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Thursday, 17 November 1960

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (12:51 PM) . - The honorable member for

Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) has hit a very important note. Not only has he supported the remarks of previous speakers in condemning as a general principle the imposition of the death penalty upon any human being, but he has stressed the most important point that the crime for which it is now proposed to impose the death penalty is expressed in most imprecise terms. Let me remind honorable members that the crime for which the death penalty is now proposed arises if a person forms an intention to do any act referred to in the paragraphs of proposed new section 24 (1.), and this includes an act preparatory to levying war.

We have already had a debate on the meaning of acts preparatory to levying war. But, leaving aside the minor offence of committing an act preparatory to the levying of war, even the act of levying war has been proved conclusively to be an act which could include a general strike. Does the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) suggest that every trade union secretary who incites members of his union to participate in a general strike is guilty of this offence? Suppose that we had a general strike which completely paralysed every branch of industry so that there was no electricity, the sewerage system was out of action, the hospitals were closed down, supplies of oxygen were cut off and even single thing that contributes to modern life was stopped. The Government could say that those responsible for completely paralysing the country were levying war against it in order to force the Government to remove this savage, obnoxious piece of legislation from the statute-book. The Government could claim that any person who incited the multitude to force upon the Parliament a change of law was levying war and, therefore, was guilty of the offence "f treason, and the death penalty could be imposed. It is as good as that. Any union secretary found guilty of participating in a general stoppage of this kind could be executed.

This offence does not appear in the statutes of any country in the Englishspeaking word than Canada. It is noteworthy that the Attorney-General, search as he might, was able to find only one country in the English-speaking world where the doing of an act preparatory to war is treated as a treasonable offence, and that country is Canada.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He grabbed it.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Rather than justify a more liberal law leaving out this offence by pointing to all the countries that do not include this as a treasonable offence, he grabbed the only instance he could find to justify his inclusion of the offence. So Australia and Canada are the only countries in the world that have the rather doubtful distinction of making the doing of an act of this kind an offence punishable by death - and the definition of such an act is as wide as the world itself. The writing of an article or the making of a speech could be said to be an act preparatory to the levying of war, and could be punished by death.

Now I turn to the moral aspect. It is a long time since I went to Sunday School, but I can still clearly remember that one thing taught to me was, "Thou shalt not kill ". That is one of the Commandments, and the duty to obey it rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of every person who believes in the Christian faith. I was taught that in no circumstances may any man take the life of another, and nowhere in the Bible can any justification or sanction be found for what we are now proposing to do in this bill.

Mr Ward - Have you made the mistake of thinking that this Government is comprised of Christians?

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I was under the impression that the Government consisted of people who believed in the Christian faith, and I believe that that is so.

Mr Ward - They profess to do so.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I think they do more than profess; I think they really believe in the Christian faith, but they apparently do not understand that there is a prohibition against this sort of thing. The Minister for Immigration shakes his head.

Mr Downer - Your theology is not right.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I should like the honorable gentleman to tell me what the Commandment " Thou shalt not kill " means if it does not mean " thou shalt not take the life of another in any circumstances ".

I leave it at that, except to say that if honorable members opposite believe that the writing of an article or the making of a speech which can be described as an act preparatory to a general stoppage throughout Australia justifies the death penalty, then the value they place on human life is much less than the value I place on it.

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