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Thursday, 12 May 1960


Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - Honorable members opposite have referred to speeches on the bill by what they term left wing members of the Australian Labour Party. I do not know whether they would call me a left wing, a centre or a right wing member. I do not really care what they call me. I represent industrial workers, waterside workers, seamen and men who are always up to their necks in trouble with employers. 1 think, therefore, that I would be referred to as a left wing member.

I am amazed that the Government has brought in this bill at all. After more than ten years in office, during which time the security service has been operating, the Government has suddenly accepted the fact that somebody is interfering with telephones and therefore has decided to do something about it. The remarkable fact is that we have not been shown any evidence at all that this bill is necessary. Honorable members on the Government side say that this action is being taken because somebody else has taken similar action. I have never seen such a shambles as I witnessed last night when the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was replying to the case put forward by the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick). It almost seemed as though the honorable member for East Sydney had been given about six machineguns with the points raised by the AttorneyGeneral set up before him like dummies, and he shot them to pieces.

I am not speaking now about whether there should be control of telephone tapping. I merely say that I should imagine that if the Government believed it was necessary in the interests of the security of Australia to have power to tap telephones, it could have taken action at any time during the last ten years. Whilst I agree that a penalty should be imposed for the wrongful tapping of telephones, I also agree that if the security of this country depends on the right to tap telephones or anything else it is the Government's duty to do the job, not to ask Parliament for authority to do it after having already taken such action. Can the Attorney-General, or any honorable member on the Government side, honestly say, "We know that telephone tapping has been taking place, but we have not had the power to control it. We must have power to stop it " ? A few years ago, the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) was most vociferous in his complaints about telephone tapping. The reply by the Government on every occasion was that he was suffering from hallucinations, that nothing of the kind was going on at all.


Mr Bowden - He could give no proof of it.


Mr THOMPSON - I admit that, but the Government did say that he was suffering from hallucinations. What proof has the Government given us that this bill is necessary now? The Attorney-General said that it may be desirable for the Government to tap telephones in certain cases, that this authority is desirable in the interests of security. But what proof has he given that the bill is necessary? He has told us that in eleven years there have been 182 interceptions, representing seventeen interceptions a year; but he has not told us that the results of any one of those tappings justified the action taken at the time. Not once has he told us of anything that has been discovered through the tapping of telephones. On any occasion when the security officers felt suspicious about some clever person and thought that something might be learned from tapping the telephone after obtaining authority from the Minister or somebody else, has anything of importance been learned? Can the Government point to any instance in which anything has been discovered? I do not ask for the name of any individual under suspicion. All I ask is proof that telephone tapping is necessary.

When I speak about the hardship suffered by widows, I quote instances of hardship in order to illustrate the position as I see it. In this case, the Attorney-General has merely said that the purpose of seeking the authority is to ensure the privacy of the people. I am amazed that in its ten years of office the Government has not taken steps before this to protect the privacy of the people, if authority to do this has been necessary. I repeat that there is no need for the bill. When a government is elected, it must accept responsibility for taking all steps necessary to safeguard security. I venture the opinion that to limit this, or any other, government to what is provided in certain sections of some act is to jeopardize the security of the country. I have never agreed to restriction of authority in these matters to what is contained in sections of acts. Any government, whether it be Labour or Liberal, must accept responsibility in connexion with these matters.


Mr Bowden - That is what we are doing now.


Mr THOMPSON - Can the honorable member tell this House of anything that has happened during the last ten years, or even in the last two years, which makes this bill necessary? I say he cannot.


Mr Turnbull - They are security matters.


Mr THOMPSON - We have been able to carry on satisfactorily so far with present security methods. Did anything come out of telephone tapping in the Petrov case, for instance?


Mr Turnbull - That is a security matter. That information cannot be disclosed.


Mr THOMPSON - The honorable member says that the information cannot be disclosed. I am not asking for such details as the name of the individual concerned. The Government has not put forward any evidence whatever that anything has been discovered through telephone tapping. Does the Attorney-General say that during all these years, while the present Government has been in office, it has not been necessary to tap telephones?


Mr Downer - They did it without authority.


Mr THOMPSON - If they did it without authority, why deny it, as was done when the matter was taken up by the honorable member for Hindmarsh? Why was that honorable member told that his complaints were merely piffle, that telephone tapping was not taking place? The honorable member for Hindmarsh was satisfied that it was being done. I do not know whether it was being done, but that honorable member was satisfied that it was being done; and the Government denied it but could not prove that it had not been done. It merely said that it did not believe that it had been done. In my opinion, the Government has fallen into a trap on this occasion. It is seeking Parliament's authority to do something that is not necessary. We have heard much about the freedom of the individual in all things. I am not worried about the freedom of the individual in the sense that if it could be proved to me that this bill is necessary, I would be prepared to vote for it. But I do not think it is necessary.

