Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 12 May 1960


Mr FAILES (Lawson) .- The House, owes a debt of gratitude to the honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess) for bringing- the debate back to a better plane than that to which it had drifted. I congratulate him upon the careful thought behind his maiden speech. [Quorum formed.] 1 also congratulate the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) on his exposition- of this measure. It was refreshing to hear him get away from the type of speech to which we have been listening for the whole of this day. It was refreshing to have him depart from the vicious attack that has been made by his colleagues on the security service. It was particularly refreshing to note that he got away from the attack made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) who indulged in an orgy of personalities, abuse, hate, suspicion and misrepresentation of the Government's objective. That attitude ill becomes the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who has been noted for being calm in debate and for presenting, in most instances, a fair exposition of a case.

The intention of the bill is plain. It is set out clearly; it is to prohibit the interception of telephonic communications. There is no qualification about it at all. I repeat that it is clearly stated that the purpose of the bill is to prohibit the interception of telephonic communications. There are certain exceptions. For instance, the bill goes on to state that interception is prohibited except where it is specially authorized in 'the interests of the security of the Commonwealth. What 'honorable -member sitting in this House of the Parliament of Australia could .quibble at a bill which prohibits something which both sides of the House agree is abhorrent? What honorable member of this Parliament can take exception to something which is in the interests of the security of the Commonwealth? Unfortunately, the Opposition has deliberately misinterpreted the intention of the bill, to suit its own purposes. But there is nothing new in that. Honorable members opposite do that frequently. They did it in connexion with the anti-Communist legislation that was passed here some years ago and which went to a referendum. By a manoeuvre similar to that in which they engaged to-night, honorable members opposite led the people to believe that the legislation submitted .to them at that time was an .attack on the individual. Their manoeuvre succeeded then, but I am confident it will not succeed on this occasion because the people fully understand that we are making no attack upon the individual.


Mr Ward - I would like to know what it is, if it is not an attack on the individual.


Mr FAILES - The honorable member for East Sydney has spoken. If he cannot take what I am saying, it is just too bad. The original description by the press of the bill did not differ greatly from' what I have described as the intention of the measure. Lately, unfortunately, we have seen published such headlines as, " Telephone Tapping Legislation ", which would seem to indicate that the legislation sought to give authority to tap telephone communications. Another caption appearing in the press was, " Phone Tapping Bill ". The newspaper in which that headline appeared went so far as to say that the bill regulates and restricts telephone tapping for security and counter-espionage purposes. I repeat that the bill seeks to prohibit the interception of telephonic communications. That fact must be borne in mind at all times during this debate. Another headline was, " Telephone tapping intrusion on privacy ". Another was, "Labour opposes bill on phone tapping".

I have said before that it has been the object of the members of the Opposition all through the debate to divert attention from the precise intention of the bill - that of prohibiting the interception of telephonic communications - so that they can spread themselves at great length in a vicious attack on the security service. In that connexion I want to remind the House that it is a common thing for .the Opposition to say that we should not attack, in this House, civil servants who cannot come here and speak for themselves. Yet here we see such a thing being done by the Opposition. We see an attack on people who are faithfully carrying out the job entrusted to them and who, by the very nature of their service, have no opportunity to defend themselves. This is a most despicable form of attack. It is made now, and has been made on previous occasions, on this kind of person.

One honorable member said earlier that there is no reason why this bill should become law and be implemented. Even the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) went so far as to say - he was echoing the remarks of his colleague, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, but in one respect he contradicted him - that at the present time telephone tapping is prohibited by law. The honorable member for EdenMonaro had added to his statement the proviso that it was prohibited except by permission of the Postal Department. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not go so far as to say that. What I want to point out to the House is that that may be so. There is a regulation to prohibit telephone tapping.

But what is the penalty provided, in the regulation, for such an offence? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not tell us that the maximum penalty under the regulation is a fine of £25. No gaol sentence is attached to conviction of the offender. However, in this bill the matter assumes a different form altogether, because the maximum penalty is now to be £500 or imprisonment for two years. How can it be said, therefore, that the bill makes no provision against telephone tapping that does not already exist in the regulations? At present, I repeat, the maximum penalty for an unauthorized interception of telephonic communications is £25. Under this bill, the penalty will be £500 or imprisonment for two years.

