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Thursday, 12 May 1960


Mr CAIRNS (Yarra) .- I think it became very apparent during the last few minutes of the speech of the honorable member for McPherson (Mr. Barnes) just what is the purpose behind this bill. When it was introduced, the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) told us that it had something to do with espionage - spying - but the honorable member for McPherson devoted the whole of his speech to showing the relation between this bill and the Australian trade union movement. He pointed out that its purpose is to authorize the tapping of telephones of trade unions engaged in strikes and militant activities. He has shown the political and industrial nature of it and that its main purpose is an attack upon the trade unions and not in any way a defence of the security of this country. That has been made clear also by other speakers on the Government side during the course of this debate. When the honorable member for Mcpherson concluded his speech, he said that the only people who had anything to fear from this bill were people with evil intent. That recalled to my mind a statement made by the Prime Minister of South Africa when he was commenting on the shooting at Sharpeville early in April. Dr. Verwoerd said that the only people who had anything to fear in South Africa were people of evil intent. That was exactly the same expression as was used a few minutes ago by the honorable member for Mcpherson.


Mr Barnes - But this is not South Africa.


Mr CAIRNS - We would have South African conditions if the honorable member had his way. The purpose of this bill is to make telephone tapping legal and official. So far, it has been under cover. Ministers have been embarrassed about telephone tapping, but they will not be embarrassed in the future. Telephone tapping will be accepted, and approved, as a normal, matter-of-course part of the Australian way of life. The Labour Party is quite clear upon this. We will not consent to the normalization of telephone tapping in this country. The purpose of this bill is to make it possible for telephone conversations to be intercepted by the Director-General of Security, who, on the receipt of a warrant from the AttorneyGeneral, can proceed to tap a telephone for a period up to six months or, in the absence of a warrant, on his own decision he can tap a telephone, under certain conditions, for a period up to 48 hours.

In order to sugar-coat this un-Australian activity, the Government has introduced a bill which is said to be a bill to prohibit telephone tapping. But this is the first time in the history of Australia that official approval is to be given to the tapping of telephones. The significance of this bill is that it gives official approval to telephone tapping - not that it restricts it in any way. The historical significance of this legislation is that it is the first official approval of telephone tapping - of eavesdropping - in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia. And the credit for this goes to this Liberal Government. The tapping of telephones has been admitted by the Attorney-General as being objectionable and abhorrent. No one says a good word for it. Even the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) - no one could be much further to the right than he is - has admitted that nobody likes this bill. It is a petty, low device, glorified by a Queen's Counsel and by references to national security. If it is needed, there is no national security at all.

But this Liberal Government, which is supposed to stand for liberty, introduces this measure - this abhorrent, objectionable measure. It is our purpose, and it should be our purpose as Australians, to resist attacks on liberty. But the attacks on liberty are coming from official sources - from the Government and those who work with it; and these things are being carried on in the name of liberty. It is wise for people to contrast the pretensions and practices of this Government with what we understand by liberty. This Government which always professes to be the defenders of liberty is always placing restrictions upon liberty. Now it is adding to its long record the fact that it is the Government which first introduced official approval of telephone tapping in the history of Australia. It is vital for any decent, democratic party, as the Australian Labour Party is, to show that it will not be associated in any way with this first official approval, this normalization of telephone tapping in this country. We of the Opposition make it clear that we shall not associate ourselves with the official approval of telephone spies. We do so because this bill is unnecessary and because security in this country has become political. It is over-dramatized, secret and mysterious but, above all, it is political. Let us consider the attitude of the Attorney-General - the man who will administer this legislation; the man who will issue warrants; the man who showed himself to be most intemperate in his interjections during the speech of the honorable member for 'East Sydney last night.

The bill proposes yet another inroad upon the liberties of the people of this country. I want to refer the House to the leading article in to-day's Melbourne " Age ", which is not by any means a radical newspaper. The article states -

Protests against telephone tapping hinge largely on the interpretation of the phrase "national security ". In other democratic countries, cases have been brought to light in which legitimate political activity has been interpreted as subversion by ill-educated and overzealous security agents, convinced that the interests of the government of the day are synonymous with those of the nation.

That is the fundamental assumption which underlies the pretensions of the honorable gentleman on the Government side who is now interjecting and of the Government itself. Subversion is something which is in the mind of ill-educated and overzealous security agents, and any one who knows anything of the security service knows that the agents are ill-educated in politics, overzealous and identify conservative interests with the interests of the nation. That is the kind of upbringing which they have had in the kind of social class from which they come, and that is the kind of assumption which they express.

