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Thursday, 17 November 1960

(a)   receives or assists another person who is, to his knowledge, guilty of treason in order to enable him to escape punishment; or

(b)   knowing that a person intends to commit treason, does not give information thereof with all reasonable despatch to a constable or use other reasonable endeavours to prevent the commission of the offence . . .

The traditional law on this subject places on a person who knows that another person intends to commit treason an obligation to give information thereof, with all reasonable despatch, to a justice of the peace. The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) has paraphrased the provision that information shall be given to a justice of the peace and has provided that information shall be given to a constable. Earlier in the committee stage there was some argument about the responsibilities and proficiency of justices of the peace. I believe that there are about 150,000 justices of the peace in Australia. Apparently the Attorney-General feels that they are a little too common for this purpose and that the information should be given to a constable.

The Opposition's objection to this provision is that it imposes in certain circumstances an obligation to give information in respect of one of the crimes specified. The Opposition does not dispute that treason is so serious that no person should harbour a traitor or should fail to stamp out the treason as quickly as possible and with his best endeavours; but we find it is odious that a person should be compelled to give information concerning an offence. It may be that to give information to a constable is the only reasonable thing to do or the most reasonable thing to do in the circumstances. If that is the case, then it would be necessary to give information under the amendment that I have moved. However, we feel that this modern statute should clearly state that any person who knows that another person intends to commit treason should with all reasonable despatch use reasonable endeavours to prevent the commission of the offence. In some cases it may not be the most reasonable thing to do to give information. There may be steps that one could take which would be more effective than seeking a constable to whom to give information. Our amendment will ensure that a person will take reasonable steps to prevent the commission of the offence. If the only reasonable or the most reasonable method is to inform a constable, then that is the obligation which is imposed on residents and citizens of this country. But the present paragraph is deficient, in that it makes the giving of information in itself sufficient, although there may be better means. It is also odious, in that it requires the giving of that information although there may be other and better means available To take a crucial example, there is the encouragement of informing by members of a family against other members of it, although there are, within a family, very often better means of dissuading traitorous activities than the giving of information.

The proposal we make is that if a person thinks someone is about to commit this crime he must, with all reasonable despatch, use all reasonable endeavours to prevent the commission of the offence. Under the clause as it stands it is sufficient that he tells the constable. Admittedly he has an alternative, but we impose the obligation which we think is in accordance with modern concepts - that you should do all you can as quickly as you can to prevent the offence.


Mr Snedden - You are making it more difficult.


Mr WHITLAM - Do you object to that? The obligation on all residents and citizens of Australia is to do their best to stamp out treason, but 'the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick) says it is sufficient if they tell a constable. There might be quicker and more effective means which they could take, and that is an argument which 1 thought the Government would have supported. One should not have imposed on one the obligation to tell a constable when there may be more effective and wholesome methods which should be adopted. We believe that our proposed amendment would achieve everything that could reasonably be expected of residents and citizens of this country - that they should, as quickly as possible, do all they can to stamp out treason.







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