So there is every justification for saying that what the Government aims to do is to end dependence on a regulation of the PostmasterGeneral's Department, and provide definitely by law against unauthorized interception of telephonic communications. In the first place, it is doing this in a law which will specifically prohibit telephone tapping, and in the second place it proposes a penalty which can be regarded as being just in such a case.

The Opposition says that there have been no instances of telephone tapping to justify this measure. We have heard members of this House in the past charging that there has been telephone tapping. For many years the honorable member for East Sydney has claimed in this House that there has been tapping of telephones. Even in his speech on the second reading he did not equivocate about that. He has stated thai not only is there telephone tapping, but that there is any amount of evidence of it. He referred to a letter held by the Leader of the Opposition which contained an apology from Sir Thomas Blarney for something that happened, I remind honorable members, during the regime of the Labour Government. The apology was for the fact that on one occasion a telephone conversation between the honorable member and Mr. Forde, who was then Minister for the Army, had been tapped and recorded by military intelligence. The honorable member said that he need not waste words by telling us this could not go on. This was the honorable member for East Sydney speaking through the Chair to the AttorneyGeneral.


Mr Adermann - About something that happened at the time when he was a Minister.


Mr FAILES - Yes, and when, no doubt, he had every occasion to know exactly what did occur with regard to this sort of action. He went on to say that the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) and other members of the Opposition have claimed that there is proof that members' telephones have been tapped. He said, " I think there is sufficient evidence in exist ence to show that that statement is correct ". But on no occasion has the honorable member for East Sydney produced any such evidence. He has made those accusations, and he has persisted in making them. They have been added to by the honorable member for Hindmarsh. These honorable members have made accusations, not only that individuals' telephones have been tapped, but that members' phones have been tapped, and that the telephones of members of the civil service have been tapped. Thereby they have definitely made out a case for the passage of this measure.

What is their attitude to the measure? The bill has been introduced, and both the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have said that the Opposition will vote against it. In fact, they have gone so far as to say, " We will reject this legislation out of hand. We will not, now that we have assured the Government that there is need for a bill to prohibit the interception of telephonic communications, and now that the bill has been presented, vote for the bill. We are not going to have anything to do with this legislation." On the flimsy excuse that an exception to the law against telephone tapping is made in the interests of the security of the Commonwealth, they refuse to support the bill. They will not even go so far as to say that they will try to amend the bill at the committee stage so as to make it palatable to them. All they do is to say, " We will not support this bill ". Actually, however, they are just using the debate in order to make a vicious attack on the security service.

The exceptions to the law against telephone tapping, as the Attorney-General has explained, are in two parts. In the first place, the Postmaster-General, on the complaint of a subscriber about abusive or indecent expressions being used on a telephone service, may order that such conversations be intercepted in order to prevent that kind of thing from happening. The Opposition says that it takes no exception to officers of the Postmaster-General's Department intercepting a telephonic communication. They say, " We do not mind that. That is quite all right. We do not mind anybody listening in on a telephone in that case." But when it comes to giving the security service power to intercept tele- phone conversations, the Opposition will not accept that provision. They accept a provision allowing one section of the government service to intercept telephone messages, but as soon as the security service is mentioned there is an outcry from practically every member of the Opposition who has spoken up to the present. Honorable members can draw their own conclusions. How often in this House, whenever the security service has been mentioned, has there been a vicious attack on it?

What do the members of the Opposition not like about the security service? Have they any reason to treat it in this manner? Is there any justification for the attacks they are making on it? If a security service is necessary in this country - and the need for it was accepted by the Labour Party in 1947, when it was established, and in 1956, when the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill was passed with the approval of the then Leader of the Opposition - why do they attack it now? Dr. Evatt at that time suggested a qualification, which was embodied in the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill. That qualification was that the DirectorGeneral of Security would be responsible to the Prime Minister, and thus to the Government. He said that that was a very good thing. The Opposition accepted the need for the security service then, but now honorable members opposite are doing everything they can to blackguard the service and harm it in the eyes of the people of Australia. That is the position we have had to face right through this debate - a vicious and unwarranted attack on the security service of Australia. The security service has a job to do. It is true, as I think the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) said to-night, that we are not at war. We are at peace. But has he never heard of a cold war? Has he never heard of the enemy within our gates? Has he never heard of the necessity for security and the necessity for an intelligence service? Honorable members who have been in the services know very well what they owe to the intelligence service during wartime. Are we going to sit down and let the enemy white-ant or red-ant this country and do nothing whatever about it? Apparently that is what the Opposition wants us to do.

