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Tuesday, 22 October 1974
Page: 1854

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Minister for Customs and Excise) - I do not propose to enter into the agricultural debate but I listened with care to what was said by our colleague from Western Australia, Senator Walsh. I think honourable senators who were here several years ago may recall a debate which occurred on the population explosion. They may recall especially the reference to the great food authority, Borgstram who had written a text on the hungry world and a number of other important texts. I think the remarks of Senator Walsh were reminiscent of some of the statements which were made by that great authority who, incidentally, devoted some chapters in his works to the position of Australia as a food producing unit. He observed that there was very little that could be done by Australia to contribute to the problems which were facing the world.

Turning to the other matter raised by Senator Keeffe, it is clear that the prison systems of Australia are extremely primitive. Some improvements have been made during recent years but there is no doubt that taken by and large these are a blot on our society. The troubles which we are getting in the system and which are manifesting themselves in some of the States, I believe, will be repeated until the system is dealt with. In the United States there are riots in the prisons. There is clearly a strong movement developing which is based on the genuine injustices which arise out of the operation of our present system- out of the parole system and the probation system. There are very great questions which face our society. Inevitably in this situation we will find instances of individual injustice and brutality born of the system.

I do not know what can be done about the individual instances referred to by Senator Keeffe. I imagine that most of these would be concerned with prisoners who are imprisoned under State laws rather than Federal laws. As honourable senators will be aware, apart from the Northern Territory the Commonwealth has to use the State prisons for detaining all its offenders. It does so pursuant to the Constitution and some legislation. It means that this Parliament has an interest in the operation of the State prisons because our own prisoners must be kept there. I think the question is much deeper than suggested by Senator Keeffe. Certainly every endeavour ought to be made to avoid and to remedy the individual injustices which occur.

I am certain that what needs to be done is to reform the whole system. Endeavours have been made with some success in other countries. I think that we with our resources- not only of material but also of talent- ought to be able to give the world a lead in this respect instead of being, as we are, lagging very much behind in this important part of our social fabric. I will certainly give the matter some attention. I will discuss it with those in the Australian Institute of Criminology and with others who might be able to set us on the path of reform of the whole prison system.

The PRESIDENT - Order! It is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death on 5 October this year, of ex-senator John Harris who was elected to the Senate for Western Australia in 1946. John Harris enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 24 January 1916. He served with the 3rd Tunnelling Company as a sergeant. He embarked for overseas in June 1916 and was wounded in action. He was discharged from the military forces in December 1919. He was a fellow member with me on the Select Committee on National Service in the Defence Force from 1950 to 1951 and was a member of the Australian delegation to the 47th Conference of the Inter-parliamentary Conference in 1958 and a member of the Inter-parliamentary Council in 1958 and 1959.

John Harris retired on 30 June 1959 and will be remembered as a gallant person with a gentle nature who was always full of the milk of human kindness. He could never bring himself to say an unkind word about any person and all those who knew him will remember him this way. On behalf of honourable senators I extend to his relatives our sincere sympathy. We wish to place on record our appreciation of the loyal and devoted service rendered to the Senate by John Harris.

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