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Wednesday, 13 September 1972
Page: 1304

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - Order! I suggest that interjections from the corner on my right should cease.

Mr WHITLAM - I do not mind an interruption from the honourable member for Hume (Mr Pettitt), but when such an example is set by the 2 knights who have interrupted already, that is, the honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) and the right honourable member for Fisher (Sir Charles Adermann) - the cavalleria rusticana in the House - it is a different matter altogether. If there is one thing on which the Country Party is united it is In the repression of those whom it employs and in this respect it makes no distinction between European Australians or Aboriginal Australians. It has been a source of shame to members of the House to see the deterioration in the Minister for the Interior since he took over that portfolio. He has a great number of Aborigines in his electorate of Gwydir - not least in the largest centre, which is Dubbo - and he knows the social and economic conditions of the Aborigines in that area. When the former Prime Minister asked a question in February that was adverse to the Aboriginal embassy, the Minister for the Interior, to his credit, gave a temperate, factual, decent reply. On 11th May, as I have quoted, he was still intending to follow the proper procedure of giving adequate notice of the ordinance. But then his Party got hold of him. It has been the misfortune of the mainland Territories of Australia and, until the recent beneficent change of regime, of the external Territories also that there has been a succession of Country Party Ministers controlling them. Of course, every Australian who lives in those Territories has suffered from this, but in particular the Aboriginal people have suffered.

When interrupted by another member of the Country Party, I was describing the chronology of the gazettal of this ordinance. Yesterday morning the Full Court of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory ruled that proper notice had not been given of this ordinance and that therefore the ordinance, while valid, was inoperative. One should have thought, after the previous promise that adequate notice would be given, and after the Court's disclosure that no proper notice had been given, that on this occasion proper and adequate notice would have been given. But what do we find? At 11 o'clock last night the Minister for Primary Industry who is the Deputy Leader of the Country Party and the representative in this place of the Attorney-General, gave notice of this Bill. This was immediately followed by a statement by the Minister for the Interior - the junior Country Party Minister in the chamber - that a new gazettal was being made. The House rose at 11.40 p.m. The Bills and Papers office of this House closed at 11.45 p.m. Still there was no 'Gazette*.

Then at about half-past twelve, in an extraordinarily impressive display of the panoply of the law, the Commonwealth Police arrived and explained the 'Gazette' to the people who had re-erected the Aboriginal embassy on the lawns of Parliament House. These people were perfectly entitled to do so because, be it remembered, there had been no operative ordinance denying them the right to do so. The 'Gazette' came out after midnight. Apparently the first public officials to see it were members of the Commonwealth Police and the first people to whom they showed it were the people who, within the law, bad re-erected the Aboriginal embassy.

This is the notice we have been given all along. On 11th May notice was going to be given. The ordinance was made on 30th June. An ineffective and inoperative gazettal was made on 20th July. Yesterday the Full Court of the Supreme Court ruled that no proper notice had been given. At 11 o'clock last night we were told that there was going to be a new gazettal and after midnight the 'Gazette' was published. Apparently the Bill was prepared this morning. But then somebody found out that there had been an oversight in the Bill. So we have been told that there is going to be an amendment to it. There could scarcely be a more tawdry history in any legislative matter than this. As I said this morning, it is not only a disgrace to this Government but also an embarrassment to this Parliament and a scandal for the country; and this at a time when we happen to have the First Australian Parliamentary Seminar of the parliaments of the countries within our region meeting under our auspices. What must the delegates think of the procedures in the Parliament of the largest country in this area? What an example we set of law and order, of decent procedures and of the rights of individuals.

There can be no dispute that this validating Bill is required because for decades under successive governments notices have been given in the 'Gazette' in a sloppy fashion. Frankly, the 'Gazette' notices have said only that certain ordinances, regulations or instruments were available for sale at a certain price. They omitted the formality that they had been made as the various Acts require. This Bill will ask us to assume that all those 'Gazette' notices in fact said that the ordinances, regulations and instruments had been made, and also that they gave a proper notice of where they were available. In these circumstances we will not vote against the second reading but we will move an amendment in Committee to preserve the rights of persons who were affected by the proceedings outside this House on 20th and 23rd July.

I concede that the Minister for the Interior was extraordinarily mortified and embarrassed yesterday and that some of his interjections or answers to questions I put to him after 11 o'clock last night might have been ill considered. However, I would hope that no Minister ever again will overlook the rights of citizens to resist arrest if the arrest is being made without authority. A citizen has rights. A policeman is a citizen too, but he has no greater rights than another citizen unless the law expressly gives him those rights. A policeman in the Australian Capital Territory has no inherent right to arrest people. If a policeman without authority is arresting a person it is no offence to hinder' the police, to assault the police, to obstruct the police, to resist arrest or, I imagine, if police alone were in earshot to use indecent language. That is the array of offences for which 27 people were arrested in association with the demolition of and evictions from the Aboriginal embassy on 20th and 23rd July.

If this Bill is passed in its present form those persons who were then arrested can still be charged and, if the facts warrant it, convicted because the Act will have retrospective effect. At least it would be arguable that that was so. We should put it beyond argument. We should make it quite plain that any of the persons who were arrested on 20th or 23rd July in association with the ordinance which was inoperative should be in no jeopardy at all. We should also ensure that those persons retain the rights which they would have had to seek redress. This should be clear to anybody in this country: If it cannot be asserted that a person has broken a law there cannot be any excuse for arresting him. If he has been arrested falsely, if he has been prosecuted maliciously - although this might not be the case in this instance - he has rights. He should not be deprived of his rights. He should not be put in jeopardy retrospectively. I would imagine that that is what the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Greenwood) meant when he said in answer to my colleague Senator Cavanagh yesterday afternoon:

As to whether any compensation may be payable, I feel that the Government's attitude would be that if people considered that their rights had been infringed they, like everyone else, have access to the courts of law to assert those rights.

We will not vote against the second reading. We will move our amendment in Committee. If the amendment is defeated we wm vote against the third reading and in that case we will also vote against the Bill in the Senate. I should explain that we will not vote against the second reading because it is important that people who have acted under ordinances of the Australian Capital Territory and other territories, who have acted under regulations under Commonwealth Acts, and who have acted under instruments made by Ministers, should have their rights confirmed. If persons find that they were able to escape liabilities or were able to enjoy benefits under laws which everybody thought were valid up until now and now find that that is not the case, the matter should be promptly put to rights. One would have thought that there would have been no difficulty in doing that tomorrow. Nevertheless the House has said that it is to be done today, so we will not vote against the second reading.

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