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Wednesday, 11 November 1964

Senator GORTON (Victoria) (Minister for Works) .- 4 move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill has been made necessary by certain arrangements entered into by the Commonwealth Government with the United Nations with regard to Australian members of the United Nations Force in Cyprus. The immediate purpose of the Bill is to give effect to these arrangements; as 1 shall explain presently, the Bill goes beyond this immediate purpose.

When the United Nations commenced its peacekeeping operations in Cyprus earlier this year it sought police from a number of member nations to fill roles which the Commander of the United Nations Force thought would be better filled by civilian police. Australia was asked to supply 40 policemen. The Commonwealth agreed to do so, and with the ready assistance of the States a contingent of 40 Australian policemen was provided. The contingent arrived in Cyprus on 25th May 1964, only three weeks after , the request was received. This was a unique venture; it was the first time police from all States, from the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory and from the Commonwealth Police, had joined together in an enterprise of this kind.

The Australian police have acquitted themselves ably in Cyprus, and they have been well received by both Greek and Turkish communities. Their duties have included accompanying local police at vehicle check points; observation of searches by local police at road blocks; manning United Nations posts in sensitive areas; street patrols in towns and villages in sensitive areas; dealing with missing persons and other duties of a police nature. They are in constant liaison with the local Greek and Turkish Cypriot police. As well as Australians, there are police from Austria, Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden in the United Nations Force.

The United Nations concluded a status of forces agreement with the Republic of Cyprus. This regulates the presence in Cyprus of the United Nations Force. Under this agreement members of the Force are not to be subject to the criminal jurisdiction of the Cypriot courts, whether in respect of matters arising during the course of their duty or during off-duty periods. Honorable senators will be familiar with this kind of agreement. They will recall that Australia concluded a status of forces agreement with the United States some little time ago in respect of United States personnel in Australia and legal effect was given to this by the Defence (Visiting Forces) Act passed by the Parliament last year. The Government of Cyprus has acted to give effect to its agreement with the United Nations, and in doing so has, of course, made substantial concessions in favour of the visiting force.

The consequence is that there exists what might be aptly termed a legal vacuum with respect to Australian police who are members of the United Nations Force in Cyprus. They are not subject to the criminal jurisdictions of the Cypriot courts; in the absence of special Australian legislation they are not subject to the jurisdiction of Australian courts. In agreeing to meet the United Nations request for police for Cyprus we undertook that we would ensure that our nationals were subject to the jurisdiction of Australian courts in respect of any offences which they might commit while in Cyprus. The immediate purpose of this Bill is, as I have said, to give effect to this undertaking. We are dealing with the reverse position to that with which wc were concerned last year in passing the Defence (Visiting Forces) Act; here we have to provide for the exercise of jurisdiction over Australians serving abroad.

But the Bill also has a wider purpose. When the Government came to consider the legislation necessary to give effect to our undertaking in relation to Cyprus, we thought it desirable to provide for the possibility of future ventures of this kind. Honorable senators will notice, therefore, that the Bill makes no reference to Cyprus; it is drawn in quite general terms to apply in respect of any Australian civilians serving overseas, whether as police or in other capacities, as part of a United Nations Force in respect of which there is a status of forces agreement exempting members of the Force from the criminal jurisdiction of the courts of the country in which they are serving.

The Bill, it will be noted, is not concerned with members of the defence force. The laws applying to members of the defence force serving abroad are already of a kind that would enable us to take advantage of status of forces agreements of the kind I have been discussing. Honorable senators will see, therefore, that members of the defence force are excluded from the definition of "person to whom this Act applies " in clause 3 of the Bill.

There are two more things which should be said by way of a general introduction to the Bill. The first is that we would hope, and indeed expect, that Australian civilians serving with a United Nations force would conduct themselves with dignity and responsibility. The Bill is not brought forward in any sense of expectation that resort will have to be made to its provisions. But it is necessary, as honorable senators will realise, that we on our part should have done all that is required to meet the concessions already made by the Cypriot Government and to give effect to our undertaking to the United Nations. The second thing I want to say is that if there is some transgression by an Australian serving overseas in the circumstances to which the Bill relates, the person concerned will have the very real safeguard of trial in an Australian court in the same way as if the act or omission occurred in Australia.

Broadly, what the Bill does is to make it an offence for a person to whom it applies to do anything in the place in which he is serving which would be an offence if it were done in the Australian Capital Territory. Although, as in the present case, it is likely that Australian members of the forces would be drawn from different States, it is for obvious reasons necessary to apply a single law, and the law of the Australian Capital Territory has been selected for this purpose, as it was in (he Crimes (Aircraft) Act passed by the Parliament last year.

The Bill provides for an offender to be returned to Australia and there charged with an offence. It further provides that the law of the State or Territory where a person is charged with an offence shall apply in respect of matters such as bail, and in respect of proceedings brought against that person. Jurisdication to deal with offences is conferred on the courts of the States and' Territories. The intention is that an offender would, as far as practicable, be charged and dealt with in his own State or Territory. This concludes my survey of the Bill. I am pleased to commend it to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Poke) adjourned.

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