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Thursday, 17 November 1960

Mr WARD (East Sydney) (1:22 AM) .A lot depends upon the interpretation of the word " treason ". I believe that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) has on this matter a viewpoint entirely different from that of the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick). It is true that we have already dealt with a number of matters which are now regarded as being treasonable acts, but I listened with great interest to the Attorney-General's explanation of one of the offences which, in his opinion is a treasonable act. He says " levies war, or does any act preparatory to levying war against the Commonwealth ". The ordinary citizen of Australia would assume that that meant an actual act of war, assisting the enemy or assisting an armed insurrection. But as honorable members of the Opposition have pointed out, this could easily include a general strike action.

It is true that the Attorney-General said that as long as the strike action is taken in good faith and for an industrial purpose it is not an act of treason. But who determines when a strike action is taken in good faith? There would not be one member of the Liberal Party or Country Party in this Parliament who would regard any strike action for any purpose as being justified. So when is it deemed that a strike is in good faith? Government supporters always regard strikes as being engineered by members of the Communist Party and consider them as treasonable acts against the Government of this country. When you talk about committing treason you must have regard to what the Government considers to be treason, and In my opinion it involves industrial action.

Earlier in the debate the AttorneyGeneral said that levying war could constitute an action designed to overawe the Parliament. That might include people attending Parliament to demonstrate against some unpopular piece of legislation. While this measure has been under consideration we have had literally thousands of trade unionists flocking to Canberra to demonstrate against these obnoxious amendments which are proposed to be written into this legislation. The honorable member for Ryan (Mr. Drury) objected to their action in peacefully canvassing members. The honorable member protested to Mr. Speaker and wanted action taken against citizens who came here merely to state their views to their parliamentary representatives. He wanted action taken by the Government, because evidently he was afraid that the people who came here might have intended to overthrow the Government of the country. One can see what a ridiculous position we could get into. I think the trade unions have every reason to be suspicious and mindful of what is happening, because when you write these words into the legislation whilst they may appear on the surface to the average person to be innocuous, they do not always mean what they might appear to mean.

I repeat that I believe that the AttorneyGeneral interprets the meaning of levying war against the Commonwealth differently from the Opposition. I dare say there would be nobody who could mistake the fact that if you assisted an enemy at war with this country - a foreign power between whose forces and those of this country a conflict was taking place - that would be treason. You can understand anybody who instigated armed invasion of this country by a foreign power being charged with treason, and you can understand what is meant by " armed insurrection ", but " levying war " evidently means much more than the words would seem to imply. It evidently means, if we accept the meaning attributed to the phrase by the Attorney-General, taking action by means of demonstrations, and if the Government believed that demonstrations or general strikes threatened the constituted Government of this counutry, in its eyes that would be a treasonable act. What does the amendment proposed by the AttorneyGeneral, and now under consideration, actually mean? It means that the person possessing information of an intended treasonable act must inform, and it makes noexception as to the person to be informed upon. That appears to me to be identical to the system which operated in the totalitarian countries unless some exception is given in respect of members of a family. Otherwise it means that if children do not inform on their parents, when the parents belong to some political organization which the Government regards as a revolutionary organization or a political body advocating revolution, they commit an offence. And, conversely, if the parent does not inform on the child, he or she is liable to be deemed to have committed an offence under this act and is then exposed to the penalty of imprisonment for life.

I believe, as does the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, that if somebody knew that somebody else was going to commit a treasonable act - in the sense that we interpret it and not as the Government interprets it - and wanted to help an enemy of this country, they would have a duty to make every endeavour to prevent such an act from being successful. Surely no more than that should be expected of a parent against his own child, or of a child against his parent. I would say that in its present form a lot depends upon the interpretation of what constitutes treason.

I believe all the Government's proposals in this legislation to be of a most dangerous character. I never believed it was the sole purpose of the Attorney-General, as he says, merely to tidy up this legislation. He has done much more than that. What I am afraid of, and what I hope to warn as many Australians as possible about, is that the Government wants these powers, which it knows are very drastic powers, for use as a deterrent against militant trade unionism in this country. It is not worried about the international situation, but about the internal situation. As the economic difficulties of the Government become greater day by day, as undoubtedly they will, it is afraid that it will be faced with an actual uprising in this country by people who will be obliged to rise against the Government and destroy it before it destroys them. That is the reason why it wants these powers. I warn the Government that putting an act on a statute book does not necessariy make it an effective law, because a law cannot become effective unless it has acceptance by a majority of the people. I believe that the moment the Government attempts to use these powers against either a poltical Labour or industrial Labour leader to prevent him criticising the Government's domestic or foreign policy, it will have more trouble on its hands than it can possibly cope with.

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