This bill is unnecessary because there is no evidence of subversion in this country. We have had a security service for twelve years. What cases have been brought to court? What cases have ever been detected? On 10th May I gave notice of a question to the Attorney-General which is in these terms -

1.   Have any particular acts contrary to Australian security been (a) detected or (b) prosecuted since the Australian Security Intelligence Organization was established?

2.   If so, what particular acts or types of acts have been (a) detected or (b) prosecuted.

I am quite sure that the Government will not answer that question. It will give us no information because no person has been prosecuted. At least, the Government could tell us the kind of acts which it has detected, but if it were to do so we would find that the acts have to do with strikes, trade unions, peace congresses and statements of political propositions such as were cited in the House yesterday by the honorable member for Hume. I guarantee that there would be no reference to any acts of subversion, espionage or spying. As I have said, if the Government were to answer my question on the notice-paper, the reply would refer to strikes, trade unions, peace congresses, industrial and political activities by the Labour movement.


Mr Bandidt - And Communist fronts.


Mr CAIRNS - Of course, you would say Communist fronts. But what is a Communist front to you, a reactionary tory? Anything which is inclined to be radical or different from your point of view would be a Communist front. No information has ever been given on the matters to which I have referred. We are completely in the dark about security, yet the Government asks us in this National Parliament to agree to legislation which will authorize a reactionary and conservative Attorney-General, and a reactionary and conservative DirectorGeneral of Security, to tap telephones.

Ministers have continuously evaded their responsibilities in this matter. The record of that is a long one. But whatever you might do in relation to trade union activities, peace conferences, or statements of propositions like that which was made yesterday by the honorable member for Hume when reading from a list of the objectives of the Communist Party, you must concern yourself with realities. It is one thing for a group of people called Communists to express the belief that they will overthrow the Government in the near future. That is a political aspiration. The American Supreme Court has a long record of cases in which it has laid down the law that these things are not to be taken on their face value, but must be examined in the light of the circumstances to see whether there is any present or impending danger to justify an undemocratic procedure. But no one here ever gives any consideration to that aspect. The honorable member for Hume and his ilk come to the Parliament and repeat these propositions as though they were realistic circumstances, whether they can be realized or not. It is ridiculous for any group of people in this country, Communist or otherwise, to say that it will overthrow the Government. Goodness knows, it is almost impossible to change the Government, let alone overthrow it. There is no present or impending danger to the system of government. Therefore, we say that the bill is not necessary, because there are no conditions of espionage or subversion which would justify such an extreme measure.


Mr King - How do you know?


Mr CAIRNS - How do I know? Because I move from one corner of this country to another, and I keep my eyes open. I do not have a narrow view such as you have. When the Government tried to ban the Communist Party, the Prime Minister went all over the country saying that unless he had the power to do so, there would be industrial confusion and chaos within a few months. But he did not get those powers and there has not been any industrial confusion and chaos. On the contrary, the Government claims that it has the best record of industrial peace in the history of Australia. At the time of the Petrov commission there was great talk about the need for additional powers in the Crimes Act to deal with the situation which was revealed by the commission. Has this Government made any progress towards that end? No! Those rumours were put forward for their political effect, to scare the people, to make them apprehensive and to make them believe that a vote for this Government meant some kind of security.

The Government has said that it is not concerned with the political aspects of this legislation. During the debate last night the honorable member for East Sydney said that when Labour was the Government matters of security were discussed with the Opposition, but this practice was not followed when the Liberal Party became the Government. When he said that there were interjections from Government members - at least from those who were in the House to hear the debate. I heard the words, " there was good reason " come from several corners, particularly from the AttorneyGeneral and the honorable members for Corangmite and Macarthur, thus inferring that the Opposition is a security risk. The Government has proved by its actions that security is political. The honorable member for East Sydney went on to say that Government members regard every strike as a subversive activity. Government supporters then interjected, " Quite right ", indicating that as far as the Government is concerned, a strike will be a security risk and will justify the Attorney-General tapping the telephone of any person who may be associated with that strike. Apparently the same principle applies to clubs, universities and peace congresses. When the Government has obtained the power which it seeks in this bill, will the result be the arrest, prosecution and detention of people? Will the Government have any additional power to resist subversion or espionage? The information which is obtained when telephones are tapped will appear on dossiers which will be examined in the security service office in conjunction with a list which is supplied by the Public Service containing names of people who apply for employment or promotion in the service. A list is supplied also by private employers for information regarding prospective employees, and when the list is returned to the sender it will carry in the margin an entry indicating whether the person concerned is favorably or unfavorably known to security. If a person receives an " unfavorable " entry his chances of promotion or appointment are nil. Any person who sees some kind of security in legislation of this nature ought to be told that it is a weapon which will be used against him as it has been used for years, both in the Public Service and in private industry. We know that it will be used against people who apply for naturalization and that they will not be naturalized if they have an adverse security report.

