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Tuesday, 20 September 1960

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- Mr. Temporary Chairman,I propose to discuss kidnapping with reference to the estimates of the Attorney-General's Department, as relating to the Commonwealth Investigation Service, and I shall suggest that a new power be written into Commonwealth laws. In July, Australia was shocked by the first kidnapping in its history, when the Sydney boy, Graeme Thorne, was taken and later murdered. This act shocked the Australian people more than anything else had done for a very long time, and I am. of the opinion that crimes such as this should be dealt with at the Commonwealth level.

I consider that the States have powers inadequate to deal with offences such as kidnapping. This is established by the fact that New South Wales has had to strengthen its law since the Graeme Thorne tragedy and by the fact that South Australia is now introducing some sort of kidnapping law. I wonder where the other States stand. Has any of them a law with respect to kidnapping, or has the first kidnapping case in our history forced the legal advisers of the States to turn to the State statutes only to find that those statutes provide no power to deal with this terrible crime? And it is a terrible crime. It cannot be put on any other level.

So, we have, as it were, a patch-work quilt legal set-up in Australia that is hopelessly inadequate to deal with kidnapping. I urge the Government to give the matter more than a passing thought. In the United States of America, where unfortunately this kind of crime has often occurred, the laws treat it as a major crime, and it is dealt with exclusively by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Does the degree of tragedy in kidnapping vary from country to country? Of course, it does not. Kidnapping is as great a crime in one country as it is in another. If kidnapping is considered so great a crime in the United States that it is dealt with there by the famous Federal Bureau of Investigation, why should not Australia come into line and deal with this crime at the federal level? It can be dealt with effectively only at the federal level, Mr. Temporary Chairman. It is easy to see that under the differing laws in the various States, kidnappers who become murderers, as were those involved in the Graeme Thorne case, could escape the full consequences of the law under the present patch-work quilt set-up with respect to kidnapping laws.

This is the third time since the Thorne tragedy that I have raised the matter. Through the medium of its AttorneyGeneral, the Government always comes back with the answer that kidnapping is a State matter. That is the great let-out under the present legal set-up. I completely disagree with the suggestion that kidnapping is a State matter. So great is the tragedy involved that this crime should be dealt with at the Commonwealth level.

How could this be done? At the present time, there is no Commonwealth law that would enable a Commonwealth govern ment to deal with a kidnapping case. I think that there is only one way by which we can deal with the crime on a Commonwealth basis. The Commonwealth Government should invite the State governments, respectfully, at either the next regular Premiers' Conference, or at one specially convened, to hand over to the Commonwealth powers exercised by the States under any laws that they have at present with respect to kidnapping - in other words, to hand over to the Commonwealth the power to deal with kidnapping which is now vested in the States. I believe that if the States agreed - I imagine that a majority would agree - the Commonwealth Government could place on the statute-book the first federal law with respect to kidnapping, and thereby overcome the problems of the limitations imposed by State boundaries. Geography would not be a limiting factor, as it is now. The whole of the Commonwealth would be subject to the one law, just as it is now subject to the one divorce law and will soon be subject to the one marriage law. Uniform law relating to kidnapping would bring this to the one level for the entire Commonwealth. A kidnapper caught in any part of the Commonwealth would be dealt with under a federal law.

Mr Mackinnon - He would still be pursued by State police.

Mr DUTHIE - The State police could act under the Commonwealth power. The Commonwealth could allocate to the State police power to help it in such a matter. At the moment, our hands are tied by this outdated Constitution. The longer I stay in this Parliament, the more I believe that the Australian Constitution is ridiculous in the light of modern events.

Mr Bird - This Government does not want to change the Constitution.

Mr DUTHIE - I shall come to that, but I am glad that the honorable member for Batman has raised it. Why does not the Government wake up? Why does it not get away from its phobias? Why does it not realize that this modern world demands modern methods to deal with modern problems? Why does it pigeonhole the report of the Constitutional Review Committee, one of the finest reports ever to be brought down? It is a tragedy to know that a Commonwealth government in the middle of the twentieth century is satisfied with a constitution that has had only four amendments made to it in 60 years. The way we regard this matter makes us the laughingstock of the world. Here a terrible crime has been committed. It cannot be dealt with adequately on a State level because some of the States have not adequate laws to deal with it. In America, this crime is dealt with on the federal level by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But this Government says, " Leave it to the States "! That is weak, childish and simple. It is cowardly.

The Government has not the courage to ask the States for the powers. Before in our history, the Commonwealth has asked the States, in conference, for a transfer of certain powers. In this instance, I believe that the States would be reasonable. This is the first time that the crime of kidnapping has been committed in Australia. This is not a common daily occurrence that we are considering; it is one of the most hideous crimes of all. Anything we did now would, of course, be closing the stable door after the horse had bolted as far as the Graeme Thorne case is concerned, but nonetheless it would be a warning to those who contemplated the commission of this crime. Surely the Government is inspired to do something. The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), in replying to a question I asked, said that he would talk to the States and find out what the Commonwealth could do in this matter of kidnapping.

Mr Bandidt - What would stop the States from legislating?

Mr DUTHIE - Some of them are preparing amending legislation now, but that is not sufficient. If America considers that this crime is so bad that it must be dealt with on a Federal rather than a State level, why should it not be treated in the same way here? The crime is no different, whether it is committed in America or in Australia.

Mr Bandidt - The offenders have to cross a State border before it becomes a federal matter in America.

Mr DUTHIE - That may be so. They can cross our boundaries too. But I believe that the Commonwealth is hedging all the time when it says, " Leave it to the States ". This country has grown up in the past 60 years. Through the years, the Com monwealth has been shackled with leg irons, just as the convicts were 100 years ago. For example, the Commonwealth should have power to deal with prices, but it does not have this power. Yet this is a power that it needs to deal with inflation!

I respectfully raise this matter in considering these estimates, because I think that this is the best time to mention it. The Acting Attorney-General (Mr. McMahon) is at the table. I am glad that he is present during the debate on these estimates. I plead with him sincerely to look into this matter from a new angle and not be bound by tradition and phobias about State rights. Where did State rights get us in war-time? In such a crisis, we immediately introduced federal defence powers to give us power to govern the whole country, lock, stock and barrel. In peace-time, some of our problems are so great that they should be dealt with on a federal basis and not left to the States to deal with them parochially. It is time that we became nationally minded. I am not so stupid as to suggest that State governments should be abolished at this time; but neither am I so stupid as to say that the States can deal with great national problems. The approach of this Government would suggest that the States are right all the time and are able to deal with these problems just as they were able to deal with them 60 years ago.

The crime of kidnapping has occurred for the first time in Australia. The Commonwealth Government should consider it from the national viewpoint and introduce uniform legislation so that the same penalties will apply wherever the crime is committed. To say that it has happened once but will not happen again is like putting our heads in the sand. As a country, we have grown up. More and more people are coming here and in a few years we will have a population of 11,000,000. By the year 2000, our population will be 15,000,000 or 20,000,000. The danger of this crime occurring increases as our population grows, and we should at this time do something on the federal level before it occurs again. If kidnapping were made a federal crime, this would be a massive deterrent to anybody who was contemplating the commission of it. I say that proudly, because I believe that when a Commonwealth government has power to act, a potential law-breaker is prone to have another thought. If he knows that the States are all higgledy-piggledy, that some have no laws and others are just about to introduce them, he believes that he has found a loop-hole. We do not want any loop-holes with a crime such as this. We want every loop-hole closed, and the only way to do this is for the Commonwealth to have power to deal with this crime.

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