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Thursday, 17 November 1960

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - As a simple Presbyterian, I wish to direct an overture to the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick), and to ask him to consider carefully the propositions that we put forward. The AttorneyGeneral has shown, in my opinion, a commendable determination to bring about some uniformity in the laws of Australia in matters over which the Commonwealth Parliament has control. He did an excellent job with the Matrimonial Causes Bill, and also, so far as I can see, with the Marriage Bill. Now he has the opportunity of achieving some degree of uniformity in relation to the laws that we are discussing, and I plead with him not to take any notice of the silly articles that have appeared in the newspsapers about his changing his mind.

Sir Garfield Barwick - I do not worry about them.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is good. I am glad to know that the Minister is not influenced by these ill-informed articles, which condemn him for accepting amendments that are all to the good. As one writer said in an article which I thought was quite good, if the Attorney-General refuses to accept amendments he is stubborn; if he does accept them he is weak. I would prefer him to be weak rather than stubborn on this matter.

I ask the Attorney-General to consider the hypothetical situation that I will postulate. Suppose there are two young men of eighteen years of age living in New South Wales or in Victoria. As these States contain two-thirds of the total population of Australia, it is reasonable for me to illustrate my point by referring to these two young men. Let us suppose that they both commit two offences against the laws of the State, and that they are convicted and punished on each occasion. One of the young men commits his third offence against a Commonwealth law, the Crimes Act, while the other commits his third offence against a State law. The latter person cannot be declared an habitual criminal. He cannot be put in gaol at the pleasure of the Governor-General for a period which, in theory if not in practice, can extend for the rest of his life. When we talk about laws we must not talk of what is likely to be done. We should have regard to what can be done. I am pointing out to the Attorney-General what can be done to a boy of eighteen. If he has committed two indictable offences against State law and a third offence against Commonwealth law, he can find himself sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mr Bandidt - No. All three offences have to be against Commonwealth law.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No. That is where my friend from Wide Bay, who claims to be a lawyer, is wrong. If he reads section 17 (1.) of the principal act, he will find that it states -

Where a person convicted of an indictable offence against the law of the Commonwealth has been previously convicted on at least two occasions of indictable offences against the law of the Commonwealth, or of a State-

Mr Bandidt - The honorable member is right.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Thank you.

Mr Ward - The honorable member for Wide Bay had better stay in the small debts court.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I do not know that he would be suited even to that court, because up to date he has shown a very poor knowledge of the law. Although I received most of my education in the shearing sheds, so far I find that my knowledge of the law is at least equal to that of the honorable member and almost as good as that of the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby).

Dr Donald Cameron (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - What about the Attorney-General?

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Leaving out the Attorney-General, of course, the honorable member for Griffith would be easily the most outstanding legal brain in the Government's ranks.

The Attorney-General can now see the great injustice that can be done to young fellows in New South Wales and Victoria. When we turn to Tasmania, we find that the same sort of thing can happen there, because there is no limitation. A boy of seventeen could in theory be in the position of having committed two offences against State law and could be liable if he commits a third offence, this time under Commonwealth law, to be sent to prison during the pleasure of the Governor-General. This means that he can be imprisoned until such time as the Governor-General decides to allow him to be released. The GovernorGeneral is permitted to keep the lad in prison for the term of his natural life if he so desires. Surely this is an inhuman approach to young men in their tender years - mere boys of seventeen, eighteen, nineteen or twenty. At that age, they are only babies, figuratively speaking, and they are to be put in a position in which they can be sent to goal for life because the third offence, if they commit a third offence, happens to be an offence against Commonwealth law, whereas, if they lived in New South Wales or Victoria they could not be sent to gaol for life as habitual criminals if the third offence was an offence against State law, until they were 25 years of age. That age, as a minimum, is reasonable enough. I suggest to the AttorneyGeneral that boys of eighteen and nineteen are mere children. At that age, they are nothing more than boys, and they should not be sent to gaol for life simply because they have committed a third offence which happens to be an offence against Commonwealth instead of State law.

I ask the Attorney-General to make a name for himself and to surprise every one by saying, " Having heard tile excellent arguments put up by the honorable member for Hindmarsh and other Opposition members, I have now decided to alter the bill as drafted in respect of this question ". I ask him to provide in this measure, as has been done in the Matrimonial Causes Act, and as is being done in the Marriage Bill, for uniformity throughout Australia, so that regardless of the State in which a man lives, if he commits an offence against Commonwealth law, he will be treated the same as is a person in any other State who commits an offence which is indictable under the same law. A boy in New South Wales should be treated the same as is a boy in Tasmania. The Attorney-General has excellent draftsmen, and I can tell by the expressions of satisfaction on their faces that they already have a draft of a clause which they can produce and which will meet this situation admirably. So 1 ask that the matter be reconsidered. Let the Attorney-General show his independence of public opinion and of these silly, stupid, little articles in the newspapers which describe him as being weak every time he accepts an Opposition amendment. I ask him to accept this one. Let him do something for humanity and not worry about what the newspapers may say about his action.

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