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Wednesday, 28 April 1971

Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) - The Bill before the Senate tonight is called the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Bill. I would draw the attention of the Senate to - the words which are in brackets. It seems incredible to me that it should be necessary in the society in which we live to write those very, words into a piece of legislation. However, it would appear that there is a need foi special legislation of this nature for the protection of persons and property. In view of the concluding remarks of Senator Keeffe, who has just resumed his seat, it may well be that this, special legislation is necessary. I reject out of hand Senator Keeffe's suggestion that this Bill is born of panic. After saying that this Bill was born of panic Senator Keeffe proceeded to threaten not only the Senate but also the Australian community that a whole lot of moratoriums and mass demonstrations later on this year would prevent worthy citizens from getting into their own homes send offices or going about their lawful occupations and undertakings. I know what I am talking about in this regard. I have battled my way through mobs in the streets of Adelaide. These mobs have had no reason at all to be there save to satisfy their own desire completely to impede society, disrupt the community and disorganise the lives of freedom loving citizens. This is a disgraceful and reprehensible practice. Despite this fact we find that Senator Keeffe has threatened that an attempt will be made to impede and destroy the very basic features that . make up our civilisation. I say that the Bill was not born of panic; it was born of necessity. The Bill was devised to enable people to go about their own business, express their own wishes and to indulge in the freedom of the society which they, like the rest of us, have a reason to expect. This legislation is to be implemented to enable these people to do these sorts of things.

At the outset of my remarks I want to reject completely the disgusting and reprehensible statements of Senator Keeffe. Having disposed of that, I wish to refer to the fact that in this very important debate which is before the Senate tonight we have had the benefit of a maiden speech by Senator James McClelland. I want to offer my congratulations to him. All honourable senators have had to make a maiden speech and therefore know all that such a speech means. We all share in the congratulatory opinions that have been expressed by other speakers who have taken part in that debate. I move into this sphere with readiness and sincerity because from the viewpoint of his political philosophy, from his own experience and from the experience which obviously other honourable senators have had, Senator James McClelland has given us a well studied and documented approach to this very important measure. Because it is an important measure he has taken the trouble of making a complete, detailed and genuine study of the Bill. It was he who said, amongst other things, that he did not think the Bill was necessary. I beg leave at this point to take issue with him on this matter. This aspect was highlighted by Senator Keeffe's comments earlier. It is important to note that all discussions pertaining to this legislation on law and order and the community reaction to it have undergone a series of what I will call developing emphasis in recent times. Gallup polls are not a bad guide on this sort of thing. Some honourable senators may remember that in November of last year a gallup poll was conducted concerning law and order, which is the subject of discussion in this Bill. The query put to the group of people in the community that the gallup poll surveyed was whether we need stronger laws for controlling demonstrators or we have enough laws for controlling demonstrators. The demonstrators are, of course, the key part of law and order. In the replies that - were given 66 per cent of those people who were surveyed said that we needed stronger laws to maintain law and order while only 29 per cent believed that we have enough' laws. This developing process iri the community has found expression in the public media. If one looks at a selection of newspaper headings which appeared at the time this Bill was introduced in the other place, one gets some idea of the community response. One Sydney newspaper described the Bill as 'a new Bill to curb civic lawlessness'. This is an admission by a responsible newspaper that there is a quantity of civic lawlessness. The article continued: The day of the yahoo is over'. Here was a response from a Sydney newspaper. Another ran a headline which stated: 'Tough new Bill will mean gaol for demonstrators'. This was an admission that at long last the Bill would provide for some ordering of society and for some protection of people who needed protection. A third, which looked very closely at the details of the Bill - and a very important feature of the Bill is that its details have been updated - described the Bill as 'throwing out the legal lumber*. Anybody who has read the Minister's speech will remember that the Minister, in presenting the Bill to Parliament, indicated that the Bill was being updated and that certain antiquated and anachronistic elements were being removed so that new clauses and new concepts could be brought into it because, quoting another newspaper headline, 'the new Bill updates the public order and law legislation'.

