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Tuesday, 20 September 1960

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I wish to say something further in respect of a matter I raised earlier in the debate on the proposed vote for the AttorneyGeneral's Department and to which 1 believe the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), who is now overseas, has not satisfactorily replied. It refers to the dismissal of a man by the name of Staples from the Attorney-General's Department as being a security risk. For the benefit of those who did not have the opportunity either to read them in " Hansard " or hear them previously 1 want to relate the circumstances associated with this most extraordinary happening in the AttorneyGeneral's Department.

Staples, along with others, applied in response to a newspaper advertisement away back in March, 1960, for a position as a legal officer in the Attorney-General's Department. He was not appointed until the 2nd June, so we can assume that from March till June the applications were receiving attention. According to what Mr. Staples tells me, he was interviewed on three different occasions and he answered all questions directed to him and answered them truthfully. It has not even been suggested that he attempted to mislead those who were interrogating him. As it was undoubtedly a security job upon which he was to be employed, we can assume that the security service took some part in the vetting of the applications and the screening of the men submitting themselves for appointment.

Mr. Staplesis a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Arts of the Sydney University and a barrister of the New South Wales Supreme Court. He was a successful applicant and commenced his duties in this very important security post. He was there for ten weeks. At the end of that time he got a note, served on him by an office boy, stating that his services were no longer required. He naturally wanted to know the reason for his dismissal, as it was not that he was an inefficient officer, because in the ten weeks he served in this department he had actually been recommended for promotion. That recommendation was awaiting consideration at the time his services were dispensed with. So he sought an interview with the Attorney-General to find out what it was all about. The AttorneyGeneral refused to see him but, through his secretary, advised Staples that he should get in touch with the head of his section. That happened to be a Mr. Ewens, who was the acting secretary of the department.

When the Attorney-General was replying, with a spate of personal abuse, to the remarks that I had made in regard to this matter, he said that Mr. Ewens had denied what I had said regarding the interview that he had had with Mr. Staples, who obviously was the person who had informed me of what had transpired. But when 1 asked the Attorney-General to give Mr. Ewens's version of what happened, he did not reply. He was completely silent on it. If what Mr. Staples said had transpired at that interview is not accurate, or is not in accordance with Mr. Ewens's version, why could we not have what Mr. Ewens said about the interview?

I should imagine that if this man Staples had been guilty of any breach of trust during the ten weeks of his employment the Commonwealth would have instituted proceedings against him. But there is no suggestion of any breach of trust. For the sake of accuracy I shall quote the words used by the Attorney-General in regard to this matter. He said -

What would this country have said of me if I had left him to rifle the records of the AttorneyGeneral's Department?

For ten weeks this man was handling confidential, secret and most secret files. There is no suggestion that these files were rifled, no suggestion of any breach of trust, because had there been any evidence of a breach of trust the Government obviously would have taken action. For ten weeks this man was wandering round in the department, if we take the Attorney's-General's story, and had an opportunity, while I handling these secret files, of rifling them, to use the Attorney-General's own term, for the purpose of securing information of their contents. No doubt the suggestion is that the man wanted to use this because he was engaged in some subversive activity. The Attorney-General suggests that this gentleman was employed, and, indeed, had sought employment, in the Attorney-General's Department, as part of a conspiracy of the Communist Party to secure important information, because the Attorney-General said -

I suppose those of us who are not too cynical would be quite prepared to think that it was not accidental that some one who had been a member of the Communist Party and who was said to have been recently expelled, should turn up in my department in a confidential position.

There is only one interpretation to be put on that statement. That is that the AttorneyGeneral believes that Staples was a Communist blind put in his office for the purpose of getting some confidential information. Let us examine this question in its proper logical sequence. In the first instance, if the security service, after having these applications available to it for ten weeks, was unable to discover a fact which was well known in the Attorney-General's Department, and which newspapermen in this building were able to secure within 24 hours, since Staples was known in the Attorney-General's Department to have been a Communist previously, there is something wrong.

