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Thursday, 5 March 1970


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am glad to hear from the Attorney-General (Mr Hughes) the reasons why there has been no charge laid against Wilfred Burchett. I can see quite clearly from what the Attorney-General has said that a charge of treason could not possibly succeed because at the time of the alleged offence - as he so clearly stated - there was no breach of the law. It has always been a bad principle for a government to make laws retroactive. We have never said: 'From now on it shall be an offence to wear horn rimmed glasses and anyone who has worn horn rimmed glasses at any time during the past 10 years shall now be guilty of an offence because he will have committed a breach of the law.' Looking back on the wartime period we would be shocked if somebody said now that it was an offence to buy a pair of socks without a clothing coupon to match the value of the pair of socks; yet there was a time when it was an offence to buy a pair of socks in this country without a clothing coupon to match their value. This is what we have to remember.

The very reason that laws are not made retroactive is because we have no guarantee that a person who commits an act would have committed the act in question at that time had it been an offence against the law of the land at the time he committed the act. Let me put it this way: How can we aver that Wilfred Burchett would have done these things if it had been at that time a breach of the law of the Commonwealth to do them? But the AttorneyGeneral tackled this question in the correct manner by discussing the law rather than the political implications and the political backwash of the thing. Obviously the man did not commit a breach of the law of the Commonwealth at the time, and we have no guarantee that if it had been an offence against the law of the Commonwealth then he would have acted as he did.

The only other thing that I want to refer to is that the Attorney-General said that the Opposition opposed the 1960 amendment to the Crimes Act which made the offence of which Burchett has been accused an offence against the law of the Commonwealth. He was correct when he said that until that stage it was not an offence and anybody could do it without being accused or without being found guilty of any breach of the law. We did oppose it, but we did not oppose it for the reasons that were suggested by the Attorney-General. We opposed it for several reasons, and it will not take me long to explain to the Parliament why we opposed it.

First of all, let me begin by saying that the penalty for treason under the 1960 amendment - as indeed it may have been prior to I960 - was death. That is the penalty which was imposed. That was the sort of law that the Parliament was then enacting. The Opposition felt at that time that, when a law required that a person found guilty of the offence should be liable to the supreme penalty of death, the person accused of an offence under that law should have a proper opportunity to defend himself against the charge. We felt that the law which was proposed at that time and which was then enacted went too far when it said that treason was not only the offence of killing the sovereign, killing the eldest son of the sovereign or levying war against the Commonwealth, but also included assisting by any means whatever, with the intent to assist, an enemy: specified by proclamation made for the purpose of this paragraph to be an enemy at war with the Commonwealth.

When we turn to the proclamation we find that a proclaimed enemy for this purpose means an enemy of and at war with a proclaimed country. The definition of 'proclaimed country' is:

.   . a country specified by proclamation to be, for the purposes of this definition a proclaimed country . . .

Let me show how the provisions could operate and the reason that we opposed them. If India were to declare war on America, or vice versa, and Australia declared America to be a proclaimed country, anybody who sought to support India, a member of the British Commonwealth, would be immediately commiting an offence against the Act and would, if found guilty, be guilty of treason and could be executed for the offence. It is for that reason that we opposed the amendments. The amendments were wrong then and they are wrong now and ought to be struck out as soon as we have in power a government which has any repect for the rights of the citizens of this country.

I conclude by referring to another point. The pride that a person has in being a national of any country springs from the privileges that go with being a national of that country. I am proud of Australia, only to the extent that it is entitled to demand my pride. If I live in a country that gives me no right at all. a country that treats me as a serf or a slave, I cannot possibly engender within my being the same pride as I can as a member of a country which gives me the rights that belong to every free human being. I want to tell the world that I am proud of it because Australia is one of the countries that gives to every person born in it the right to come and go as he pleases. It is because my country gives me rights which some other countries do not give to me that makes me proud to be an Australian. One of the vital tests that has to be applied is one's right to a passport. I now wonder whether I am a citizen of a country that gives me the kind of citizenship rights that any proud free man is entitled to expect from the country of his birth.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 12.15 a.m. (Friday)







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