The regulation and discipline of society stem inevitably from parliamentary interest, governmental activity and political activity, but when any person or any group offends against the State, against society, against individuals or against property - we have seen far too much of this kind of offence against the State, against society, against individuals and against property in recent times - people rightly expect that the Government should respond. Honourable senators opposite are justifying and endorsing people who offend against law and order. They are endorsing the fact that people offend against human life, human kind and human flesh. The people rightly expect the Government to take some action. They rightly demand that the Government do something about-protecting the citizenry. This legislation is a response to this need in the community. If people are hurt, if property is smashed or if injury is inflicted, people expect governmental action and the political machines are expected to go into action. Unfortunately too many people such as those honourable senators opposite who are trying to interject equally expect that the Government might refrain from taking certain action. Evidence of those expectations has been given in the contributions that have been made by honourable senators opposite tonight. To meet these varying developments this was the phrase I used at the beginning of my remarks - and to pursue a line of responsibility, the Government has introduced this Bill. As the Minister said in his opening remarks:

The main objects of this Bill are to clarify, to simplify and, in important respects, to mitigate the severity of, the law concerning the assembly of persons in areas of Commonwealth legislative responsibility.

It is perfectly true to say that if any law is to be effective in regulating human conduct in situations that might be described as difficult, this law should be comprehensible not only to those to whom it is directed but - and more importantly, if I might say so - also to those who have the responsi 12668/71- 3"- t*5j bility for administering this law. In a democracy, as everybody has said tonight, every citizen should be free, but he should be free within limits imposed by laws that are designed to maintain a reasonable balance between conflicting interests. He should be free to give expression to his views or to his sentiments by the process of peaceful assembly. That is the kind of expression one would expect in a ministerial statement. It is the kind of statement one would expect to read in a newspaper article. It is the kind of statement one might make in the course of a debate.

I warn honourable senators that to set the limits to which I have referred is a difficult task. Where there are competing interests, and where they are in sharp conflict, not only is the task delicate but also, as 1 said a moment ago, it is difficult It is the task and the responsibility of government - and of this Government in particular - to strike that balance and to draw that line. The line should be clearly and sensibly drawn. I submit to the Senate tonight that the balance has been struck fairly and that the line has been- drawn clearly. Throughout this community, as part of a kind of international reflection, we have had calls for law and order within our society. We respond to these calls for law and order. It must also be stated that all this enthusiasm for law and order should not be allowed to deteriorate into attacks upon the right to dissent. Nobody in this debate has as yet attacked the right to dissent, or will do so. Calls in support of the right to dissent, as the Minister pointed out in his speech, must be heeded, but they must never be allowed to deteriorate into attacks upon the rights and proper liberties of people. In a world such as that in which we live there cannot be absolute rights for people to assemble together or to roam without restriction or to go into premises that are lawfully and properly occupied by other people. Therefore this Bill, relating to the preservation of public order in Territories of the Commonwealth and in respect of Commonwealth premises and the premises and persons of special and diplomatic missions, consular posts or missions, makes a very sound and proper background to this piece of discipline which the Government has undertaken very realistically at this point of time.

The Bill removes a great deal of the old laws. I think honourable senators will recall the reference in the Minister's speech to English statutes dating back to the 14th century, Australian colonial legislation and State legislation dating back a considerable time. For example, in South Australia, my home State, there are some English statutes which were passed in 1394, 1411 and years as far back as that which are still operative. The existing Australian law as to illegal assembly and riot differs from State to State. As honourable senators will recall the Minister's speech, the present law is found partially in the common law and partially in old United Kingdom statute law of considerable antiquity, dating back to riot legislation of 1394 in the reign of Richard II. It is. perfectly necessary that this kind of anomaly should be repealed to make the legislation relating to Commonwealth activity realistic, up to date and contemporary. Then there is the related fact that the Bill makes uniform and accessible the law on public assembly and also the law on demonstrations as far as Federal Territories and Commonwealth properties are concerned. Until this measure was introduced, the law varied from State to State, and from Territory to Territory. It was scattered in a large number of statutes and ordinances. Anybody knows that this is a very inefficient and very ineffective way to go about things. I have been looking at the book entitled 'Freedom in Australia' by Enid Campbell and Harry Whitmore. In this work they strike the note which I mentioned a few moments ago. They said:

It will always be difficult to strike the balance between public order on the one hand and freedom of speech in public meetings on the other.

