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Thursday, 12 May 1960


Mr JESS (La Trobe) .- I rise with great diffidence, conscious of the great national figures who have sat in this House, both in office and in opposition, since the first session of the Federal Parliament. As we know, Sir, the bill under discussion is a bill to prohibit the interception of telephone communications, except where specially authorized in the interests of the security of the Commonwealth.

I have sat in this chamber for the last two days, listening to this debate. I am new to this Parliament, as also is my friend, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). Honorable members on this side of the House and also on the other side have been kind enough to advise that I should sit and listen to the old hands, the members with experience who have been in this Parliament for a long time. I think I am very impressionable and susceptible to advice from senior people and prepared to learn from them.

I cannot imagine why any one should dissent from a bill which clearly and precisely restricts the interception of telephone messages and protects the privacy of the people. As I have already said, I have been listening to this debate for two days. I had the great honour of hearing the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) state his views on the protection of the interests of the Australian people. Being impressionable, I thought, " Here is a man on a white charger who is fighting for the rights of all the people ". I thought that if I went back to about 1948 and 1949, when certain legislation was introduced into this House and when the Labour Party was in office, I would find some indication that a terrific battle had been joined between the honorable member for East Sydney and the government of the day, with the honorable member seeking to protect the people at that time. I regret to say that, although I have perused many volumes of " Hansard " extending over several years, I have found no such indication. But I have found a number of statements made by the then Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs, Dr. Evatt, and if I may, I will refer to some of them in a few moments.

I paid close attention to the speech of the honorable member for East Sydney, hoping that I might gather a few hints, because I respect his ability, but I found that his speech was nothing but an attack on the security service of Australia. As far as I am concerned, I am most grateful that we have a security service, and I give it every respect and honour. I have the pleasure of knowing the Director-General and I do not think a finer man could be found either inside or outside this Parliament. I have been rather concerned at the reflections cast upon the security service by honorable members opposite. I do not wish to be provocative, and I hope that I may be excused if I appear to be so. Possibly I will quieten down a little on that aspect.

During the speeches of honorable members opposite. I have heard the security service accused of being the tool of this Government. I have heard it said that, through the security service, the Government has intruded on the privacy of the individual. It has been suggested that if this bill is implemented there will be an intrusion on the privacy of the home. I have heard accusations that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has not answered questions asked in this House over a period of years concerning the security service. I should like honorable members to bear that in mind because, as an alternative, I should like to quote the answers which Dr. Evatt gave to various questions asked on a very similar subject.

The Prime Minister was further accused of not tabling security information in the House. We have been told also that the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) was wrong in saying that in future he would not table information as to the number of warrants issued. We have heard also that the security service is of no value. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) has assured us that there is no need for a security service in this country. I trust that he will bear with me if I do not accept that statement. We have been told that the security service is inefficient because it does not catch spies and because it has not arrested or prosecuted anybody. As the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby) said, you do not take sprats when you want to catch mackerel. I think that the ex-servicemen on the other side of the House who possibly have had something to do with security, will realize that the function of the service may be summed up as investigation and the collation of information which, in the event of war, can be acted upon.

Returning to the criticisms which have been levelled at the Government, I confess that I am a little confused after hearing honorable members opposite say that we are the oppressors - the robber barons who take everything from the poor for our own use - and refuse to give information to Parliament on the security service, particularly when I read in " Hansard " the report of some of the speeches which they have made in the past in relation to secrecy and the tabling of security service reports. I should like to read to the House some extracts from a speech which was made by Dr. Evatt during the debate on the Estimates on 6th October, 1949, as reported on pages 1087 to 1091 of volume 204 of "Hansard". Referring to Mr. Harrison, the then honorable member for Wentworth, Dr. Evatt said -

What we want to know from the honorable member is whether or not he favours the establishment of a security service to protect the internal security of this country. His speech showed him to be both for and against it. He has said that Australia is becoming a totalitarian country.

That statement might cause slight embarrassment to honorable members opposite having regard to some of the remarks that they have made during this debate. Dr. Evatt continued -

The security service must be operated with secrecy in order properly to protect the community. The results of the investigations of the security service are not published because the purpose of such a service is to protect the nation, especially against subversive activities.

Honorable members opposite have defined the phrase " subversive activities ", but to date I have not been able to find in " Hansard " any record of them objecting when Dr. Evatt made his statement about subversive activities. He went on -

If the results of our security investigations were published, the attempt to defeat subversive activities would always be foiled.

I hope that honorable gentlemen opposite accept the opinion of their former leader. Dr. Evatt continued -

The security service, which is more important, especially under present-day conditions-

I remind the House that this statement was made in 1949, four years after the end of the war - is committed to my administration as far as the Parliament is concerned. I have to speak for the security service in the Parliament, but the charter under which that organization works gives the widest discretion to Mr. Justice Reed.

Mr. JusticeReed was the Director General of Security at that time ;

The Government has every confidence in the ability and independence of that gentleman. The Government does not concern itself with the precise methods that he uses.

