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Tuesday, 10 April 1973
Page: 1249

Mr GORTON (Higgins) - I move:

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent me moving that in accordance with standing order 359 a message be sent to the Senate requesting that the Senate give leave to the AttorneyGeneral to attend this House for examination.

I move this motion because of the serious implications and the danger to civil liberties which are implicit in the courses that the Government has already embarked on and in the words used in this House by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) today. It seems to me that the Government has recently embarked upon a path dangerous to the liberties we have accepted in Australia for years and each day that has passed it has advanced further along this path on the pretext of protecting Australian liberties. The danger is the assumption that merely asserting something, which cannot be proved or which is not sought to be proved, is sufficient to establish the truth of a proposition and is sufficient, it is alleged, in some cases to justify punishment and, in all cases, to justify the public condemnation of individuals or organisations against whom no legal proceedings have been brought. The underlying thought in this approach is that because we abhor and are disgusted by particular actions, that is sufficient ground for abandoning the protection which the law of the land extends to all citizens, even when they do things which we abhor, that protection being that they cannot be punished unless they are charged, proceeded against and convicted in an Australian court of law.

To abandon that principle and to assert that a man or an organisation can be charged and convicted and, indeed, can be punished without that procedure being passed through, is one of the most dangerous attacks on civil liberties that I have seen in the time that I have been in Parliament. If a group of people in Australia were to form a club, were to show a swastika flag, or were to wear storm troop uniforms we would, all of us, be sickened and disgusted. But unless they broke the law as the law stands we would not take action against them and we would not seekto punish them, because if we did do that we would be destroying that concept of freedom and that concept of the rule of law which lead us to fight Hitler in the first place. This is the danger I see in the approach being made today by the Prime Minister.

The previous Government has been accused of not taking action against persons and organisations whom the Prime Minister apparently thinks to have committed some crime. That accusation against a previous Government must stand or fall on the truth of 2 assertions, the first being that the previous Government should have acted without legal sanction, without prosecution, without getting a conviction in a court of law. The second proposition can only be that the previous Government should have sought to obtain convictions with the evidence available to it. Let us examine that second assertion first. If it is asserted that the previous Government should have taken action on the evidence then available to it, it is equally true now that the present Government should take action on the evidence it said was sufficient to enable action to be taken previously. If it does not take such action it is clearly agreeing that there was not sufficient evidence for a conviction; it is clearly agreeing that there was not sufficient evidence for even a charge and it is therefore agreeing with and not attacking the previous Government for not taking such action on such a lack of evidence.

If the Government's second assertion is to be that we should take action whether we can bring a charge, whether we can get a conviction or not, this is really a most serious approach and I believe that we are entitled, having heard that from the Prime Minister in this House, to call before us the senior law officer of the Government to inquire of him whether he in fact as a lawyer and the senior law officer agrees with the proposition that people should be punished, held up to public ridicule, their names made available without any evidence against them sufficient to obtain a conviction in a court of law. We need to know this because if that is in fact to be asserted by the senior law officer in accordance with what the Prime Minister suggested ought to happen, there should be no lawyer on the other side of the House and no man on the other side of the House concerned with civil liberties who ought not to hang his head in shame, if I may use that word, sir.

If on the other hand we are to be told by the senior law officer of the Crown, as we should be told if it is true, that he agrees there is not sufficient evidence in which to bring a charge, then all the attack made by the Prime Minister this afternoon falls completely to the ground and it is shown instead for what it is - an attempt to divert attention from the damaging attack on national security which his Attorney-General made; to divert attention from that by making unsustainable and false accusations against the previous Government. That is not the only reason why I suggest we should follow the course laid down under standing order 359. This whole affair has been a sort of continuing story of Peyton Place' - a little bit brought out now; a little bit brought out later; some new accusation, made mostly on television.

I believe that this House - again in protection of civil liberties - ought to inquire a little more fully into just what sort of star chamber procedure was followed when a so-called inquiry was made into a so-called conspiracy by senior public servants. The Public Service Act lays down procedures by which those who are thought to have behaved wrongly can be examined. Those procedures on this occasion apparently were not followed. Instead, proceedings were taken in secret and again relying, so far as we are told, on the evidence of interested parties - that is to say, on the evidence of heads of departments whose officials were accused of conspiracy. We need to examine the Attorney-General and to get his views on the evidence applicable on the question of why it was necessary to have an inquiry at all. It may be that he could convince us that it was necessary and maybe he can show us something that has not come out yet. But if the report from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation member at that committee meeting was true - and we have been told it was false - why does that suggest evidence of conspiracy amongst public servants? Were they not meeting to examine, in anticipation of being asked to help Senator Murphy make a statement, what advice they should give? Has it been shown or even asserted that at that meeting they had before them some facts, some evidence which required a different answer from that given previously? I have not heard that asserted. All I have heard is the statement that because they met, presumably examined what was on the table before them, said that as a result of that examination they should not give anything different to what they gave before, that is evidence of a conspiracy. This ought not to be enough and ought not to be a charge levelled even for a while against public servants who cannot defend themselves.

Above all we need to inquire into the question of why one man - one ASIO representative^ - has been made a scapegoat for this affair. This again is a man who cannot defend himself. Let us ask the Attorney-General when he comes before us whether this man has been treated in such a way because the laws relating to public service inquiry do not apply to ASIO personnel and therefore he would not have the same right of protest as any other public servant who attended that meeting would have. This is a suspicion which must enter into anybody's mind in trying to pick his way through this labyrinthine affair. I feel that in recent weeks we have, seen something approaching-

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