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Tuesday, 27 March 1984
Page: 732

Senator MASON(8.58) —Support by the Australian Democrats for the Judiciary Amendment Bill 1984-indeed, we do support it-in no way implies any support for or approval of the disgraceful and expensive events of late last year resulting from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service raid on the Sheraton Hotel. The most alarming disclosure from the point of view of the Australian public has been that concerning the cost of compensation and other costs associated with this unfortunate episode. While some statements from the Government have indicated that this sort of thing will never happen again, it is time we had something a little clearer from the Government on why and how it will not happen again. In other words, these statements have more or less expressed a pious, rather sanctimonious view that this sort of thing will not happen again in Australia but we are still waiting for concrete statements and decisions from the Government on how it proposes to control the Australian Secret Intelligence Service so that it will not carry out these actions. The Australian community is waiting for that kind of assurance from the Government. These sorts of things regularly happen in various countries. The Central Intelligence Agency in America went through a period when the most appalling situations regularly occurred. Each time that happened the government of the time said that it must never happen again. But, lo and behold, it did happen again. I am not at all satisified that the Government is taking sufficient control of the situation to ensure that the Australian community is not exposed to another Sheraton episode.

The Australian Democrats are also concerned about the idea of limiting disclosure in court cases of any kind. Indeed, I have had feedback from the public that many citizens are similarly concerned. I say to the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) that these citizens take a cynical and disillusioned view of the prospects of limitation in this case. In my experience and that of a considerable number of people with whom this has been discussed, including some people in the media who I suppose are normally cynical anyway, this is widely seen by the public as a kind of cover-up. The Attorney-General may have some difficulty in overcoming that impression. If he feels that it is important that it be overcome, he will have to make greater effort than he has made to date. On the whole, this is an honest and healthy response from the Australian public and the media. The most close and careful scrutiny should be applied to this episode . After all, secret trials have been part of the stock-in-trade of dictatorships and quasi-dictatorships throughout history. They are something that we should accept in this society only with the greatest of suspicion and with the utmost circumspection.

As a result of these considerations the Democrats have thought hard and long about supporting this Bill. Quite early in its drafting we proposed some amendments that would at least limit the extent to which these trials were held in complete obscurity and secrecy. As a result of negotiations our amendments were included in the Bill as printed and in fact comprise the penultimate section on page 3 under the heading 'Reports' which reads:

(1) Subject to sub-section (2) the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth shall, as soon as practicable after each 30 June, lay before each House of the Parliament a report setting out- (a) the number of proceedings in which, to his knowledge, orders referred to in sub-section 49 (1) were made during the year that ended on that date; and

(b) particulars of those proceedings, including particulars of the judgments.

(2) Sub-section (1) does not require the making of a report in terms that would be inconsistent with any order referred to in sub-section 49 (1).

As things stand in the Bill, which has now been limited to the ASIS incident, this may not seem important. But we feel it is very important as a principle and as a point that may apply in future legislation of this kind. If, indeed, there is to be this sort of secret trial, at least the Attorney-General of the time must report to the Parliament that there has been a secret trial and what the consequences of it were. If we do not have that, we could have a situation in which secret trials proliferated in this country, just as they did in fascist countries and as they do in Soviet Russia, without anyone knowing about them. While I do not consider that to be the intention of the Government, it is very important when we are making legislation not to leave loopholes that could be exploited in the future. In this matter the Australian Democrats considered also those people who work for ASIS, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and our secret organisations. A completely secret situation could militate against them. Indeed, a series of trials could well have been held against a whole group of people without the people of this country every being aware of it. As the Bill stands now, it makes that impossible.

We were also concerned at the scope of the original Bill which, no doubt unintentionally, would have permitted actions other than the Sheraton one, the ASIS one, to take place without public knowledge and in secret. I hasten to say that I do not know of any such cases and I do not suspect any. But, theoretically I suppose, it is possible that the Government has a whole row of such things ready to trundle up and we must at least guard against that possibility. The two-year period mentioned in clause 51, which stated that this part does not apply in relation to an order made later than 2 years after the commencement of the Criminal Proceedings Act 1984 of Victoria, would, if it had not been modified elsewhere, possibly have permitted the introduction of other cases of this kind that we may never have known about. This is not in airy-fairy land or just speculation. It has happened in other countries. Where these gaps occur in legislation it is only too possible for them to be exploited by perhaps opportunists in the bureaucracy when there is sufficient reason from their point of view to do so.

