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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1363

Mr GEAR —Has the attention of the Minister for Communications been drawn to newspaper reports about an alleged telephone conversation between the Victorian Liberal Leader, Mr Kennett, and the honourable member for Kooyong, Mr Peacock? In particular, has he noticed the excessive use of obscene language? Can the Minister inform the House if the use of obscene language is an offence under the Telecommunications Act?

Mr DUFFY —I thank the honourable member for Canning for his question. The only section in the Telecommunications Act which could be regarded as covering abusive language is section 86 (c), which states:

A person shall not-

(c) without reasonable excuse, send over a telecommunications system a communication or information likely to cause reasonable persons, justifiably in all the circumstances, to be seriously alarmed or seriously affronted.

The penalty under that section is $1,000 or imprisonment for six months, or both.

Mr Hawke —Or the loss of your shadow Cabinet position.

Mr DUFFY —As the Prime Minister interjects, or the loss of your shadow Cabinet position. The above section was introduced by an amendment in 1985, but I must say to honourable members that the question as to whether a particular case involving abusive or offensive language over the telephone is an offence under the Telecommunications Act would have to be determined by the Director of Public Prosecutions. We in this Government are very satisfied with and proud of the separate arm of government and the arrangements which operate in relation to prosecutions. It is not for me to offer any advice to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions; nor is it for the Attorney-General- nor would he. Nevertheless, one has to conjecture on the section of the Act as to reasonable persons, having regard to the conversation that took place, and who it would have been who was seriously alarmed or affronted. One has to take the view, knowing the honourable member for Kooyong, that the language would not have seriously alarmed him or affronted him. He seemed to give as good as he got. I would have thought the Victorian Leader of the Opposition might have been excluded by the `reasonable persons' part of the Act. Finally, I suppose the only person at this stage who appears to be seriously alarmed or affronted is the Leader of the Opposition and it is difficult to see how he could become a party to such a prosecution.