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Wednesday, 24 October 1956

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Prime Minister) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The object of this bill is to put the Australian Security Intelligence Organization on a statutory basis instead of the purely executive basis on which it at present stands. The reason for putting the security service on a statutory basis is that this course will give the officers of the service contractual rights as against the Commonwealth, subject only to me Parliament, and will protect them from the otherwise possible exercise of the Crown's right to terminate at pleasure the services of officers who do not serve in pursuance of statutes. No statutory basis has been provided for the security services of the United Kingdom, but in the United States legislative authority has been given by Congress for both the internal and the external security services. The attacks made on our own security service in the course of the Royal Commission on Espionage in Australia have convinced the Government that it is necessary for the protection, and therefore also for the efficiency, of the security service to take a similar step in Australia, and to give the service statutory authority and protection.

The bill does not make any changes in the constitution, organization, or functions of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. Honorable members will recall that the organization was set up by the late Mr. Chifley, my predecessor in office, on 16th March, 1949, in pursuance of a charter or directive given by him to the first Director-General of Security, Mr. Justice G. S. Reed, of the Supreme Court of South Australia. With only minor changes of no significance made by myself on the appointment of the present DirectorGeneral, Brigadier C. C. F. Spry, in July, 1950, this charter is still the basis of the organization. For obvious reasons, the security service must operate outside the framework of the Public Service Act. The Director-General holds a delegation from the Governor-General, under section 67 of the Constitution, to appoint and dismiss officers of the organization, and officers so appointed are declared to be exempt employees for the purposes of the Public Service Act. The Director-General of Security has, in the name and on behalf of the Commonwealth, entered into a series of agreements for service with the staff of the organization, to many cf whom he has purported to give permanent appointment. The terms and conditions set out in the agreements were not made by him on a frolic of his own, but were fixed by a com mittee consisting of the chairman of the Public Service Board, the Solicitor-General, and the Director-General of Security. Through that committee, the terms and conditions of service, including the salaries paid, are kept broadly in line with those obtaining in the Public Service of the Commonweatlh.

It is an ancient and established rule of law, however, that in the absence of statutory provision to the contrary, a contract of service under the Crown is terminable at pleasure, notwithstanding that it may provide for the service to continue for a period of years. In relation to the Public Service of the Commonwealth, the Public Service Act, a statutory provision, by implication, abrogates that prerogative right of the Crown.

I shall not dilate upon the necessity for an efficient security service, or upon the importance, in maintaining such a service, of being able to provide real security of tenure for its officers. They have a most exacting and onerous task, and Australia has good reason to be both grateful for, and proud of. the achievement and reputation of the service. In my own visits abroad, 1 have been much impressed by the uninvited testimony 1 have received, from governments with which Australia is associated, to the efficiency of our security service, and to the value which other governments have derived from co-operation between their own security services and ours. Therefore, I want to pay a well-deserved tribute to the Director-General of Security and to his staff.

The officers of the security service have been drawn from various walks of life - from the Public Service of the Commonwealth, from the legal profession, from the police forces of the States, and so on. They are serving loyally and effectively. It is clearly necessary not only to have a properly constituted security organization, but also that its staff should be drawn from the best men available. Men of ability and integrity, with high qualifications, must be attracted to its service, and that will not happen unless they can be made to feel secure in their careers in this organization. To ensure this is the main object of the bill.

The bill itself is a short one. It does no more than is necessary to give statutory authority for the existence and operation of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, to define its functions in terms which, though broad, are sufficient to exclude activities in which such a service should not be engaged, and to secure the proper rights of officers and employees of the service as officers of the Commonwealth.

I emphasize what, indeed, the bill itself makes clear: That the Australian security service is an organization devoted to the obtaining of intelligence relating to espionage, sabotage and subversion, and to advising the several departments of State on the measures for security which ought to be adopted and maintained within those departments. The organization has no police function. It is not concerned with matters which are the province of a law enforcement body. I want to emphasize this, because there has been a great deal of misunderstanding. lt has no police powers. It cannot itself take or institute any executive action which is not of a purely advisory nature. It cannot direct any department of Stale as to the measures for security which it ought to adopt, lt cannot interfere in the administration of a department. The security service does not trespass upon the field of the three armed services, but it cooperates with them and particularly with their intelligence organizations and, in a real sense, constitutes a fourth branch of i he Defence Force.

The Attorney-General is the Minister ordinarily responsible for the security service, and he will administer the act. The Director-General, however, has, and has had, from the inauguration of the service in 1949, direct access to the Prime Minister in security matters affecting the Government as a whole.

The bill makes no attempt to specify the manner in which, or the degree to which, ministerial authority should be exercised in relation to the service. It is clearly impossible, and in any event undesirable, for a Minister to exercise in this field the same degree of supervision and authority that he exercises in his own department. The proper course, in the Government's view, is to make the Director-General responsible tor the due control of his service, and to allow the measure of authority of the responsible Minister to he worked out. as in i he past, by convention and in the light of the circumstances of the time. This is a short bill. 1 regard it as very important, and I commend it to the House.

Debate (on motion by Dr. Evatt) adjourned.

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