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Thursday, 12 May 1960


Mr WHEELER (Mitchell) .- It is remarkable the number of members of the Opposition who have been flushed out by this bill to support the cause of the liberty of the subject. Members of the Opposition who have rarely spoken on this subject have suddenly become very vocal. In fact, their virtue on this matter has been so hastily assembled that one can hardly recognize the speakers on the Opposition side in their new guise. It is certainly a strange role for the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns), who has just addressed the House. We did not expect to see him adopt an argument in favour of the liberty of the subject. I thought he was very unhappy, because it is an unusual course for him to steer.

Strange things are happening in the Australian Labour Party. The honorable member for Yarra had a bite at his colleague, the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) and accused him of being narrow-minded. If the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory is narrow-minded, I want to say that he has not that on his own among members of the Opposition. I do not know what is coming over the A.L.P. supporters. They write letters about each other. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) wrote and pimped about the activities of the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). There has been a suggestion that the honorable member for Parkes will attend a summit conference embracing those who have the direction of the A.L.P., to discuss this matter. Then we find that the honorable member for Yarra is at cross-purposes with some of his colleagues in this debate.

I want to say this to the honorable member for Yarra: He cast a very grave reflection on the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson) when he said that he had no respect for the honorable member for Hume. Anybody who pins a Victoria Cross on his chest has my greatest respect. If the honorable member for Yarra had half the record in peace and war of the honorable member for Hume, I should imagine our respect for him would rise astronomically.

In a characteristic speech, the honorable member for Yarra indulged in half-truths and innuendoes. He read from a leading article published in the Melbourne " Age " headed, "Stricter Control of Eavesdropping ". The honorable member quoted only an extract that suited his purpose and left the rest of it unread. He interposed his own comments during the reading of that extract. It is an old political trick - a good old Communist and Socialist trick - to quote something and then insert a personal view. But the honorable member did not read the final two sentences of the article. I propose to do so for the benefit of honorable members, because the " Age " article concluded -

The proof of the new legislation will be its operation. If it is scrupulously enforced, it should do much to clear the air and remove suspicion which might have been unfounded.

With that I entirely agree, because it will be in the enforcement and administration of this measure that we shall see whether it is well conceived, and whether it has been prepared to meet a situation which present conditions demand. Whether it be in family life, in the home, in business, in the choosing of a career or in the ordinary conduct of one's affairs, we look for security. We all do our best to achieve it. Without it, we cannot lead a contented and peaceful existence.

In dealing with political and national security, we must not lose sight of the fact that we lay down a pattern which others are obliged to follow, to observe or to abuse. In the bill before the House, we are charged with a good deal of responsibility, and we must be sure that we act with true regard not only for ourselves, but also for posterity and the welfare of the citizens of the future. We would indeed be politically gullible if we did not think beyond the present and try to estimate the consequences of this legislation being used by a government bent on associating itself with a doctrine designed to undermine the structure of democratic practices.

Of course, the possibilities also exist of the legislation lending itself to mis-judged enthusiasm on this side of the House. Here we are asked to choose in some measure between personal security and national security. Considerations of personal security would require telephones to be completely private, and that, I agree, would be ideal. National security, unfortunately, seems to demand that there should be power to monitor the lines of those who may constitute a threat to the nation; those whose aim it is to take away all our liberties. I am afraid that, for national considerations, we must concede the power that is sought. We must suffer the indignity to prevent the catastrophe.

How then can we ensure that the power given under this bill is not misused?

Frankly, I do not know. I do not know how it can possibly be arranged, but I think the Minister has done his best in the present bill to achieve that end. The effectiveness of those efforts must depend on the standards of the government in office at any time. Suppose, for instance, that an administration bent on socialization came into office. Could not this very legislation be a valuable tool in its hands? I am sure it could.

