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Wednesday, 30 March 1966

Mr DALY (Grayndler) .- Mr. Speaker,I wish to raise a matter that is of importance in any democracy - the right of people to protest. I am prompted to speak on this matter tonight because of statements that have been made by the present Minister for Defence (Mr. Fairhall), who was formerly Minister for Supply. To enlighten the House on the attitude of this Government to democratic processes, let me quote in full a report that appeared in the Sydney "Daily Mirror" on 29th March under the heading " The right to protest ". It reads -

Mr. AllenFairhall was a good Supply Minister and shows signs of being a good Defence Minister.

That is stretching it slightly, but we shall accept it for the moment. The report continues -

But we hope he sticks to his job and keeps his mouth shut on matters he does not understand.

Mr. Fairhallcastigates demonstrators against the Vietnam war as being a fifth column. " Marching in the streets," he says, " ultimately turns into civil commotion - into war at the barriers .

We want to put our foot on it."

Most of us have no time for the demonstrators Sometimes they are a nuisance. They could make their protests better in other ways.

But doesn't Mr. Fairhall know that the right of active dissent is one of the precious privileges of the citizen in a free country?

Britain has its angry marches, its Trafalgar

Square demonstrations, America brings its protests into the streets. These are the safety valves of democracy.

It is only in countries where repression rules that the banners are replaced with barricades, words with bullets.

There is another thing that Mr. Fairhall should realise. It is that the Vietnam war genuinely worries the people.

As Mr. Alistair Cooke, the distinguished American commentator, writes in today's Australian: "A rage against the war may still be the monopoly of leftists and Beatniks. But a deep doubt about it is becoming a guilty part of everyone's character ".

Does this Government, through the Minister for Defence, say that no citizen of this country has the right to demonstrate against those laws that he believes are unjust and repressive? Has no 20 year old voteless conscript youth who is to be dragged from his home by this Government and sent to fight in the jungles of Vietnam and possibly to give his life there a right to march in the street, if he wants to, and to protest against the legislation under the terms of which he is conscripted? How will a boy who has not the right to vote and who may be sent abroad probably to die protest against the legislation that causes that to happen to him? How will the countless thousands of Australians who believe that it is unjust to conscript youths and send them abroad to fight protest against what is being done? Do this Government and the Minister for Defence seek to stifle criticism of the Government's unpopular and unjust legislation by repressing the people and denying their right to demonstrate against it throughout the country?

What short memories honorable members opposite have. We recall that when the Labour Government introduced legislation to provide for the nationalisation of the banks, from one end of the country to the other paid officials of the private banks and members of the Liberal Party of Australia incited the Australian people to rise against the Australian Labour Party's proposals. In every hall in which we went to speak there were episodes that made the one with the Prime Minister the other night look like a second rate show. From one end of the country to the other the Country Party and the Liberal Party regimented and incited people to rebel against the legislation of the Labour Government of the day.

Now when it has introduced legislation, in the face of opposition from one end of Australia to the other, which places in jeopardy the lives of young men who are being conscripted, the Government, through its Minister for Defence, says that this is a fifth column and that the people concerned have no right to protest. No doubt many of the people in the Save Our Sons Movement genuinely believe that the lives of their boys are in jeopardy. Have they no right to stand outside the Parliament, hold up a banner and protest? What are we coming to in this country? In the most tyrannical way a senior Minister of the Government says: " We will stop criticism at all costs ". No doubt the Government shortly will be stopping pensioners marching to Canberra if they want to; no doubt shortly it will be stopping the poor, the aged, the sick and the infirm marching to the Sydney Domain or to some other place. Will the Government say that it is worried only about the Vietnam war or does it intend to stop all forms of protest against any legislation that it feels is justified but which the people resent?

This is suppression of the worst kind. The people object to conscription in peacetime when the country is not at war. Yet the Minister says that the people concerned are a fifth column. I warn the people of Australia that this Government has been too long in office. It has become arrogant; it has become undemocratic, if it ever was democratic. Now a senior Minister has said, with ail the arrogance he could muster: " Of course they are a fifth column ". Workers everywhere should realise that if they march with a banner from time to time seeking to remedy some industrial injustice, this Government will almost turn the guns on them. The Government condemns the Communist countries because it says the people in them cannot protest; that they have no freedom of action; that they cannot speak and voice any protest. What is the Government introducing in Australia? A police state, nothing more and nothing less. This Government was elected in 1949, so we were told, because it upheld the freedom of the individual, the right of a man to protest and to speak his mind. Today we see the Government repressing in the most undemocratic way people who seek to protest against legislation. 1 do not condone all that is done in demonstrations. Some of it may be over the fence, but just where does the Government draw the line? Will the Minister for Defence tell us why any person in the community has not the right to voice his opposition to any form of legislation? Perhaps those who follow me in this debate will enlighten me on how a 20 year old kid who cannot vote can register a protest against this arrogant Government except by going into the streets. Why, even you, Mr. Speaker, in the high position you occupy in this Parliament, must look with trepidation at what is going on and think of what the Government may try to do if it is unchallenged on this occasion.

I do not often agree with the Sydney " Daily Mirror " but I was pleased to see its leading article which demands that our democratic rights shall be maintained and that the arrogance of this Government shall be checked. On the pretext of claiming that the people are demonstrating in such a way that they can be regarded as a fifth column, the Government is trying to suppress for all time criticism of legislation which it knows is against the best interests of the people.

Already the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) has announced that he will appear on television and radio because the Government fears the effects of the protest campaign and the reaction of the people to the policy of conscripting boys to fight in Vietnam. Today the Government is seeking, by repressive methods opposed to every principle of democracy, to take away the fundamental right of people to protest.

Tonight, therefore, 1 want to hear members of the Liberal Party who believe in freedom of speech and competition, so long as it does not affect some of their wealthy supporters, rise and defend this repressive legislation. 1 would summarise the position in this way: Honorable members opposite are opposed to anybody protesting about our involvement in Vietnam because they are ashamed of the actions of the Government. They arc ashamed of the fact that the Government is prepared to conscript kids who are too young to sign for a debt, or to open an account without their parents' permission, and send them to fight in Vietnam. It is for this reason that they try to suppress any criticism of the Government's actions. We know that every seat of every honorable member opposite is in jeopardy because of this unjust legislation.

I hope the Minister for Defence will elaborate on his statement that people who write or demonstrate against the Government's policy in this matter are fifth columnists. According to him, evidently the Save Our Sons movement is a fifth column, the Old Age and Invalid Pensioners' Association is a fifth column, members of the Waterside Workers Federation are fifth columnists and members of other trade unions are fifth columnists. I suppose the branch of the Liberal Party, which, I understand, has protested against this conscription, also comes within the category of a fifth column. Tonight I place on record my disapproval of this infringement of our democratic rights. I feel I have a duty to enlighten the people on the repressive and tyrannical attitude adopted by this Government when people protest against the legislation.

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