What is an adverse security report? It is not a report that a person has been conveying information to Russia or to China. An adverse security report is a report that a person has attended a peace meeting or made in a certain place some statement which may be critical of this Government. It is a report that a person, perhaps, has been associated with a militant trade union or has been involved in a strike.


Mr Anderson - 'How does the honorable member know that?


Mr CAIRNS - I know it for a fact. I do not care what the honorable member believes. I take no notice of his beliefs and I have no respect whatever for him. So what he says makes no difference.

I have received information of this kind of thing time and time again. These are the things that the Government regards as security. These are the things that it believes to be politically important. This is the way in which the information that it receives from telephone tapping will be used. Security has been overdramatized and shrouded in secrecy and mystery. And this has been done deliberately by the Government.

There is a long record of Government evasion and Government secrecy in relation to telephone tapping, and I shall refer the House to a few instances of this. They can be multiplied many times. On 6th

October, 1959, as reported at page 1744 of " Hansard " of this House, the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Opperman), who is now Minister for Shipping and Transport, asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) whether he had heard of allegations made by a member in another place about telephones being tapped - telephones generally, not only the telephones of members of Parliament. The Prime Minister answered in this way -

I noticed in the press that it had been stated by a member of another place that his telephone had been tapped. I have made careful inquiries about this matter and I find that the fact is that there has been no tapping or monitoring of the telephone of any member of Parliament in either House of any Parliament, Federal or State.

The Prime Minister did not answer the question which had been asked. He related the question only to members of Parliament, and he avoided dealing with it in relation to the general community.

On 24th November, 1959, as reported at page 2994 of "Hansard", the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) asked this question -

Does the Prime Minister expect to be able to make a statement soon on the report of three British Privy Counsellors on telephone tapping? I understand that he intended to make a statement on this matter before the end of this year.

The Prime Minister replied -

T regret to say that I see little prospect of doing that before the House rises.

On 6th May, 1959, as reported at page 1863, volume 23, of "Hansard" of this House, the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) asked the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) the following question: -

.   . the committees of some returned soldiers' clubs in my electorate have received reliable information that telephone lines to such clubs are being tapped - and they emphasize that the information is reliable. Is this a fact?

That was a direct question. The PostmasterGeneral answered it in this way -

.   . the information to which the honorable member refers is not reliable because telephones are not tapped.

That was said by the Postmaster-General in May, 1959. But upwards of 182 telephone tappings had been made by that time. Was the Minister uninformed? Was he kept in the dark by the Prime Minister and the security service, or was he misleading this House? The House is entitled to an answer to that question one way or another.

Going back to 1953, we find that, on 1st December of that year, as reported at page 703 of volume 2 of "Hansard" of this House, the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) directed to the Prime Minister a question part of which was in these terms -

Will the Prime Minister have inquiries made with a view to ascertaining whether the telephone line was tapped when I was having my conversation?

The Prime Minister answered in this way -

In the absence of the Postmaster-General, 1 have no doubt that I can say at once that the honorable member's telephone conversation was not tapped. Such a thing would be entirely unpardonable, and it does not occur.

But it is now pardonable to bring in legislation under which the telephone of a member of Parliament may be tapped. Immediately after the Prime Minister had answered the question asked by the honorable member for Kingston, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) put this question to the right honorable gentleman -

I ask the Prime Minister whether the Commonwealth security service, if it so desires, is permitted to tap telephone lines and record conversations without seeking any extension of its authority or permission from the Prime Minister. . . .

That was a general question which related not only to members of Parliament. The Prime Minister answered -

That is a hypothetical question. The authority of the security service, a very important service and a service that was established by the Government of which the honorable member for East Sydney was a member, is identical with the authority which it enjoyed when he was a Minister.

That answer completely avoided the point of the question. The honorable member for Hindmarsh immediately came in with another question, in these terms -

Will the Prime Minister deny that the telephones of private citizens or of members of Parliament have been tapped by the security service?

That was a general question. The answer given by the Prime Minister began in this fashion -

I have no knowledge of the matter one way or the other.

He said, on 1st December, 1953, that he knew nothing about whether or not telephones were tapped. In order to make the matter clear, the honorable member for Hindmarsh said -

The right honorable gentleman cannot deny it.

