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Wednesday, 5 March 1980
Page: 586

Senator TATE (Tasmania) - I rise to support this amendment. I think it is one which is supported by both sides of this chamber, as it ought to be, because the Bill as drafted enables the Minister responsible to bring into operation in relation to a project or venture with which the Commonwealth is associated through the Australian Energy Commission what I believe is one of the most obnoxious pieces of legislation on the Australian statute book. As presently drafted, the Bill enables the Minister to say in relation to a uranium mining project that if any boycott of that project should occur the provisions of the Approved Defence Projects Protection Act come into operation. That means that if there were a withdrawal of labour for any purpose- even a legitimate industrial purpose which amounts therefore to a boycott of a particular project- the draconian penalties which are' a feature of that Act come into operation. I will comment on those penalties in a moment. Even to advocate such a boycott, withdrawal of labour or delay in the carrying out of the project according to the timetable determined by the Government is an offence, so that to circulate pamphlets advocating a boycott or to engage in peaceful protests, such as street marches advocating such a boycott, becomes an offence.

In this instance we are talking about the exploitation of a critical energy resource for peaceful purposes and for commercial profit. It would seem that we have a situation where the most draconian provisions which are at variance and contradictory to ordinary civil liberties can be invoked and, according to the Bill as drafted, could be invoked by the Executive or by the Minister alone without reference to the Parliament. That would only add at the very beginning of the process a discretion in the hands, of the Executive- the Minister- additional to another very disturbing discretion contained in the Approved Defence Projects Protection Act. It is the case that once such an offence is thought to have occurred the Minister can initiate proceedings for a prosecution either summarily or upon indictment. If he decides that the prosecution is to be a summary one. the maximum fine, as I recall it, is $1,000, and there is provision for a penalty of six months imprisonment. If he decides that the offence should be prosecuted upon indictment, the maximum fine is $10,000 with 12 months imprisonment as a possible penalty. I may be a little wrong on the actual figures in relation to the amount of fines, but not in relation to the terms of imprisonment. That means that there is a discretion within the Executive as to the harshness of the penalties which a person will face for the one offence. It seems to me that that places in the Minister a discretion which is at variance with what ought to be the case in our democratic society. The whole Bill as presently drafted makes the carrying out of normal peaceful protests and the withdrawal of labour from a project such as the Ranger uranium project subject to the permission of the Government. In other words, they are not civil rights to be enjoyed as we think all such peaceful protests or withdrawals of labour ought to be regarded as rights by the Australian population, not being a population involved in slave labour. Under this Bill they will not be rights but mere privileges existing at the whim of the Government and able to be stripped from Australian citizens if the Minister should so desire.

Senator Missen - May I ask you whether you consider in that Act that, not only by boycotts but also by speeches or writing, anyone who encourages hindrance or obstruction is guilty of an offence. It goes even wider.

Senator TATE - It goes even wider. As is the case for everyone on this side of the chamber- I include the Australian Democrats- any advocating peacefully of a timetable, a delay or a moratorium which would have the effect of not bringing a project or venture into operation according to the Government's timetable could be an offence under that Act and punishable in either the relatively light or heavy way at the discretion of the Minister for the time being.

Senator Missen - Quite.

Senator TATE - As Senator Missen agrees, this puts an enormous power in the hands of the Executive. By accepting the amendment put forward by Senator Hamer, this Parliament will have an opportunity to assess whether a declaration that the Act ought to apply to a particular project at a particular time should be supported by the elected representatives. I believe that in that we have a very wise protection for the civil liberties of Australian citizens in relation to this critical energy resource. For that reason, I support the amendment.

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