Some of the men with whom Staples was working had been associated with him at the University of Sydney, where he was known to be engaged in Communist activities, and was known to be a member of the Communist Party. So, there was no secret in the department about his having been a Communist. But it took the security service - this organization which is supposed to be so efficient - about five months to discover this information. It is not suggested that Staples lied in relation to his application. The security service had approximately ten weeks while the applications were under consideration, and a further ten weeks while Staples was working in the department - a total of five months - to discover what any schoolboy who set out to get the information could have discovered in a very short time. In any event, Staples was employed. He was an efficient officer. He is an expelled member of a Communist Party, and the AttorneyGeneral, in an attempt to bolster up this case, seems to think that this also is part of the conspiracy. The AttorneyGeneral implies that Staples is still a member of the Communist Party, putting up a front of having been expelled in order to gain the opportunity to get himself into the Attorney-General's Department to secure secret and confidential information. If that is the situation - if the Attorney-General really believes that to be the truth, which surely he does not - would the Government be satisfied with merely dispensing with Staples's services when, according to the Attorney-General, Staples had been planted in the department in order to secure secret information?

This case shows how dangerous the security service has become in this country - how it is becoming a political police force, how it is endeavouring, with the assistance of the Government, to build up a structure of dictatorship in this country, a structure of tyranny - I think that anybody who cares to read the Attorney-General's speech in reply to my statements must regard it as a completely unsatisfactory reply in the light of this most extraordinary situation. I can understand it from the Government's point of view. The Government does not want too much discussion on this matter, because the security service has come under criticism in other directions in recent times. Obviously, the Government does not want further attention directed to two points. First, the inefficiency of the service, and secondly, the fact that it is acting in a way that no democratic government of this country ought to permit it to act.

I believe that the Government is wrong in refusing to give Staples the opportunity, which he wants, to find out what he is alleged to have done. Staples did not fail to reveal his past activities when questioned. He was known in the department. He attempted to see the Attorney-General to have this matter properly ventilated. I am of the opinion that from two angles this case ought to bring strong criticism on the head of the Government. It should be criticized, first, for inefficiency and, secondly, for treating the man unjustly without any evidence against him, merely because at one time he was a member of the Communist Party. Are such people to have a life sentence imposed on them? Are they never to be given the opportunity of saying that they were wrong in their views and have now adopted a different attitude? Are they not to be permitted to do that? Why, I have seen ex-Communists sent into South-East Asian countries as members of Government delegations because the Government has evidently been satisfied that they are no longer associated with the Communist Party! But here is a man who felt himself obliged to admit that he had been a member of the Communist Party, which he joined in 1947. He was the Communist candidate for the electorate of Lakemba in the New South Wales State election early in 1956. So he was not an undercover Communist. He was expelled from the Communist Party in November of the same year. So he was a well-known Communist. Surely if the security service took five months to ascertain something that was on record in many parts of the country, that shows how completely inefficient an organization it is.

Prior to this incident Staples was unknown to me. I had never met him. But I am satisfied, from the Attorney-General's reply, that Staples has been unjustly treated. He was doing a job in which he was interested, and doing it efficiently. Even the head of his department admits that Staples was recommended for promotion. I should like to see this thing thoroughly sifted, because I think it is damning evidence against the Government as to the type of control and tyranny which it is permitting to raise its head in this country. Surely the Australian people are now becoming fully aware of the misuse of this security organization, of how it is being used to prevent people from getting promotion in the Public Service, and to prevent new Australians from obtaining certificates of naturalization or from bringing their relatives here from overseas. The future of all these people has been damned by secret reports of the security service without their being given an opportunity to know what they are charged with, or an opportunity to defend or clear themselves. I hope it will not be long before public demand in this country will force the Government to do something about thoroughly investigating this unsavoury situation which I believe exists at the present moment.

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