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Tuesday, 22 November 1960


Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) . - Clause 49 inserts a new heading to Pan VII. in the principal act and now calls it " Espionage and Official Secrets ". It also replaces the existing sections 77, 78 and 79. The proposed new section 77 is the interpretation section and a considerable number of words which are used in the following sections, " espionage ", " official secrets ", and others that follow are therein defined, and they are defined in very wide terms. For instance, an " article " includes any thing, substance or material. " Information " means information of any kind whatsoever, whether true or false and whether in a material form or not and includes (a) an opinion, and (b) a report of a conversation. There are definitions also of " cipher ", " model ", " plan ", and " sketch ". I move -

In proposed section 77, after sub-section (1.), insert the following sub-section: - " ' (1a.) The foregoing definitions shall apply only to matters which are material to the safety or defence of the Commonwealth or a part of the Queen's Dominions.".

The phrase " the safety or defence of the Commonwealth or a part of the Queen's dominions " occurs in proposed new section 78, which deals with espionage, and proposed new section 79, which deals with official secrets. The Opposition agrees that it should be a crime to commit espionage or a breach of an official secret where the safety or defence of the Commonwealth or a part of the Queen's dominions is concerned. Nevertheless, the definitions of " espionage " and " official secrets " are so wide that there is no guarantee that the matters concerned in those crimes will relate to the safety or defence of the Commonwealth or a part of the Queen's dominions.

I shall take an example. It is espionage to approach, be in the neighbourhood of, be in, enter, inspect or pass over a prohibited place. Earlier, I directed the attention of the committee to the extreme width of the definition of " prohibited place ". A prohibited place may be only a private office or private factory as long as it has a government contract for the making or storing or obtaining or testing of goods which may be of use in time of war. But matters which are the subject of sketches, plans, photographs, models, ciphers, notes, documents, articles or information, in the section dealing with espionage, need not be matters which are of use in time of war at all.

Again, proposed new section 79 dealing with official secrets may concern a sketch, plan, photograph, model, cipher, note, document or article which relates to a prohibited place or anything in a prohibited place if the accused person knows or by reason of the nature of the sketch or document or the circumstances in which it came into his possession or control or for any other reason he should have known that it should not be communicated to a person not authorized to receive it. There is no obligation that such matters should relate to the safety or defence of the Commonwealth or a part of the Queen's dominions. We believe that it ought to be made quite plain in the definition section, right at the beginning of this part of the act, that any of these definitions, wide as they are, should apply only where the safety or defence of the Commonwealth or a part of the Queen's dominions is concerned.

It is not satisfactory that these matters - and particularly matters which are labelled " espionage " and so on - should relate to articles which have no defence significance at all, or that very high penalties relating to official secrets should apply to acts which, in fact, have no defence significance at all. I know that some honorable members will urge: " How are we to punish such crimes? Are we left without defence in such matters? " I therefore direct the attention of the committee to the fact that under the Defence Act all defence property is adequately protected and it is an offence to give or obtain information as to defence unlawfully and there are very high penalties for doing so. Again, it is an offence to sketch prohibited fortifications and so on. In all these things it is already an offence to do anything which has a direct bearing on the defence of our country. But the definitions in this part of the bill are so wide and they incorporate matters concerning prohibited places, which can be of such a wide character that we believe it is unsatisfactory to leave this part of the legislation in its present position.

We therefore urge that the definitions be confined to matters which relate to the safety or defence of the Commonwealth or part of the Queen's dominions, as the sections ostensibly relate, but in fact need not.

Progress reported.







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