But the right honorable gentleman did. He immediately repeated himself in these terms -

I have said that I have no knowledge of the matter one way or the other.

But the Attorney-General, in his secondreading speech on this bill, made a statement which is in direct conflict with that. As reported at page 1424 of " Hansard ", the Minister said -

Accordingly, at the end of 1950, the Prime Minister gave directions to the Director-General of Security with respect to telephone interception.

According to the Attorney-General, the Prime Minister directed the DirectorGeneral of Security about the tapping of telephones early in 1950. Yet, on 1st December, 1953, in answer to a question asked by the honorable member for Hindmarsh, the Prime Minister said - 1 have no knowledge of the matter one way or the other.

I say with consideration, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that either the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General is a liar. One or the other has told a deliberate lie about a matter of security, and I say that if one of them has told a lie once about a matter of security he will tell another, and I for one should not be prepared to entrust such a man, either now or in the future, with powers of the kind embodied in this bill. Any honorable member who likes to take the trouble to refer to " Hansard " of 1st December, 1953, at page 704, and to compare what he reads there with what is reported in " Hansard " of 5th May, 1960, at page 1424, will find that either the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General has told a deliberate lie about a matter of security.

Let me now summarize the position in relation to this bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We say that this bill has been introduced, not in order to safeguard our security, but for political purposes. It is a lawyer's hobby. Over a period of years, the Prime Minister was not prepared to do anything about telephone tapping, but the present Attorney-General, soon after he came into his portfolio, designed a neat bill - a lawyer's hobby. The other motive at work was the hope in some way to divide the Australian Labour Party and throw it into difficulties. For the information of those who want to know what happened in the Australian Labour Party in relation to this bill, I may say that the decision to oppose the measure was not a left-wing decision. The most effective speech made in caucus in opposition to the bill was made by Senator Armstrong, who was recently said to have been displaced from the Labour Party ticket for the next Senate election in New South Wales because he was a member of the right wing of the party. The attitude of the Australian Labour Party towards this measure is a genuine Australian attitude which every decent Australian, whether he happens to be a member of the Labour Party or of any other organization, would be prepared to stand for.

We say that this bill is totally unnecessary, because there are in Australia no conditions which require a measure of this sort - so extreme in its features. Australia is a healthy country, politically and democratically. It is a country in which no fears need be created and in which the people may be left free to meet together in order to state political propositions, even if they are revolutionary, and to discuss peace - a country in which men may go about their ordinary trade union affairs and conduct strikes, if strikes are justifiable in their view. We say that there is no need for this bill, and we say above all that the Australian Labour Party is not willing to associate itself with the giving of official approval to the tapping of telephones in the manner provided for in this measure.

So far, as I have shown, Ministers have been continually uncomfortable and embarrassed and, in their embarrassment, they have tried to mislead the House and to hide the true situation with regard to telephone tapping. From now on, telephone tapping will be a normal part of the life of Australia. There will be no need for embarrassment over it and no need for any misleading action by Ministers, because telephone tapping will be an accepted and normal thing. It will be just another step in the restriction of the liberties of the Australian people. Every single step made in that direction makes the next step easier to take.

Most of those steps that have been taken so far have been taken by a government of the political persuasion of the present administration. Most of the inroads on liberty have been official inroads, and not those of citizens or the people of Australia, who object to interference from their own government. This measure is one of the most important examples of such interference that we have had in recent years. It is a logical projection of this Government's general policy, but it is totally unnecessary for the security of Australia. The Government has brought down this legislation for political reasons only. That is the opinion of the Opposition and no one who considers for half a minute the matter of security and the way it is supposed to involve the activities of trade unions, peace congresses and university and A.L.P. clubs could conclude otherwise. If there is some political element in this matter, why has not the Government seen fit to take the Opposition into its confidence? Instead of having a conservative Attorney-General as the man to authorize these warrants, why could not the Government consider a committee of perhaps the Attorney-General and the Leader of the Opposition to determine these matters so that two points of view on the political issues involved would be possible. But, no, that is not what the Government wants! It wants to retain in its own possession, and in the possession of persons with conservative minds, the power to make decisions on these matters.

The Opposition believes that this bill is totally unnecessary having regard to existing conditions. We say that the security service has become more and more political since its inauguration. It is overdramatized; it is secret and mysterious, and is given far greater importance than it justifies. In these circumstances, we are not going to associate ourselves with granting to that security organization more power than it possesses at present, because that is unnecessary. Therefore, we oppose the bill and every line that is in it.







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