That seems to bring the matter right back to the Opposition's door. On 20th September, 1949, when replying to a question re lating to the security service, Dr. Evatt said -

To all intents and purposes the Director-General of Security is free from ministerial direction.

I shall not continue in this strain. I know that if honorable members were free to interject they would probably say, " jolly good too ". I thank them for not doing that.

I have waited to hear some logic from honorable members opposite, but all that I have heard is an attack on the security service and the Government. As has been pointed out, the security service was established by the Chifley Government in 1949. Honorable members opposite who were Ministers in that Government and who are still members of this House are the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) and the honorable members for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), Bonython (Mr. Makin) and Lalor (Mr. Pollard). If I have neglected to mention any others, I apologize.

The power of the security service which was set up by the Chifley Government was unlimited. It was not restricted in any way. The security service was wide open for any purposes whatever - that is, if one believes the statements which were made at that time by Dr. Evatt. Can we assume that, in view of the fact that the honorable members whom I have mentioned approved the establishment and authority of the security service which was set up in 1949, and now propose to vote against this measure, they disagree with the restriction which is to be placed on telephone tapping and wish to retain the unlimited right to tap telephones in case they should ever return to the government benches? According to last night's Melbourne " Herald ", a reporter discussed with the Leader of the Opposition the various amendments to the bill which the Opposition originally proposed to submit. When the reporter asked the Leader of the Opposition whether the Labour Party, if elected to office, would introduce telephone tapping, the honorable member said, in effect, " Let us wait and see what happens after December, 1961 ".

The Government feels that interception of telephone communications should be controlled. As one honorable member on this side of the House pointed out, we are not authorizing telephone tapping for police or customs purposes. We are outlawing telephone tapping for all business and commercial purposes. We are endeavouring to provide by statute that telephone tapping shall be authorized only in certain circumstances. Any abuse of the act will carry heavy penalties, and certain requirements must be satisfied before a warrant to tap a telephone will be issued.

Honorable members opposite have said that the power to authorize telephone tapping should be given to a judge. They have also been claiming during the three weeks that I have been in this chamber that we are ruled by bureaucrats; that the Parliament is a subsidiary of the bureaucrats and has no control. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) and I, more recently than others in this place, have been normal people. We have been normal voters. We have not been keeping any seat warm nor have we been seeking popularity. My frank opinion - and I can still remember being an ordinary voter - is that the Parliament is here to govern, to protect the people and to be responsible to them. If a judge were given the authority to say when a telephone should be tapped, to whom would the judge be responsible? A government can be voted out of office and I am very glad that power to authorize telephone tapping - with the safeguards provided in the bill - is being conferred upon the Attorney-General.

The Government feels that telephone tapping should be controlled and, indeed, prohibited except in two circumstances. The first is when officers of the PostmasterGeneral's Department wish to check equipment, or to trace nuisance calls. When such calls are being made the subscriber may ring the department and its officers then tap the line in an attempt to catch the offender. As I have had one experience of this kind of misuse of the telephone I feel very strongly about it and I am sure that no one will object to that portion of the bill. The second exception is when phone tapping is considered essential for the protection of the Commonwealth against acts of espionage, sabotage or subversion. I have no doubt that we all agree with the first exception. In relation to the second, we should realize that this is 1960 and not 1906 when we were living in the midst of a wide open ocean and enjoying complete security. To-day we no longer have the safe existence that we had, and internal security is as essential as are our defence services. I give as an example of that the fifth column which originated in Spain. When an attack was started, a whole internal organization suddenly rose behind the lines of those who were attacked. I should not like to see that sort of thing happen here, but it could happen if preventive measures were not taken against it. We have also the examples of Belgium, Holland and many other countries.

The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser), who preceded me in this debate, said that a member who voted for this bill would be regarded in his electorate as having betrayed the trust of the Australian people. Although I have sat in this House for only three weeks, I am quite happy to go back to the electorate which I have the honour to represent and say that I put Australia before my occupancy of a seat in this place, and that I personally do not see any reason in the world why I should put myself above the people because I have been elected to this Parliament. If we are to have telephone tapping - if it is essential to the internal security of this country, as I believe it is - every person and every section of the community should be liable, if that person or section of the community is dealing in sabotage, subversion and the like.

I say frankly to Opposition members that if they ever take office while I am still a member of this Parliament and they find that they are unable to tap my telephone because this Government has limited the freedom to tap telephones, they are welcome to come to my office in Melbourne and listen at any time when I am having a telephone conversation. Indeed, they may open my mail and do any of the things which they say will be permitted if this bill is implemented. I say this because I believe that so long as one acts with decency towards all sections of the community one has nothing to fear. Only when one has something to fear does one have suddenly to take protective action to prevent his bastions from being thrown down.

In conclusion, I should like to say one thing. Over many centuries, the people who have talked about freedom and who have stood up and claimed, with gestures and magnificent volubility, to protect it, have frequently been those whose attitude really is: Keep the light of freedom burning until I am ready to put it out. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have no hesitation whatever in supporting this bill with very great earnestness and pride.







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