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Thursday, 14 September 1972
Page: 839

Senator MURPHY (New South Wales) (Leader of the Opposition) - Mr President, it must be remembered that we are dealing with probably one of the greatest issues in the constitutional sense that has come before a parliament. It is curious how often the rights of man will come up in a curious way. Often the great rights of human beings have been determined in cases which have centred on the fate of some despicable human being. Somebody might be charged with murder, rape or some other terrible thing. One may not have much concern or sympathy for the person involved. But very often the great issues arise from cases which do not have much merit in them, and those who understand the history of our law and the way in which the great principles have evolved will understand this. Sometimes the great issues arise in accidental ways. There will be technicalities in the law; there will be all sorts of surprising happenings out of which there is a determination of matters of very great principle.

Here in the Australian Capital Territory - and it affects the whole of the Commonwealth of Australia - there is, as a result of what may seem a sort of accidental happening, a focussing of attention on one of the greatest principles in the law which has concerned mankind throughout the ages, and it is whether we should ever, in any circumstances, by a law, by an Act of parliament, after the event, make unlawful what was lawful. That is the issue with which we are concerned today. The Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood) wants to rush the legislation through the

Parliament before the people of this country are able to absorb what is really at stake. What is at stake is not the error that has been committed, according to the Supreme Court, in the publication of these matters; it is the consequence of that error - that really the law had not taken effect and that the people who did certain things were guilty of no crime at all. We are going to make what they did last year, or 10 years ago, a crime today. This is what is at stake here.

Senator Little - No workers' compensation pay.

Senator MURPHY - The AttorneyGeneral seems to want to crunch that aside. Senator Little says 'no workers' compensation pay'. He knows as well as I do - I have said it before and I will say it again - that obviously there must be some kind of validating legislation to cover civil rights. But there is embedded in this also the question of criminal liability. Are we going today to make unlawful and criminal actions which were lawful? Today, right now whether you like it or not, there are people who, whatever they have done, were innocent and not in breach of any law. At 9.30 or 9.45 tonight, when the Attorney-General can rush the Bill over to the Governor-General, he will turn actions that were innocent when they were committed into criminal ones.

Senator Durack - 'What do you do about the ones who are in gaol already?

Senator MURPHY - Senator Durack asks an important question. It is the kind of thing to which some attention ought to be given.

Senator Durack - What do you say you should do?

Senator MURPHY - This is the kind of thing that ought to be debated by this Senate of the Commonwealth. It should be given the greatest consideration. Senator Durack has asked an important question. He asks: What do we do about people who have been convicted of offences not known to the law, where there has been no breach of the law? They are in prison, and what do we do about them? I would think that is one of the greatest questions which could come before the Parliament. Instead of giving some proper deliberation to this question, as has been given to it in other countries over the years, honourable senators opposite will vote to push the legislation through by 9.45 p.m. and it will not be discussed properly. I do not think it is consistent with the proper exercise of parliamentary responsibility to conduct affairs in this way.

It is obvious that the. measure will be railroaded through this Parliament. Innocent people will be turned into guilty people. The Government is determined upon that course. It wants to do it not because there will be any harm done by leaving the matter until next Tuesday. The idea is to get this legislation through before the full implications get out into the country at large where professors of law, bar councils and law societies will get the message and voice their protests about this way of dealing with these rights. That is the reason for this attempt to push the legislation through now. We do not agree with that course. We do not think that it is consistent with proper parliamentary procedures. But it is consistent with what the Government has been doing for a long time, and that is one of the reasons why the Government will be destroyed at the next election.

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