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Wednesday, 13 November 1974
Page: 2355

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral) - One of the things that has concerned me most since I became Attorney-General is the way in which the law has been administered in Australia. This is a problem which is concerning people all over the world. A great deal is being written on the subject. I know that in the United States of America the Quakers have written a manual on it called The Struggle for Justice'. The prisoners in the

United States have formed associations and they are now campaigning for alterations in the law and especially in the prison system. A most illuminating book has been written by Jessica Mitford called 'Kind and Usual Punishment'. All these books and all the material that is coming forward indicate that the utmost discrimination is being practised in the administration of the system of criminal justice.

The fact is that governments in the past and at present have concentrated mostly on dealing with all the little people. It is very easy to prosecute with great vigour the little people who cannot fight back. It is very easy to emphasise and concentrate on the problems of some Aborigines who want to demonstrate, show their feelings and publicise them by putting up some tents outside Parliament House. They are not really hurting anyone. I will concede that it may be an eyesore and offensive to some persons, but that is what it amounts to. It is a clear expression of their political views and their demand for justice.

But what is happening in the community- it is becoming more and more known- is that there are breaches of the law by the powerful persons who go unpunished because it is hard to enforce the law and nobody bothers to enforce the law. We have persons in this country- we will name no names but we could easily name names- who have shown that if you are big and powerful enough and if you are able to employ accountants, solicitors and Queen's Counsel and you have the money to do these things you can obtain for yourself all sorts of assistance. You can rob the little people of the community, then you can flit out of the country. You can do what you like. You can make a mockery of the system of justice, and generally very little will be done about it. These swindlers do not engage in just white collar crimes- they are not the workers or the embezzlers in a company- they are the ones who are managing and manipulating. Most of these crimes go completely unpunished. It is not really a matter of punishment by the courts because they are not brought to court. They are not even investigated. It has been well said that what is done, say, by the great corporations in breaching the law in various ways and getting at the people exceeds by hundreds of times the total of all the amounts involved in burglaries, housebreakings, armed robberies and so on. These crimes against the community go unpunished. The really large crimes go unpunished because in the past these great officers of the law to which Senator Greenwood referred have concentrated on problems like the ones to which he has referred. He is a former Attorney-General. When he deals with some failure of administration by the AttorneyGeneral the great example he picks on is some Aborigines who put up tents outside Parliament House.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What about the bombs going off in the street?

Senator MURPHY -I do not think the Senate needs reminding of those facts concerning crimes of violence being committed against the community. They go across the whole range of the law. I have discussed this matter with the officers of the Australian Government who are responsible for the administration of the law. I have stressed to them that I am not satisfied with the way in which the system has operated in that it is concerned with prosecuting vigilantly the little people for minor infractions of the law and leaving aside the great crimes that are committed because the people who have committed them are too tough, too rich and too powerful and because it is too hard to do anything about it. This is not the philosophy that underlines the Government's thinking.

I say in answer to the honourable senator that I would be more encouraged by him if he were to ask what is happening in the areas of crime which really affect the community instead of showing his obsession with a few tents outside Parliament House. He passed some strictures upon the Commissioner for Police for the Australian Capital Territory and asked why he is holding his job. I recall that when Estimates Committee A met in this chamber sitting beside me at this very table when Senator Greenwood was present was the Commissioner of Police for the Australian Capital Territory. Senator Greenwood addressed no questions to the man. In his absence now he asks why he is holding his office. I do not need to go further into this matter and I do not propose to do so. I suggest that this matter has been debated before and I do not think it is useful to continue a discussion when so clearly there is a difference in philosphy as to how the law ought to be administered in Australia.

Senator Greenwood- Mr Temporary Chairman,I rise because I have been grievously misrepresented. (Honourable senators interjecting)-

Senator Greenwood - It may appear to supporters of the Government that it does not matter whether completely inaccurate statements are made about what a member of the Opposition has said and when the Opposition member desires to clarify the position he is greeted with jeers. I notice that Senator Steele Hall joins in with the Government. I suppose that is to be expected in the light of recent events. But I have been misrepresented and I want to explain why. I said that I believed it was incumbent upon the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) to explain why no action had been taken to enforce the law with regard to the tents outside Parliament House. I leave aside for the present time the fact that the Attorney-General chose not to answer my question in any way at all. He simply said that I had regarded the Commissioner for Police of the Australian Capital Territory Police as deserving of stricture. I had said no such thing. What I said was that there were 2 alternatives as to why no action had been taken. The first alternative was that there was either neglect or some deliberate act by the police to take no action and if there was neglect or a deliberate act, why did the Commissioner still hold his position? I should have thought that that was a fair question to ask of any commissioner of any police force if people under his control are consistently neglectful or consistently refuse to act to uphold the law. I do not believe that there would be any commissioners of police who would not regard that as a fair question to be asked of them.

The other alternative, of course, was this: Was there some direction given by the AttorneyGeneral which meant that in this particular case the law should not be enforced? I have listened to what the Attorney-General said. It may be that in our society sociological examinations might provide statistics- I do not know whether they do or not- which indicate that big people, whoever he means by that, do not suffer the rigors of the law in the same way as little people. If we can improve our law so that it has an even application right throughout the community then fair measures to achieve that objective would have my warm and wholehearted support. I do not accept the proposition of the AttorneyGeneral. I know that under this present Government in the administration of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act there has not been, on my understanding, one trade union prosecuted for any conduct amounting to breach of an award; but I do know that there have been a number of employers prosecuted, and they are not the big employers but the small employers because, to use the Attorney-General's argument, they are the people who are the sitting ducks.

The point is that wherever there is a breach of the law then it is incumbent upon the law enforcement authorities to enforce that law and to enforce it fairly. When one comes across circumstances where some people are prosecuted for a particular type of offence and others are not prosecuted for the same type of offence, then there is a feeling in the community that someone has been bought or someone is acting unfairly. I am quite sure that people in this chamber would feel that way, just as people outside this chamber feel that way. I believe that there are an enormous number of people in the Australian Capital Territory who pass by Parliament House and see the tents out there and wonder why it is that no action is taken. When people come to me and say that the law is enforced with regard to other people, non-Aboriginals, who commit some offence in other parts of the Australian Capital Territory, then I think it is incumbent upon the Attorney-General to explain what the position is in regard to the tents outside Parliament House.

I have asked and I have not been given any answer. Why is the Attorney-General not prepared to give an answer? I suspect that he will not rise again. I suspect that we will not be given any answer. I suspect that he will just keep to himself what is a matter of public concern, and I will say only that that is typical of the way he has treated Parliament in these matters ever since he has been the Attorney-General. I think it is a reflection upon the members of the Australian Labor Party that whilst when they were in opposition they prated about the ability of the Senate to require information from Ministers of the Crown, when they are in government they will justify any denial of information which any Minister of their own Party chooses to deny to the Opposition. That is a reflection on the style of government we have got at the present time.

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