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Tuesday, 27 March 1984
Page: 738

Senator MASON(9.35) —The Australian Democrats will not support the amendment, as I mentioned in the second reading debate. We, among others, requested that this matter be put into the Bill. As Senator Durack pointed out, it was not there originally. We sought its inclusion and it would be very inconsistent of us now to support its removal. I seriously ask the Liberal and National parties to consider withdrawing this amendment before it has to come to a vote because I do not think it is in their interests to bring it up. I feel, as I said, that it is really suggesting-I am sure this is not intended by the Liberal Party-a not very savoury course of action which might have very difficult and dangerous implications for Australian society. I mean that quite seriously. It seems to the Australian Democrats that there is nothing elementary or obvious at all, to quote Senator Durack's words, about a treason trial being conducted in secret as an established principle. Such matters can be properly protected in individual cases where warranted, just as we are doing with this Bill. I suggest to Senator Durack that that is a much more proper way of doing it than to allow a complete blanket operation of this principle. I suggest to him that if we include in this Bill the provision he suggests, even though there is a sunset clause, it is likely to create a precedent for the future that is a dangerous and undesirable one.

Senator Durack made the point, and I think he believes it quite sincerely, that it is for the protection of the operatives that there should be this kind of secrecy. I remind him that it is not just a matter of protection of those people who operate in this area. Were an unscrupulous government to come into office at some future time, those operatives could be treated completely unjustly. They could be arraigned and tried in secret with nobody knowing what was going on. They would not have the normal protection that ordinary members of the community have, and I would regard that as a very serious matter indeed. We all know that organisations, unhappily, are only too often imperfect. They depend very much on the individuals who operate them. Personal dislikes, animosities, feuds and a desire to score can take their part in this kind of organisation just as they do in any other human institution. Because of that, I think it is necessary for the people who work in the security organisations to have at least some degree of protection. The protection we seek, after all, is only that the Attorney-General report to this Parliament that there has been such a trial and what its operations are. There is no question of this Bill ever being amended to allow disclosure in any way of names and things of that kind. I suggest to the shadow Attorney-General that with those two considerations in mind it would be very responsible of the Committee not to proceed with the amendment. I would prefer to see it withdrawn, but if it is not withdrawn the Australian Democrats certainly will vote against it.