I come now to the assertion by honorable members on the Government side that honorable members on this side have been dragooned into voting against the bill because of a victory alleged to have been won by a section led by the honorable member for East Sydney. It has been suggested that we are opposing the measure because that honorable member was able to win out against another section of the party. Let me tell honorable members that I believe every member who attended that caucus meeting to which reference has been made would vote against the third reading of this bill if the proposal were to give the AttorneyGeneral absolute control over this matter. In the party room we also objected to power being given to the Director-General to issue a warrant even with a currency of 48 hours.

The views of a section of the caucus on this bill have been printed in the newspapers, and I am not giving away any secrets. The newspapers stated that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition moved to remove the possibility of party politics, as it were, entering into the matter by fighting for the deletion of the clause giving the Attorney-General and the DirectorGeneral of Security the power to issue warrants, and providing instead that a judicial authority should have the power. We decided that unless that provision was removed we would vote against it. I do not think the Government would be prepared to go even as far as removing that one provision, because member after member on the Government side has said: " I am supporting the measure. I think it is necessary, and a good measure." Honorable members opposite have a perfect right to their opinions, and as the Government has a majority in this place it has the power to enforce its will.

Now let me return to the statements made about the caucus meeting. Honorable members opposite claim that a minority over here is being dragooned into certain action as the result of the vote in caucus. I would say that the debate has shown that there are divisions in the Government parties in relation to this measure. The remarks made by the honorable member who has just finished his speech shows that he is not very happy about the measure. I do not know, but I am prepared to think, that not all members of the Government parties are happy about this bill, and that there are some who would oppose it if they could. But you people opposite do not let the newspapers know what happens at your party meetings, or the newspapers have been unable to find any way of listeningin to the discussions at Government party meetings. I do not know how the newspapers discover what happens at party meetings, but when they do print stories about party meetings they are usually stories about the Labour Party's caucus meetings. They do not seem very keen to print what happens at the party meetings attended by honorable gentlemen opposite. I guarantee that after every caucus meeting we have a swarm of bees around us wanting statements from the Leader of the Opposition and other people.


Mr Chresby - Does the honorable member mean " B's " or " bees "?


Mr THOMPSON - I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that with my way of talking I do not think of the sort of bees the honorable member speaks about. I was speaking about ordinary people. The newspaper reporters get a statement about what happened in the caucus. But are they satisfied with that? No! They go round to one person and another person picking up a little bit of information here and a little bit of information there, and they piece it together in accordance with their ideas. That kind of thing does not happen in respect of the party meetings of honorable members opposite.

We in the Labour Party abide by the majority decision of the Caucus. You people opposite say that you are democrats. What does democracy mean? It means that the decision of the majority shall prevail, but that every member of the minority shall be able to express his views. We in our party make no bones about it. If we in the party decide that we shall oppose a bill, and if any member of the party does not oppose it, or votes for it, we want to know the reason why.


Mr Turnbull - You do not seem too happy about it.


Mr THOMPSON - I am quite happy about it. The best thing that honorable members opposite could do would be to drop the bill - to decide not to go on with it. The fact that honorable members opposite have not been able to produce any real evidence of why the Parliament should accept the bill shows that they should drop it. They could tell the people that the position was somewhat similar to the position when there is a deadlock in the Senate. They could say that, as there was not a majority opinion in favour of the bill, it would be dropped. But we know that in actual fact there will be a majority for the bill, because it would be an exceptional case indeed, if anybody on the other side were to vote against the bill, and an exceptional case if anybody on this side crossed the floor and voted for it. So the bill will go through this House, because the Government has the numbers to put it through.

