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Tuesday, 22 November 1960

Mr FREETH (Forrest) (Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works) . - I quite fail to follow the argument of the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) when he suggests that the amendment moved by the Opposition would in some way make it more lawful for a man to publish, in memoirs or in some other way, once he had left the Commonwealth Public Service information which it was his duty not to disclose while he was a member of the Service; in other words, classified information. The honorable member suggests that because proof did not lie upon him, it would be easier for him to disclose that information without lawful authority or excuse; but he would still be liable to prosecution under the act, even as he would be if the Opposition amendment were accepted. If the information had not been made public he would still be liable to prosecution.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And rightly so.

Mr FREETH - And rightly so, says the honorable member. Yet, the whole of his argument was that we propose to discourage people from disclosing classified information in their memoirs.

The honorable member in fact advanced the suggestion that officers who had left the Public Service should themselves be allowed to decide what they should publish, what should be classified information and what should not be classified information. Quite clearly, they could not have that power. The government of the day, which classifies the information that it has within its knowledge, should be the first authority to decide what may be disclosed and what may not be disclosed. The arguments advanced by honorable members opposite in regard to official war histories and the like are quite fantastic, because obviously, information disclosed in an official war history is disclosed with the knowledge of the appropriate government departments. Therefore, Sir, I fail to see any validity in the argument thatpeople will be discouraged by the bill as it is now before the committee, or that the position will be in any way altered by the amendment moved by the Opposition.

If a matter is already common knowledge, surely it is a plain excuse to mention the fact that it is within the knowledge of a particular official. That seems to me quite evident from the wording ofthe bill. In the case of disclosure of information, when a man alleges that he has lawful authority, he is the only person who can say whence he obtained that lawful authority. There should not be an onus on the Crown in that respect. As the Attorney-General has said, this is quite a normal provision. He instanced the position in regard to the holding of a licence to fish and a licence to drive. People are required to produce their authority for doing those things. There is nothing to fear from this provision of the bill. As I have said, it is quite a normal provision. I cannot see much point in the Opposition's amendment, beyond an attempt to obstruct the passage of the bill.

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