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Thursday, 17 November 1960

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I am in some doubt in connexion with the matter we are now discussing, but at the same time I cannot feel that some of the arguments advanced by Government speakers are valid. The Attorney-General gave us to understand that we are now reviewing the Crimes Act and tidying it up. If that is so, it does not matter when the provision was first put in the act. If it is something that ought to be deleted or varied in any way, this is the time when that should be done.

What we must bear in mind is that in the case of minor offences there ought to be no interference with the right of the individual citizen to move the law in order to obtain what he regards as some reasonable adjustment of some matter in dispute. But in this legislation we are dealing with very serious offences. Strangely enough, I take it that the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bandidt) objects to the amendment proposed by the Attorney-General. He wants the provision to be retained as it is. He want to retain for any person in the community the right to institute proceedings for any offence covered by the Crimes Act. I should imagine that it would be most unlikely that any individual citizen would want to institute proceedings in connexion with the serious offences covered by that act.

But let us assume that there was in the community somebody who wanted to do so. I said at the beginning that I was in doubt. One of the things that give me some concern on examining both the proposal by the Opposition and the amendment suggested by the Attorney-General is that the Attorney-General is given the exclusive right to decide whether any individual citizen may institute proceedings. According to the honorable member or Wide Bay, that power will still rest with the Attorney-General, and this is one provision which raises serious doubts in my mind when considering both proposed amendments.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - You told me last night you had confidence in the AttorneyGeneral.

Mr WARD - What rot! I told you nothing of the kind! Let me give an illustration of what could happen under this provision. If the Attorney-General is to have power to authorize any person in writing to institute proceedings, he might authorize the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), for instance, to institute proceedings under this legislation. That appears to me to be a distinct weakness in the provision. I think that with respect to the serious charges that may be levelled under this legislation, the AttorneyGeneral should accept full responsibility. We know that the honorable member for Mackellar - there are others on the Government side who could probably be looked upon as being in the same category, but to a lesser degree - periodically runs round the country making ridiculous charges against all sorts of people, claiming that they are engaging in treasonable activities and so forth. It would appear that if the Attorney-General happened to see some advantage to be gained from embarrassing a trade union or the Labour Opposition, he could authorize the honorable member for Mackellar to institute proceedings. He could do so in the case of Brigadier Spry, or the member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), or even the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby), who raised the great question of the mystic five which I have never been able to understand up to this day. All those people could be authorized by the Attorney-General to institute proceedings if either of these amendments is accepted. That is why I say I feel great doubt as to whether these proposals are advisable or whether they should be rejected.

In the circumstances, I should like to hear other members of the committee express a viewpoint on the matter. I do not think that we should leave it entirely to the lawyers to argue. Lawyers on the Government side have been arguing and contradicting each other. For instance, the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) contradicts the opinion expressed by the honorable member for Wide Bay. He said quite frankly that he did not agree with it. The Attorney-General had to explain to the honorable member for Wide Bay to-day what the law provided. In view of all the differences of opinion amongst legal men in the chamber, I should like to hear other honorable members on both sides express their opinions on this most important and serious matter.

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