognize the fellow who writes the articles that they quote if they passed him in the passageway, but whatever he prints in the " Daily Telegraph " becomes holy writ to them. They place such a high value on it that they quote it in the Parliament. We are sick and tired of that kind of thing. I do not think that the average Australian of the kind who came into King's Hall yesterday and during the week cares two pence about Lord Mansfield. Most Australians merely hope that the Government will bring down a bill that the ordinary people can understand. 1 am reminded of the words of Henry Lawson. Although I cannot remember them in detail, he said something to the effect that we drivel and croak and grovel until our voice goes further than the college walls, but keep out of the tracks we travel. The Government needs to take care because it is travelling in the tracks of the people of Australia. It is cloaking this legislation with all kinds of mysterious jargon. The people just do not know what it is all about.

The Attorney-General has been at great pains to make an impact on the people who know something about the law in this country. It is important that the law should be stated in plain English because it will affect the ordinary Australian people. T do not think that we have to accommodate people like the Attorney-General so far as this kind of legislation is concerned.

Let us consider proposed new section 24 (1 .). It is a crime to kill, maim, wound, imprison or restrain the Sovereign. Why not? It is a crime to kill, maim, or wound any one in this country or, for that matter, in the world. Why do we have to make such special mention of this? There may be a simple answer but the AttorneyGeneral has not yet told us what it is. It is a crime to kill the eldest son and heir apparent or the Queen Consort. Surely the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) was being pretty reasonable earlier to-night when he contended that the Attorney-General was making too much play about these preliminary^ provisions. The position is clear. It is a crime to kill the eldest son and heir apparent of the Sovereign. The fact of the matter is that it is a crime to kill any one - even the Attorney-General or the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). The whole thing is out of date. Who seeks these days to kill the King or the Queen? There is a great benevolence in the world to-day towards the Sovereign. People have attempted to kill some of the Presidents of the United States of America and the political leaders of many countries, but there is no special provision in relation to political leaders in this country who may attract some antagonism.

Any person who kills the Queen will not receive any harsher sentence than he would receive if he killed the most humble person in the community. As I read the legislation, that is the position. I ask the Attorney-General whether I am correct.

The proposed new section goes on to provide that it is a crime to levy war, or to do any act preparatory to levying war, against the Commonwealth. We have heard Lord Mansfield quoted on this aspect. If legal precedents count for anything, there is undoubtedy an apparent danger in this section. Certain actions of the kind to which Lord Mansfield has referred in his judgments as insurgence have been characteristic of the great fight of the Labour movement. The Labour movement was built on action such as that at Eureka many years ago. We have seen action since then in many parts of Australia. We have seen trade unionists rally and march from Wynyard Park in Sydney and from the Yarra Bank in Victoria to express their feelings on some controversial legislation of the kind that we are discussing now. I do not doubt that, according to Lord Mansfield's interpretation of this particular provision, if the trade unionists who came into

King's Hall yesterday had found themselves in trouble with the Commonwealth police force - the authority which keeps order in this building - they would have found themselves in difficulties.

I have participated in trade union rallies. On one occasion the trade unionists rallied at Wynyard Park to support the proposition that the Indonesians should be given independence. We know that this became an accomplished fact and that the world conceded the legitimacy of the Indonesians' claims. In the circumstances, it was pretty dangerous for the people in Sydney to express themselves as they did on that occasion. It was just as well that there were no provisions in the Crimes Act such as are now proposed or they would indeed have been in trouble.

There are other highly controversial features in this bill. I feel that proposed new section 24 is such a drag-net that the Attorney-General seems to have disregarded the practical possibility of implementing the provisions that he has read into this legislation. He has even removed the territorial limitation of the legislation. We say that any person at all who does these things is liable to be tried for treason. Although the essence of the crime of treason lies in the very violation of allegiance to the Sovereign by British subjects, this proposed new section refers to any person at all. He could be some one in some other country. The Attorney-General, in his endeavour to throw out the drag-net - to weave such a wide web - has brought down legislation of a type probably unprecedented in modern history, so anxious is he to ensure that there will be no loophole through which any one can escape.

How can you indict some one for treason who does not even live in this country? Under this legislation, a person does not have to be a national of this country to be guilty of treason. I think the AttorneyGeneral ought to have a look at that particular aspect of the matter as well.


Mr Curtin - It will keep Castro up of nights.


Mr L R JOHNSON - Well, I think we may even contemplate Castro. One can think of so many eventualities in respect of this legislation - this business of levying war and the like - and can recognize the great danger that is inherent in it.

New section 24 (d) of the legislation, for example, provides that it will be treason to assist - by any means whatever an enemy at war with the Commonwealth, whether or not the existence of a state of war has been declared;

Those are pretty vague generalities considering that the penalty will be death. The Opposition feels that the crime of treason should be more effectively defined than it is in this legislation. That is the very essence of the traditional system of justice in Australia and, indeed, in British countries generally. As I read this provision, an enemy does not even need to be a nation. Certainly an enemy does not need to be a country against whom we have declared war. An enemy could be an insurgent group within a country, such as Malayan terrorists or Communists fighting in a place in respect of which the United Nations has taken some action.


The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.







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