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Friday, 30 October 1970

Mr HUGHES (Berowra) (AttorneyGeneral) - I would like to reply very briefly on this point of retrospectivity. If I may say so, I think that the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr Enderby) should be commended for the brevity and succinctness with which he put the argument and the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) likewise deserves to be commended. They put their points very clearly.

Mr Daly - You follow suit.

Mr HUGHES - I shall. I do not need any prompting from the honourable member for Grayndler. The Government has given very careful consideration to this question of retrospectivity. I would say that the views put in this Committee debate by the honourable member for Diamond Valley (Mr Brown) set out the reasons which disposed the Government to press the view that the legislation should apply retrospectively in relation to criminal activities. The general reason why the retrospective application of a law is frowned upon is a very good one, namely, that to give a law a retrospective application disappoints people's expectations and undermines the assumptions upon which they may have regulated their activities.

I think the Committee will agree with me, upon due deliberation, that that principle upon which, generally speaking, retrospective laws are not favoured simply does not apply in a case involving people who for years, indeed ever since federation, have ordered their affairs on the assumption that the laws made by the State Parliaments, unless specifically directed - which they never were - to Commonwealth places, had a general application in those places; so it could not be said that people committing activities of a criminal nature were undertaking those activities in the belief that they would be exempt from criminal law in relation to those activities. I think that is the simple ground upon which the retrospectivity of criminal sanctions in this very unusual case can be supported and ought to be supported by the Parliament. If the amendment as proposed by the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory were to be passed there would be or could be, as the honourable member for Diamond Valley has already pointed out some very remarkable consequences. It could be open day for people to commit very serious acts which would ordinarily be criminal acts between now and the date when the Bill received the royal assent. I do not think that is a risk that the Committee should countenance. For those reasons the Government opposes the amendment proposed by the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory.

Amendment negatived.

Bill agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.

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