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Tuesday, 17 May 1960


Mr TURNBULL (Mallee) .- Mr. Chairman,I have listened with close attention to this discussion, and it appears to me that the only point made by the Opposition with which I can agree is the point that the Government should have introduced this measure long ago. Opposition members have been saying, " Why did the Government not bring this bill in long ago? " I also should like to ask that question, because I believe that this measure is long overdue.

The honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson), who addressed the committee immediately before me, quoted with approval some article which suggested that in the United Kingdom telephone tapping as a means of fighting subversive activities was being restricted, not extended. This bill, therefore, should meet with his approval, because it is calculated to restrict and control telephone tapping in this country, not to extend it. If anybody in this place or in the community generally has the idea that this measure will extend telephone tapping, he has a completely wrong conception of it. One has only to examine some of the clauses of the bill to see this. Sub-clause (1.) of clause 5 reads -

A person shall not -

(a)   intercept;

(b)   authorize, suffer or permit another person to intercept; or

(c)   do any act or thing that will enable him or another person to intercept, a communication passing over the telephone system.

Penalty: Five hundred pounds or imprisonment for two years.


Mr Stewart - Read the rest of the clause.


Mr TURNBULL - I shall read the rest of it in a moment. Irresponsible persons who could tap telephones at the present time will be subject to that penalty. This provision will put them right out of the ring with respect to telephone tapping, because they will face a fine of £500 or imprisonment for two years.

It is provided in an earlier provision of the bill that the Postmaster-General's Department may tap telephones or listen-in in order to catch the culprit if, for example, telephone users are using obscene words or language. We come then to what is perhaps really the part of the bill which Opposition members want me to read. This is clause 6, sub-clause (1.) of which provides -

Where, upon receipt by the Attorney-General of a request by the Director-General of Security for the issue of warrant under this section in respect of a telephone service, the Attorney-General is satisfied that -

(a)   the telephone service is being or is likely to be -

(i)   used by a person engaged in, or reasonably suspected by the Director-General of Security of being engaged in, or of being likely to engage in, activities prejudicial to the security of the Commonwealth; or

(ii)   used for purposes prejudicial to the security of the Commonwealth; and

(b)   the interception by the Organization of communications passing to, from or over the telephone service will, or is likely to, assist the Organization in carrying out its function of obtaining intelligence relevant to the security of the Commonwealth, the Attorney-General may, by warrant under his hand, authorize the Organization to intercept communications passing over any telephone line that forms part of the telephone service or connects the service to a telephone exchange.

Much has been said about freedom in this country. This bill is calculated to ensure and protect freedom in Australia.

It appears that the Opposition does not l ike the security service. I suggest that the Australian Labour Party bring forward in this chamber any evidence it may have which establishes that the security service is irresponsible or is not fit to perform its functions. I assure Opposition members that if they can prove that the security service is really irresponsible--


Mr Stewart - How do we find out?


Mr TURNBULL - Opposition members have said that they know; so there is no need for the honorable member to ask, "How do we find out? " The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) has said that the security service is irresponsible in what he called a political sense, but now another Opposition member asks how we are to find out whether the service is irresponsible. I should have thought that Opposition members would have found out whether the security service was irresponsible before they stated that it was. The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) has completely given the game away by asking, " How do we find out? " If they can be proved irresponsible, they will be dealt with.

The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) is the one who is marshalling Opposition members to speak against this bill. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) are not even present in the committee. I see that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is now coming in; so my words have had some effect. As I have said, the honorable member for East Sydney is marshalling the opposition forces against this bill.

We have heard some talk about whether, in the past, the security service has been instructed or permitted to tap telephones.


Mr Uren - What about-


The CHAIRMAN - I call the honorable member for Reid to order.


Mr Uren - What about-


The CHAIRMAN - Order! I remind the honorable member for Reid that it is customary to obey the Chair, and that it is customary, also, for an honorable member who does not do so to be put out of the chamber.


Mr TURNBULL - It has been freely admitted by the Government that, during the ten and a half years for which it has been in office, permission has been given for telephones to be tapped. But when it is pointed out that when Mr. Chifley was Prime Minister he gave similar permission, there is immediately an uproar from the Opposition. Does anybody in Australia think that Mr. Chifley, the man who established the security service, would try to restrict its operations?

The honorable member for Hughes said that the Government should bring its evidence of this permission being given into this chamber and put it on the table. I agree that that is what Labour wants the Government to do, in order that Opposition members might immediately accuse the Government of making public throughout Australia the secrets of the security service. I could have no faith in the work of the security service or of its value if that were done. It is only another of the Opposition's tricks. Honorable members opposite say, " Tell us about these things ". They ask, " How do you know how they operate? " That is the whole story. The main point of opposition to the bill raised by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) is that federal members of Parliament will not be exempt from its conditions. Why should I, as a federal member of Parliament, be exempt? I do not mind if the whole world listens to my telephone conversations.


Mr Cope - Who would want to tap your telephone after listening to you here to-night?


Mr TURNBULL - The honorable member for Watson asks who would want to tap my phone. The answer to that is that no one would want to tap it; there is no reason why any one should want to do so because everybody knows that I stand four-square for protection of Australia. Why should I be afraid that any one might tap my phone? I am certain that no one would want to do so. Even if any one did tap my telephone, I would not be worried about it. Are members of the Labour Party so out of touch with world affairs that they believe every one in this country does everything possible to safeguard its security? Are they so out of touch as to think that every one in this country supports or favours the freedom we enjoy? I am certain that in their hearts they do not believe that. Opposition to this measure comes from only some disgruntled members of the Labour Party who have been whipped up by the honorable member for East Sydney. He is responsible for it all.

As one has not much time to discuss these matters fully, I find myself obliged to be content with summing up the position as I see it. The first point is that any one who cares to read the bill closely will find that its primary objective is to restrict and control telephone tapping. If, as the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) says, telephone tapping is diminishing throughout the world, then he should be happy with this measure which seeks to restrict and control that practice. Secondly, I repeat - and it is worth repeating - that Mr. Chifley was wise enough to know that any security service that was set up must be given power to operate freely. To suggest that every person who is conducting a private conversation over the telephone will have his telephone tapped is absurd. As one honorable member opposite has admitted, no one would bother tapping my telephone. Why should the security service want to tap the private telephones of the thousands of people in Australia who have telephones? I ask those people listening in to-night whether they think the security service would waste time listening to ordinary family conversations. Of course, it would not! It is only on those occasions when the security service believes that people whom it has under suspicion are likely to use the telephone in a manner prejudicial to the Commonwealth of Australia that the telephones will be tapped. The impression which the Opposition has sought to give the people of Australia that every one is likely to have his telephone tapped - one honorable member used the word " likely ", which means " probably " - this is absurd.


The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.







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