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Thursday, 8 December 1960

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Leader of the Opposition) . - Mr. Temporary Chairman, I want to raise the question of diplomatic immunity as it affects not only the officers of the three international organizations already represented in Australia, but also members of the staffs of other organizations which, under the provisions of this bill, will be admitted to Australia in the future. At the present time, ten people are employed in Australia by the three organizations which will be affected by this bill. But power is taken to admit any number of organizations in the future. At the second-reading stage, the Leputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) expressed the hope that Australia would become the head-quarters of a number of United Nations organizations. We all share that hope, I am certain. But whether or not that eventuates, a lot of agencies of the United Nations will be represented here. And so the question of immunity will arise.

It is interesting to note that the United Nations acts differently from the member states of that organization with respect to the preservation of diplomatic rights and privileges. The United Nations will not insist on immunity and all the privileges that go with diplomatic representation unless the waiving of those rights and privileges adversely affects the interests of the United Nations in some way.

Mr Osborne - That states the situation rather more broadly than it is. The limitations which the United Nations has itself imposed on the diplomatic immunity of its officials is more restricted than the honorable gentleman has stated it to be.

Mr CALWELL - Well, I am glad even of that. But I imagine that it is still pos sible for representatives of United Nations agencies to claim diplomatic immunity when Australian citizens are in some way harmed or injured in accidental happenings. There is a good deal of feeling in this National Capital that Australians should not continue to be denied in their own Australian courts, when they claim against diplomats, the justice to which they would be entitled if the respondents to the actions happened to be Australian citizens. Some change will have to be made, if such a change is possible, with respect to diplomatic privileges generally, in order that Australian interests shall be protected.

I know that this is a very wide question. If this is to happen in respect of foreign representatives in Australia, it will have to happen, too, in respect of Australian diplomats accredited to other countries. Over the years, this issue has been raised repeatedly by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and other honorable members.

Mr Whitlam - The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory has raised it, too.

Mr CALWELL - It has been raised by the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser).

The matter is not merely a question of civil damages. The subject of ordinary compensation has been argued in this chamber before. Questions have been asked and representations have been made, particularly in debates on the motion for the adjournment of the House and on the AddressinReply to the Governor-General's Speech, as well as in other debates. But the Government does nothing. It merely gives answers which avoid the issue. The Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) has given no satisfactory assurances to the House to-day, and I am certain that he will give none to the committee. He has not intimated that the Government is in any way interested in the matter. It will say only 'that the fears that we entertain with respect to this bill as a result of experience in Canberra of incidents in which diplomats proper have been involved are not as real as we think they are. I am sure that if in the Territories - I am thinking particularly of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea - there occurred events similar to some that have happened in the Australian Capital Territory, and native people were affected, these matters could very well be raised at the United Nations and it could be said that we were not making adequate provision for the protection and compensating of persons who had been injured. This is a matter that involves the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck). I believe that this is a subject which might very well be studied by a Cabinet sub-committee or by a departmental committee under a Cabinet sub-committee because, sooner or later, the issue must be faced. We have to do something about the question of diplomatic responsibility for accidents. As the representation of agencies of the United Nations grows, we shall have to do something also about the responsibility of officers of that body.

We of the Opposition cannot accept the Minister's assurance that we need not worry about the first issue because the fears we might entertain about the second are not as real as we think they might be. I ask the Minister to look at this question of compensation. We might have to provide some special fund, through the Commonwealth Treasury, for cases of this sort. It is certain that the Australian people do feel that the victims of accidents in which diplomats are involved should not be deprived of redress, and should not be obliged to meet all medical and other expenses without any assistance from any source at all, and without any right of recourse to law to protect themselves in any way whatsoever.

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