On the other hand, the answer is that any government can misuse power, whatever legislation we enact. The present bill is not an aid to misuse; it might help to prevent misuse. Criticisms and innuendoes alleging misuse of security powers by the present Government come very badly from members of the present Opposition. Their own record while in office contains some of the worst instances of unjust treatment of the public that we have known. There was, for instance, the appalling case of Keith Bath, who was one of the men imprisoned in 1942 in what was known as the Australia First case. A loyal citizen was detained without any cause, according to the verdict of the committee of inquiry. But the then Attorney-General, Dr. Evatt, refused him any proper compensation and when Bath later sued for compensation, Dr. Evatt refused to give the court a chance to decide it. Instead, he pleaded a technical point, that the action had been commenced too late. So much for the actions of the Opposition when it was in Government.

The bill appears to be a genuine attempt to restrict official telephone tapping. The fact that it does permit telephone tapping at all, in any circumstances, is repugnant to me, as it is to most people. This eavesdropping is one of the most disagreeable of all the disagreeable necessities forced on us by the state of cold war in which we live. But security or other official tapping is very unlikely to worry the ordinary citizen; indeed, it is unlikely that it will ever touch him. The real trouble is the unofficial and unauthorized tapping which is widespread and which exercises the public mind. I believe that the publicity arising from this bill will most likely inflame the resentment. Some of this tapping is done from outside the Post Office, some from inside. I do not know how it can be stopped, because I understand that it is easy to do and hard to detect. It is not just an Australian problem. In some countries overseas, it has reached the proportion of a large-scale racket, and there are people who tap telephones to obtain commercial information and for the purposes of blackmail.

If we prohibit the security service from tapping telephones, our security officers would be the only ones without this advantage in the present underground struggle. For instance, it is safe to say that the Australian Communists now do much more telephone tapping than does the security service. The 182 instances mentioned by the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) as the total tappings by the security service during the past eleven years would be insignificant when compared with the amount of tapping done by the Communists at the present time. It was understood years ago that they had a well-organized cell within the Post Office itself and that this gave them much vital information. I do not know whether it still exists. However, I should very much like the Attorney-General, when next he speaks, to tell us to what extent it is possible to police the law against tapping by people outside the Post Office and whether he can feel certain that the tapping from inside the Post Office is done only in the instances permitted.

I think most of us have heard fairly circumstantial stories about the use of tape recorders to make records of telephone conversations. This is illegal, but it goes on. Amongst other sectors of our national life from which complaints of telephone tappings have come is the business sector. Many a transaction referred to over the telephone becomes public property before even the contracting parties have reached an agreement. In the racing world, for instance, owners and trainers are convinced that telephone leakages are responsible for stable information getting into wrong hands and, believe it or not, some of them blame the security service for this leakage.

All told, I am unable to convince myself that in practice this question of telephone tapping by the security service is as important as some people would have us believe. The principle is important, but the sad fact is that our telephone service will continue to be tapped whether the security service is prohibited from doing it or not, and that is the very essence of my argument. I ask the Attorney-General to tell us of the steps that may be taken to ensure that the telephone service is tapped, inside and outside the Post Office, only in the circumstances permitted by the bill.

The conclusion I draw from all that has been said and written on this subject is that the telephone is a gay deceiver. We think that if no one is within earshot when we speak, the conversation is secret. That is a dangerous illusion. To be really safe, we should imagine ourselves always, when we use the telephone, as speaking in a loud voice amongst a crowd of people. That will remain the position whatever legislation is passed, unless the telephone engineers come to light with some radical development that will make conversations on the telephone really private. But I wonder what the actual effective result of the bill will be. Political activity can be hedged around with so much legal restriction as to prevent the objectives being achieved. I often feel in this place that an ounce of common sense is worth a ton of law. Where there is a danger of being carried away by the desire to restrain espionage, the ultimate objectives of liberty and security may be lost in the efforts to restrain evil doers. I hope that in the years to come the power given in the bill will not fall into uncharitable hands.


Mr Cairns - Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation. I claim that I have been misrepresented. The honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) said that I had alleged that the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) was narrowminded. That is not so. I said that the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bandidt) was narrow-minded.


Mr Wheeler - I accept that explanation, Mr. Deputy Speaker. By the flush on the face of the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory, I thought that the honorable member had referred to him.







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