I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am not adhering altogether to a discussion of the merits or demerits of the bill itself, but no member who has spoken so far in the debate has done so either. The burden of the debate so far has been what has happened in some other country, what some other country has decided, and what we should do in the light of what other countries do. We have been told about telephone tapping in Great Britain. We have been told about what happens in America. We have been told that this country's security service was introduced in the war years, but that is not so. The security service was not started until after the war, and it was established as a result of pressure which was brought to bear by America on the then Prime Minister, Mr. Chifley. The Americans told Mr. Chifley that unless Australia had a proper security service this country would not obtain from America the information that was required to make Woomera an effective long-distance weapons range. Mr. Chifley realized that, if we were to be able to co-operate with the countries that were giving us co-operation, we would have to accede to that suggestion, and the Labour Government agreed to establish the security service. I do not know whether Mr. Chifley directly agreed to telephone tapping or whether he did not, but I say that if he did so, he might have done it in his capacity of Prime Minister and Minister controlling the security service. I will say also that as a member of the Labour Party I do not remember that matter being discussed, and I do not remember being told about it. I am not arguing on that, however. If Mr. Chifley did state that, then we ask for proof of the statement to be given to us.

I think that this statement about Mr. Chifley is just one of the things that honorable members opposite have brought in to bolster their case. The Attorney-General said that Mr. Chifley agreed to telephonetapping. I think that when honorable members on this side who were Ministers in the Chifley Government at the time now say that they knew nothing of it, they are not condemning Mr. Chifley by doing so. We say that if the Attorney-General has a security file to back what he has said, let him trot it out and we will be silent about this thereafter.


Mr Ward - If he is not prepared to produce the evidence he should not have uttered the statement.


Mr THOMPSON - I was going to say that if he was not able to bring the evidence here and show us that what he claims was done by Mr. Chifley was done, then let him withdraw his statement. I am not claiming that the Attorney-General has said anything untrue; but honorable members on this side of the House remember that time very well indeed, and state definitely that they had no idea that what the Attorney-General claims was done. Does any honorable member opposite think that we on this side - and in particular the honorable member for East Sydney, who was one of the leading Ministers in the Chifley Government - would have challenged the Government about telephonetapping and all the rest of it if we knew that the accusation could be levelled against us that we initiated telephonetapping when we were in office?


Mr Turnbull - - That is your supposition.


Mr THOMPSON - There is no use arguing about it. I want to be satisfied as to whether or not Mr. Chifley did what he was alleged to have done, or whether the Attorney-General has just taken a long chance and decided that it was likely that, because we established the security service, we agreed to anything that the security service might do.

I appeal in all earnestness to the Attorney-General and the Government to think again before they cause this measure to go through. Let them realize that by putting the measure through they are opening the way to danger. The measure provides that the authority to tap telephones will be given only to the Attorney-General and the Director-General of Security. Nobody else will have the authority to tap telephones, except employees in the Postmaster-General's Department who may find it necessary to do so in the event of mechanical or other difficulties with the telephone service. The telephone-tapping to be permitted under the measure is to be directed towards maintaining the safety of this country; but what about people who might take the opportunity to tap telephone conversations for purposes other than security purposes? No matter what is in the bill, a dishonest man in a position to do so, who wants to tap a telephone conversation for a dishonest purpose and is prepared to take the chance of doing it, will tap it. This bill will not stop the crooks. The Government should be prepared to attend to security matters in an efficient manner without asking the Parliament to pass a bill of this nature.

It has been suggested that a subsequent government might use this bill for its own purposes. I do not think there is any need to fear that that would happen. The only people who have been mentioned as the target of this legislation are the Communists. There has been no claim that this measure is needed to deal with the man who engages in telephone tapping to put over a clever business deal. How do we know that that is not being done? I take it that, under its present powers, the Government has had reasonable control over telephone tapping throughout the years. If the Government has lacked that control and has been aware of the deficiency, it is a poor old Administration indeed to have waited for so long before taking this action.

I am opposing this bill, not because of what any one else has decided to do-


Mr Bowden - You have been told how to vote.


Mr THOMPSON - I have not. The Opposition caucus carried a resolution that we would oppose the bill, but nobody said to me, " Bert Thompson, you have to vote against that bill". I did not need to be told that, and I am sure that nobody has said to the honorable member for Gippsland, " George Bowden, you will vote for the bill". He will do that automatically. In fact, members of the Government parties are as automatic as vending machines.

Putting all joking aside, I believe that this measure will create a lot of ill feeling. Thousands of people who have heard this debate will reason the matter out. The contribution made to this debate by the honorable member for East Sydney has been criticized by Government supporters. It is true that the honorable member had a number of digs at certain people, but he explained very well what could occur as a result of this legislation. The Government will not be able to protect the people against the misuse of telephone tapping powers. This bill merely gives the Director of Security, through the Attorney-General, full power to intercept telephone conversations. If the security service is not able to operate more efficiently under this legislation than it has been able to operate in the last ten years, according to the admissions of the Attorney-General, the Government is just selling people a few old eggs that are not worth anything.







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