The Opposition has complained that the telephones of members of Parliament are not to be exempted. Why should' members of Parliament have any exemption from interception of their telephone conversations if there is well-grounded suspicion that they are engaged in subversive tactics? Are we, as a body, so much above the rest of the people of Australia that the finger of suspicion could not be pointed at any of us? Any member of Parliament should be honest enough to say, as the honorable member for La Trobe (Mr. Jess) said in his maiden speech to-night, " I am prepared to let you intercept my telephone conversations. I have nothing to hide ". Those were the fine brave words from the new member. But members of the Opposition say, " No. You are not going to tap our telephones. We are members of Parliament and we will not allow you to do it ".

The matter of security has been the subject of attack in this House for a very long time. The attack has now reached a stage at which it should be stopped. On many occasions the honorable member for East Sydney has attempted, by means of questions, to expose information concerning the security service in this House. Again tonight it has been suggested that the security organization should be compelled to disclose to this House exactly what it does. Is this security or just a farce? Of course it is a farce if the security service is not a secret organization. Opposition members say, in effect, "What a mean thing it is not to tell the owner of a telephone that his conversations are being intercepted!" What a farcical situation! Does a policeman go to a band of robbers and say, " 1 am a policeman. I think you are robbers and I am going to stop here and find out if you are "? A warrant can be obtained to search the premises of persons who are suspected of having stolen goods in their possession. Yet it is said that a man who is trying to strike a blow at the security of the Commonwealth should be protected from telephone tapping by the security service even if it has good reason to suspect that he is engaged in subversive activities! Many cases can be given from the common law of the country in which opportunity is given to detect people who commit relatively minor offences and bring them to justice.

No honest man fears these things. I suggest that honorable members who say that their telephones should not be tapped have something to fear. The honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) in the course of this debate referred to "pimps" and " informers ". Did he not benefit from the " pimps " and " informers " of the intelligence service when he was a member of the fighting forces? Do we not employ people to find things out? Is it not necessary, when dealing with a ruthless foe, to find1 things out as best we can? The suggestion that the security service would engage in pimping and spying on ordinary everyday people is too much of a travesty for words. -It is something which I am surprised to hear intelligent people mention in this House. You do not capture spies by announcing that you are a member of the security service.

It was said earlier in this debate that this bill would give the security service the right to listen in to anybody's conversation. What a travesty of the truth that is! Unlike people listening to this debate on the air, honorable members have a copy of the bill in front of them. It is a short bill, a plain bill, a bill in so few words that it is plain to the meanest intelligence that by misrepresenting the provisions of the bill, the Opposition is trying to make a case, not against the bill, but against the security service. I suggest that either this is a sham fight on the part of the Opposition or there is a more sinister reason for the attack on the security organization.

This bill has one main part which is designed to prohibit the interception of telephonic communication, and the exceptions to that provision are only two in number. In the first place, the PostmasterGeneral's Department, when called upon by a subscriber to 'intercept telephone messages of an offensive nature, may do so. No exception is taken to that by the Opposition. The other exception is when the security service seeks from the AttorneyGeneral the right to intercept a telephone message, purely for security reasons. I do not want to traverse all the various conditions that are laid down to make sure that that is done in good faith. However, I say, finally, that if we are to get any benefit from the security service, and if the security service is to save us from the machinations of the people who would destroy this Commonwealth, we have to give the service all the teeth that it requires to bite ofl that subversive activity. We have to give it every possible opportunity to carry out its investigations to the limit We have to fight any subversive organization that exists in our midst with all the strength at our hand. I strongly support the bill.







Suggest corrections