It is this grasping of the nettle, this preparedness to strike the balance, that is the keynote or the central feature of this Bill. It cannot be denied that the freedom to express individual opinions and ideas and to join with others in such an expression is a basic right in our democracy. Few citizens would argue against this. A democratic society such as we pride ourselves upon must involve freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to express opinions and, where relevant, to criticise the authorities of the day. These broad and oft repeated statements are very acceptable. Everybody subscribes to them.

I go on and point out that if these statements, which I would describe not as statements but as principles, are accepted, they carry heavy responsibilities and obligations. If we indulge ourselves in the freedoms to which I have referred and if we are prepared to pay even lip service to the fact that they carry responsibilities, of necessity these responsibilities involve some restrictions. These restrictions are essential in the interests of national freedom, national security, public safety and public order and even go as far as the safeguarding of public health and protecting the rights of others.

I referred earlier in my speech to public demonstrations such as the moratoriums we have seen in our cities. I am very familiar with the one that took place in Adelaide. I remember again the sense of horror I felt at the outbreak of violence and clashes with the police. I take time now to pay a high tribute to the police of Australia. I speak with knowledge of the situation in South Australia. The job done by our police forces in protecting the public and maintaining public order and the rights and freedom of the people is highly commendable. I think we should place it on record in this Parliament. I despise those who would undermine our society by the attacks they make upon the police who endeavour to preserve the rights and freedoms of our people.

I am looking at one or two of the details dealt with in the Bill. One clause relates to assemblies where people might have or might use weapons. The Bill aims also at discouraging people from sitting in buildings, whether public or private, where they have no right to be, and at ensuring that those people leave if required to do so. I draw attention to the fact that this Bill accepts the right of citizens to engage in assembly and procession but not where such things will result in persistent occupation or in preventing reasonable access to public thoroughfares and public buildings. The Government believes in upholding the rule of law by which this protection is provided both for the individual and for property. It also believes in the right of legitimate protest this is inherent in the Bill within the limits outlined. It also emphasises the need to strike that balance between the right of protest and the maintenance of public order:

The quickest way to lose freedom is to bring the law into disrepute, to cast aspersions on the administration of justice and to hinder the law. Democracy must ensure that the right to change the law is maintained but the claim that freedom depends on breaking the law must be rejected completely.

I refer now to the protection which this Bill provides for what may be called the diplomatic community within our midst. We have seen enough incidents and events within the last few weeks to recognise here again the necessity for a measure such as this. We may have differing opinions on the administrations of other countries and about the way they interpret their form of government, but we have no right to deny the freedom of people who are in our country representing, governments that we recognise. We have no right to interfere with their freedom as they lawfully go about their lawful occupations. We have no right .to disturb the wives and families of diplomats. Ignoring the diplomats themselves, who are prepared to undertake hazards in the course of their duties, we have no right to. disturb the wives and the children during the long hours of the night. There is no reason at all for people to make offensive telephone calls to the wives and members of families of the diplomatic community, as has happened in this Canberra community in the last. few weeks. I hope that as we seek to interpret our international obligations relating to this matter and put this . Bill into effect we will remember that we are part of a world family of nations; that even though, in diplomatic language, we may have a difference with forms of government, at least we are prepared to respect the freedom of others just as much as we claim that our own. freedom should be respected. 1 want to finish my speech with my recollection of a quotation I heard on Anzac Day. This is not a bad time of the year for a Bill such as this to be discussed in this Parliament. Here in Canberra last Sunday morning, the Reverend J. R. Payne, of the British and Foreign Bible Society, when giving the address, said amongst other things: 'Freedom is not free. It is bought at a price and it is maintained with a discipline. And the discipline, amongst other things, demands a respect for social order, a respect for the rights of people to move as they wish.' After all, if we want to maintain freedom we need to maintain in our society the fact that freedom relies upon authority. We must have a concept of authority which gives us respect for authority. It is not sufficient merely to allow minority groups, simply because they may disagree with a form of authority, to impose their will and their inconvenience upon a law abiding majority. I am sure that this Bill will be passed and that it will be supported and endorsed by the community. As the Minister said in his speech:

It is a first duty of government to protect the citizen against violence, intimidation and crime, but law and order must be linked with moderation, liberty and justice.

Any study of the. Bill will prove that those facts are true.

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