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Thursday, 21 May 1970

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - Last Tuesday 1 asked the Attorney-General (Mr Hughes) a question on the subject of the use of tape recorded conversations in the inquiry at present being conducted in Victoria. That question followed a speech which I made on 7th May when 1 raised the whole question of tape recorded conversations and their admissibility in court as evidence. 1 make no apology for raising this matter in this debate today because the apparent lack of interest on this subject in our society has driven me to the stage where 1 believe that I must keep keeping on and keep drawing attention to what I describe as the erosion of the liberty and privacy of the individual in this nation. Section 16a of the Post and Telegraph Act states that it is illegal to tape record a telephone conversation. We have all listened to radio programmes wherein interviews are had with people who telephone in. Honourable members will recall that when the programmes are broadcast there is a beep every 15 seconds because it is a requirement of the law that if anyone uses one of those terrible 4-letter words the interviewer should have an opportunity to cut it out. In conformity with the provisions of the Act every 15 seconds the beep is given to warn the person being interviewed that the conversation is being taped. Yet in the last 12 months or so happenings in this country have indicated that State governments are making a complete farce and a mockery of the laws of the Commonwealth.

I remind the House of the case of the late Alderman Penridge in Queensland just over a year ago. He was convicted on the evidence of a tape recording. Honourable members will recall that I have mentioned this case before. He had been charged with having worked a deal with an estate agent to solicit a sum of money and a commission in the event of the sale of a building to the Cairns City Council, and he was convicted. Yet the Commonwealth stood by while the State was prepared to forget about the Commonwealth Act. I wonder what collusion is being worked between the States and the Commonwealth on matters such as this. Recently I was in the United States of America. Honourable members will know that since my arrival in this House this matter of tape recordings has been of great interest to me. When I was in the United States recently I tore an article out of a newspaper, the city of origin of which unfortunately I do not recall. That article is headed 'Developer Smith Wins Dismissal of all Perjury Counts'. It reads:

San Francisco- all five perjury counts against Los Angeles developer Keith Smith were dismissed Thursday after two tape recordings the prosecution sought to introduce as evidence in the trial were ruled inadmissible.

I wonder exactly where we are going in this country. I refer to the Melbourne 'Age' of Thursday 29th January and read an extract which refers to the Victorian abortion inquiry. Here wc have it in black and white:

Mr Vernonasked permission to play a recording of another alleged conversation between Mrs Berman and Ford.

Mrs Bermanhad said this tape was made after her first visit to the Solicitor-General's office and on the morning of an edition of Truth newspaper which was mentioned in the phone call. She said it was some time before Christmas.

The tape purports to begin with a woman asking: What does it say?

Man: Oh, the front of it 'We paid off the Cops,' by Evan Whitton . . . It's all you, Bert, someone coming to . . .

It goes on and on and on. Yet on Tuesday the Attorney-General said that he was considering whether or not proceedings will be taken against Mrs Margaret Berman. I am very pleased with the co-operation and the genuine interest that the Attorney-General has shown in this matter but 1 do not think there is any question of whether or not proceedings should be taken against Mrs Margaret Berman. She has breached a Commonwealth Act. If honourable members in this Parliament are prepared to sit year in year out and see Acts which protect the individual completely flouted, I wonder where this nation will finish up. if in a few months we have doctors, policemen or nurses convicted as a result of Mrs Berman's tape recordings what hope has the ordinary individual of claiming protection against this method when such a strong precident has already been created. I abhor the precedent which has been created in Queensland. The Queensland Government has somehow allowed the use of a recording in the case against the late Alderman Penridge which was heard by a stipendiary magistrate.

Recently 1 mentioned the case in Brisbane of Mr Des Neylan who had recorded a telephone conversation and actually was so naive as to write to the Brisbane Telegraph' stating what he had done, lt is high time that this Government took some action. It is high time that this Government moved to amend certain sections of the relevant Act to bring it more into line with what can only be regarded as the electronic age. Honourable members in this Parliament have been entrusted to look after the welfare of the people of this nation. Unless we show more concern for some of the very basic and important issues I do not believe that any of us has any right to condemn those who resort to more rash methods of attracting public attention. The Parliament is letting these important issues pass, lt is little wonder that the young people in Australia turn out in the streets and take part in demonstrations. I believe questions such as these are very easily answered. I do hope that both the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Hulme) and the Attorney-General will meet together to work out something which will ensure that the people of Australia are not frightened to have a telephone conversation for fear that a recording might be made. It is so easy to get a tape, cut pieces out of it, join ii and then go along to the police and say: 'This is exactly what happened'. The Act was introduced originally to protect people. Let us ensure that we invoke the Act and thus stop the situation which seems to be developing today in Australia.

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