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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2832

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - In directing my question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General I refer to a 'Four Corners' program of 19 May on which he was a guest. On that program, referring to the tapping of telephone conversations, he said: 'Yes. Every now and then a court case in the States occurs that involves the admissibility of evidence produced to that court by State policemen. Obviously it has been obtained by interception of a telephone call and the Commonwealth is well aware of it.' The honourable gentleman was asked whether he would prosecute a policeman in those circumstances and he replied: 'No, but it is a little bit unsettling, I think, to think that the Australian Government could sort of turn around and sort of say, "We will charge this policeman".' In view of the remarks made in the Senate yesterday by the Attorney-General, does the Minister as his representative in this chamber agree that there is a degree of conflict between his attitude and that of the Attorney-General? Will the Minister assure the House that he will not oppose what the Attorney-General is doing? Furthermore, will he do everything in his power to stop blatant breaches of the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act through tapping activities and enforce the law applicable to the illegal practice of tape recording of telephone conversations irrespective of whether it is done by priest, politician, policeman or any other person in our society?

Mr ENDERBY (Minister for the Northern Territory) - Yes, I recall the television program to which the honourable member referred. Without accepting his version of what I said as being completely correct -

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - It is here. I have the transcript.

Mr ENDERBY - I am not quibbling with you about the substance. What the honourable member said is basically correct. It would appear that for a long time the State police forces, acting perhaps pursuant to legislation which the States have enacted and which on all the opinion available to me and to the Attorney-General, would be invalid because it would be in conflict with the Federal Act, are having their policemen tap, if you like, telephone messages. On the television program I expressed my abhorrence at that practice. All I said was - I do not claim to use now the exact words I used then but they are consistent with what I said then - that it would be a rather Draconian measure for the Commonwealth to say to a policeman of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria or South Australia who believes himself to be acting pursuant to a valid law that he would be treated as acting pursuant to an invalid law and charged with a criminal offence. I believe that that would be rather harsh.

If the Queensland Government seeks to enact a law - I am being hypothetical - that is in conflict with the Commonwealth law and is invalid because of that conflict - the Queensland Government should know that - and then instructs one of its policemen to go out and do something that is basically illegal, one of the remedies of the Australian Government would be to institute criminal proceedings against that particular policeman. The real villian, if I can put it that way, is not the particular policeman concerned but the State agencies of the Government of Queensland if it took place in that way. That is all I said. One would not be happy about doing it but one might well have to do it, and there is no conflict at all between the remarks of the Attorney-General in the Senate and what I said on tht 'Four Corners* program. The reference I made to this matter coming to the attention of the Australian Government as a result of court cases is perfectly true. One reads from time to time - the honourable member for Moreton would be familiar with this situation and I am sure that I have actually heard him speak on this subject -

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - I have too.

Mr ENDERBY - Yes, the honourable member also. I refer to cases in State courts when proceedings have been commenced relying upon evidence obtained in that way and judges have exercised their discretion to exclude the admissibility of evidence obtained in that way either because it was improper, because it was illegal or because there was sufficient doubt about whether it was improper or illegal. They have, quite properly, exercised their discretion to exclude the evidence and this has resulted in acquittal. The whole rationale that lies behind all this is that the Commonwealth Parliament has power to make laws on the subject of interception of telephone calls. Such a law was made in 1968. Some of the States have enacted laws in conflict with it. This was the subject of correspondence between Sir Robert Menzies, as long ago as, I think, 1964, and State Premiers. The previous Postmaster-General made representations to, I think, the Premier of Queensland on the subject. In copies of the correspondence I have seen there has never been any assertion by any of those State Premiers that they had a right to do what is obviously being done.

Mr McMahon - It should be stopped.

Mr ENDERBY - Yes, it should be stopped.

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