However, the alteration to the Bill to limit its operations strictly, to quote page 2, to 'the incident that occurred at the Sherton Hotel in Melbourne on the night of 30 November 1983 involving the Australian Secret Intelligence Service', was done at the request of the Australian Democrats because we believed it most important that this should be a one-off operation and that it would be absolutely intolerable to the Australian community and the Australian people that any Bill of this kind which had a general application should pass any House of this Parliament. The moment that we do that we are with Hitler, with Mussolini and with Stalin. If we create any kind of legislation which would allow that kind of situation to occur more than once and not in any specific area, we would be going down a very dangerous path indeed.

I understand, and I find it almost incredible, that the Liberal Party of Australia may indeed be contemplating some sort of amendment to remove this clause. I will be interested indeed in its reasons for doing so and for saying to the Australian community that it is prepared to bring forward an amendment which would indeed create a situation of secret trials in this country.

Senator Durack —Grow up.

Senator MASON —Senator Durack protests; perhaps I should not prejudge him. I beg his pardon and I hope that what I suspect is not true and that the Liberal Party is not intending to move an amendment of that kind. I will wait and see what happens in that regard.

The Australian Democrats, like all reasonable people, regret the need in the world for secret intelligence operations. But we are not so naive as to believe that any country can unilaterally opt out of them. One of the facts of life is that this kind of operation appears to be necessary. It is, one might say, basically a cancer on international society for which we pay very dearly indeed and from which, if we take the balance internationally, we obtain very little. It harms and damages the world; let us face that. It is bitter war of attrition between those organisations which at great public expense carry out a kind of junior war against each other which does not really achieve anything except the negation of their own efforts. If we want that kind of world, so be it, but we have to recognise the facts about it. What a stupid, inconsequential, dangerous and expensive undertaking it is to the world.

In this ASIS incident at the Sheraton Hotel we see how it can impact on the community at large with great expense, great trouble and great danger. The people who operate in this strange half-world of security apparently are trained to see themselves as above and beyond the law of the land. Any organisation that does that, for whatever reason, is doing something which is fundamentally damaging and dangerous to the society it is supposed to protect. Members of such organisations do it obviously, as this incident showed, with a total sense of irresponsibility, with no idea of their proper responsibilities to society and no idea that they have may have been placed there in a particularly sensitive and delicate role where certain responsibilities and obligations are required of them, or should be, by the Community. They are the first and most willing to laugh at and deride those responsibilities and make nothing of them. If they earn the contempt, dislike and scorn of society, as ASIS has in this matter, they richly deserve it. That lesson needs to be driven home again and again by the Government.

If we are to have this sort of security organisation, for God's sake let us not have in it a group of juveniles, a group of non-grown up people, who believe they can go into a hotel and smash up its doors without anybody knowing about it and without its becoming a matter for government and the Press. How incredibly juvenile that was. We need an organisation which is capable of doing this delicate and sensitive work with intelligence. That is what the word ' intelligence' is supposed to mean. We have not seen much intelligence from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service in this episode. That organisation should mediate and reflect on the fact that intelligence is part of its name and make sure that in future it uses its intelligence in whatever it does.

We have been given reasons for the anonymity of the defendants in this case, which we have accepted as good and sufficient. Obviously, I cannot mention them. Just as obviously we plainly cannot be absolutely sure, on our knowledge, that they are justified. However, our decision has been to accept those reasons and on that basis and on the basis of the Government's having accepted the change we proposed-I thank it for having done so-we support the Bill. I conclude by saying again to this House, to the Parliament and to the community: Do not trust these people. Do not trust this organisation. Regard it as something which, because of its very nature, requires the most constant and vigilant scrutiny by the community, the Attorney-General and the Parliament. I would have thought that the people engaged in this sort of security organisation would realise that in any decent and reasonable community they cannot have the wide open brief that they think they ought to have. They cannot be above and beyond the law and destroy and smash things up. They should accept that they operate within the most careful limits of scrutiny and supervision on the part of the Government. On that basis and on that basis only the Australian Democrats support this Bill.