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Tuesday, 27 March 1984
Page: 737


Senator DURACK(9.27) —I move:

Page 2, clause 3, proposed section 46, definition of 'proceedings', line 5, leave out all words after 'proceedings' (second occurring).

This is a very simple amendment which seeks to delete from the definition of ' proceedings' in clause 3 the specific reference to proceedings arising out of the Australian Security Intelligence Service incident at the Sheraton Hotel. The Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) was not in the chamber when I referred to this proposed amendment in my speech on the second reading. I hope to be spared more crocodile tears flowing from his eyes about this matter. The fact is that he himself in his second reading speech presented sound precedents for orders of this kind in legislation of both this country and the United Kingdom. The Minister quoted the United Kingdom Official Secrets Act. Senator Mason had a little more understanding of the nature of security, both international and national. He would know that some of the major treason trials in the United Kingdom in recent years-cases such as Blake-have been held in secret for the most elementary and obvious reasons which I am sure commend themselves to the Attorney-General. For example, there is the Commonwealth Crimes Act, of which, for the information of Senator Mason, I shall read section 85B:

At any time before or during the hearing before a Federal court, a court exercising Federal jurisdiction or a court of a Territory of an application or other proceedings, whether in pursuance of this Act or otherwise, the Judge or Magistrate, or other person presiding or competent to preside over the proceedings, may, if satisfied that such a course is expedient in the interest of the defence of the Commonwealth- (a) order that some or all of the members of the public shall be excluded during the whole or a part of the hearing of the application or proceedings;

or make other consequential orders. Those are similar to the proposals in the Victorian Bill. Senator Evans also mentioned provisions of the Federal Court of Australia Act. There is nothing in this proposal which is peculiar. Indeed, there are very sound precedents and very sound reasons for it. If we have secret organisations, in which I understand Senator Mason says he believes, regrettably there are occasions when the laws have to be modified to accommodate and preserve the secrecy of an organisation or of those who are employed by it and who, indeed, in many cases make quite considerable sacrifices in order to perform the public duty and service which membership of such organisations entails. People seem to get on their high horses about the membership of secret organisations. I do not include the Attorney-General in that category because he understands and supports the need for secrecy. However, some people in this chamber and outside it seem to make a profession these days of pouring scorn on those who devote their working lives, at some great sacrifice and risk on many occasions, to the performance of their public duties. If these people, as a result of their employment, find themselves in the public eye, as in this case, they should be protected. That protection should not apply only to this one particular incident. It may arise in other cases.

This Bill has a sunset clause. Sunset clauses seem to be in fashion with other groups these days, and I do not object to that. If the Government wants to put in a sunset clause, so be it. Nevertheless, I reiterate my view that this is a perfectly sound principle. The Victorian legislation is limited quite specifically, as is the Crimes Act, to matters such as the defence of the Commonwealth, security interests, or the protection from physical harm of a person in a court or a witness. I would have thought that the protection of a person from physical harm was a very sound principle and may even have commended itself to the Australian Democrats, but apparently it does not.

For all those reasons the Opposition has moved this amendment which, when all is said and done, only restores this Bill to the original form that was unveiled by the Government. Admittedly, it was not introduced into this chamber in that form, but the Victorian legislation had been introduced in that form and it was intended to introduce it in that form in this chamber. It may well be that the amendments were made because the Liberal members of the Victorian Parliament wanted it restricted. However, the fact is that the form we are now seeking to restore represents a perfectly justifiable and proper principle. It is the view of the Opposition that that principle should be affirmed, and that is the purpose of the amendment before the Chair.