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Wednesday, 12 April 1972
Page: 1068

The PRESIDENT - Order! Senator Cavanagh, I would just like to point out to you that what you have done is to try to catch my eye after Senator Greenwood, the Attorney-General, had replied to the criticisms made of him. You then rose to repeat an attack on him when under the forms of the House he is denied any possibility of replying to you.

Senator CAVANAGH - With respect, Mr President, he is not. He is prevented only until a later hour of the day from replying if he so desires. I am simply exercising my right to particulate in the adjournment debate. That right continues until the mover of the motion that the Senate adjourn has replied. If the AttorneyGeneral is embarrassed he can reply at a later hour this day during the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate at the end of the Thursday sitting. He can then reply to any attack I may make.

The PRESIDENT - I just want to point out to you that your entry is an unusual one. That is all.

Senator CAVANAGH - Perhaps it is time that we had some unusual entries into this debate. I think it would be a neglect of duty if one permitted a person holding the office of Attorney-General of Australia to evade his obligations in the way that Senator Greenwood has attempted tonight. He has not answered the charges that have been made. He has sought to evade them by an attack on another political party.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - You could have responded on the next day, the same as it has been suggested Senator Greenwood could have done.

Senator CAVANAGH - I hope I honour my responsibility. I propose to debate the matter on facts. Firstly, I say that the Attorney-General, before he makes an attack on the basis of dereliction of duty upon someone holding a high office, has a responsibility to hold more than a belief. We have heard nothing which takes it further than a belief. The Attorney-General was told by a Commonwealth policeman who had spoken to the Comptroller of Prisons in Western Australia that the Comptroller of Prisons said that same political pressure had been applied. That could only establish a belief that some political pressure had been applied, but it could never establish even a belief in the accusations that the Attorney-General made in Western Australia. I do not know whether the Attorney-General sought an interview, but he was interviewed. The interviewer commenced by asking about the answer the Attorney-General gave to Senator Durack in this chamber. The interviewer, a Mr Graham, asked about neglect by the Western Australian authority. The Attorney-General replied:

I originally expressed my concern because of two things. The first was that, as I understood it, Cook had been released contrary to what the prison regulation said and contrary to the procedures which the Western Australian Government had laid down for releasing persons for various reasons from prison . . .

That puts a responsibility upon the AttorneyGeneral to tell us how he understood it and what constituted his understanding of it before he made the accusation. How was this contrary to the prison regulations? I think Senator Cant has cleared this up. It is in conformity with the prison regulations under the relevant Act and it is not contrary to the procedures of either the Western Australian Government or other State governments of Australia. In the same interview the Attorney-General said:

It is not permissible under the regulation

That fs the Western Australian regulation - to give leave of absence for the purpose of attending the university. I also understand that there is a procedure in Western Australia under which a committee, I think it is a classifications committee-

Again the Attorney-General is saying that it is not permissible under the regulations. Senator Cant has said that it is permissible and has quoted the words 'where it is for the prisoner's welfare or the welfare of his family'. The Attorney-General - a man with a legal mind - has not said that what Senator Cant said is not a correct legal interpretation. The giving of leave was for the welfare of the prisoner and therefore is in complete comformity with the regulations in Western Australia. But the AttorneyGeneral understood and I think further on in the interview he said that he studied the regulations. He went on to say: . . a committee . . . examines the case of people who ought to be given leave of absence and I believe in the case of Mr Cook that Classification Committee made no recommendation.

All we have heard is that Mr Campbell said that there was pressure on him, but at no time have we had a statement that anyone told the Attorney-General that the committee had never considered Mr Cook's case. The Attorney-General, in making this statement, said 'I believe'. What is the justification for the AttorneyGeneral's belief? No justification has been presented tonight. In the interview the Attorney-General went on to say:

I have no reason to believe that in any way the integrity of prison officers ought to be questioned. I do believe that there has been some political direction in this matter but I have written to Mr Stubbs: I've asked him to give me the information.

That is as far as it goes. This was possibly justified on the report of the Commonwealth Police to the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General in the same interview went on to say: . . I've said that the Regulations do not permit leave of absence for study purposes. I've also said that on my information the Classification Committee has not met, therefore, how was Mr Cook allowed to go to college.

If the Attorney-General can go to Western Australia and make accusations which he believed against government officers, let him come out and say that he had some justification for the belief he expressed tonight. We travelled Victoria and South Australia and were able to find no answer to this question of why the AttorneyGeneral believed it. A little later in the interview the Attorney-General said:

I've indicated the basis upon which I made my comment and I think you can appreciate that there is a basis to it.

We are still trying to find out what this basis was. The Attorney-General further said: 1 do feel however that when people are released it ought to be a matter for consideration by a body which determines whether it's going to help that person.

He said later: 1 do not believe that any other person in gaol for a National Service Act offence, and there is only, what, 4 or 5 of them is being let out of prison in the way that Mr Cook is being let out of prison.

Of course, Mr Graham informed the Attorney-General that some 50 inmates of New South Wales gaols are going to school in New South Wales. Despite the fact that this is for the welfare of the prisoner, the Attorney-General thinks that this is something that should not be extended to national service resisters. Apparently they are to be an elite group which receives no benefits. They do not receive the consideration that other prisoners receive. In the Attorney-General's opinion they are in the lower category of the murderer, the house robber, the rapist and other similar types of people in prison. It is all right to permit these, people to attend school but not the national service resister.

Senator Durack - Do you think it is all right to let murderers and robbers out after 3 months in prison?

Senator CAVANAGH - I think it would be foolish and I think this is the reason for referring the matter to the classification committee, and that committee would not let them out because of the danger to the community. But I do not think the honourable senator would suggest that there would be. any danger to the community in allowing a 20-year old attend the university when his only crime has been acting in accordance with his conscience against an Act in which he does not believe.

Senator Durack - He went to gaol because of his conscience.

Senator CAVANAGH - He went to gaol because of it. He was prepared to pay the penalty under the conditions of an ordinary prisoner. Incidentally, there, is a person in South Australia who has been imprisoned under the same Act. Senator McLaren has sought to get some privileges for him but the prisoner himself has requested that he not receive any privileges. His attitude is: T am here and I want no privileges other than those given to any prisoner in the gaol who is in breach of the Act'. But here is a man in Western Australia who has asked for the same privileges as those extended by Premier Askin in New South Wales. Later in the interview the Attorney-General stated:

In this particular State the State police will sot execute national service warrants.

I think a thorough explanation of this statement is justified. It is a statement which was made, during the broadcasting of an interview. The transcript of that interview is a public document, but at no time have we received any explanation of how the Attorney-General obtained the belief that he held when this interview was made. The Attorney-General has no explanation, but because he knows that his statement accusing public officers should not have been made by a man holding the position of Attorney-General, he has tried to sidetrack the issue and dodge his obligation by talking about the Labor Party. 1 think that there should be some apology if it is found that there is no truth in the allegation. I think it is a dastardly thing for a man holding the position of AttorneyGeneral to make such an accusation or to disclose to the public what was said in discussion between 2 policemen, possibly in confidence.

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