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Thursday, 14 September 1972
Page: 864

Senator MURPHY (New South Wales) (Leader of the Opposition) - lt is the height of impudence for Senator Rae to accuse any political party or any senators of endeavouring to protect their friend's when he, by his actions, has engaged in suppressing a report in order to protect his friends.

Senator Rae - I take a point of order. Standing order 418 reads:

No senator shall use offensive words against either House of Parliament or any member of such House.

It states words which are well known to this chamber. The words have been referred to a number of times in debate recently as a result of the repeated use of offensive language in this chamber by members of the Labor Party. Senator Murphy has tried, by the use of a gratuitous insult to me, unfounded in any way whatsoever, to make a charge which he should withdraw. 1 claim that in using the words 'suppressing a report' he has used offensive language. I ask that the words be withdrawn.

Senator Greenwood - I rise on the point of order. 1 think this is a most serious accusation. Standing order 418 says that imputation of improper motives is highly disorderly. To say of a senator who is a chairman of a committee that he has suppressed a report in order to protect his friends is an accusation of utmost impropriety, and the Senate would be weak if it did not take action in order to protect its members.

Senator Murphy - I wish to speak to the point of order. During the debate Senator Rae has used as an argument in favour of his case, and has been supported by the Attorney-General on a point of order, the statement that he was entitled to draw analogies with the conduct of the Opposition and to say that the Opposition was, by its amendments moved in this place, protecting its friends. The Attorney-General said that it was open to senators to use such an argument to accuse Opposition senators of using procedures to engage in conduct, in relation to parliamentary matters, which was aimed at protecting their friends. If senators opposite are entitled to use the argument that action which is taken by senators on this side is for the purpose of protecting their friends - whether it is the moving of an amendment or the suppressing of a report by the chairman of a committee - we are entitled to use the same analogy and to say that a report of a committee is being suppressed by a senator for the reason which he has alleged that amendments have been moved by Opposition senators - to protect the persons whom they represent, whether they are Aborigines or members of the Australian Council of Trade Unions or trade unions. I submit that if it is good for the goose it is good for the gander. The Attorney-General supported the argument that an analogy may be used. I support that. The Opposition is equally entitled to make that analogy.

Senator Keeffe - I rise on the point of order. Senator Rae made imputations against me in his opening remarks. When

Senator Bonnermade a personal explanation he cast aspersions on me. I was noi thin skinned enough to seek a withdrawal. I think Senator Murphy was perfectly justified in making the statement that he made. The point of order raised by Senator Rae, supported by the Attorney-General, has no substance.

Senator Withers - I wish to intervene. I think the language used by Senator Murphy not only imputes improper motives to Senator Rae but also implies that if Senator Rae can suppress a report he must be in cahoots with other members of the Committee. I wonder whether Senator Murphy realises that some of his colleagues are members of that Committee. I doubt whether a chairman of a committee could suppress a report. I think the committee would suppress it, if it is being suppressed. I think it is highly improper for a senator to accuse another senator of acting improperly. I submit that you, Mr Acting Deputy President, should direct Senator Murphy to withdraw his remark.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood) - The words complained of are 'suppressing a report'. I know the attitude of Senator Murphy to the dignity of Parliament. I know that words are sometimes used in the heat of the moment. I ask him to withdraw those words, in view of the objection taken by Senator Rae.

Senator MURPHY - Mr Acting Deputy President, in deference to your request, I will withdraw those words. In view of the statements made by Senator Rae about the motivation of the senators, I submit that the accusations made in good faith by Senator Rae should be taken up at a subsequent stage. The BUI is an extremely important one which affects the rights of persons. There is no question as to what ought to be done about civil rights, if civil rights are being affected. It is generally agreed that they ought to be dealt with and attended to.

It is part of the generally accepted code of the rule of law, which is understood by all who have an acquaintance with it, that legislatures must abstain from retroactive laws in the criminal sphere, lt is stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in all the great political conventions that no person shall be liable to prosecution for an act or omission which at the time of its commission was not punishable in law. The Government is about to breach that principle and no amount of talk about validating, instead of retrospective legislation, can obscure the fact that the court has said not that the legislation was invalid but that until the Bill is passed the actions which were committed by people - whether they were committed last week, 12 months ago or 2 years ago - which were innocent actions will become criminal actions retrospectively. That is the plain truth. The Bill is not validating at all. If that is not retroactive criminal law nothing is. No amount of casuistry that comes from the DLP or glossing over from others will obscure that fact.

The reason why the Liberal-Country Party is going down the drain is that it does not understand the significance of the great statements which were its own Party policy. If it had enough understanding and if it had decent leadership, instead of panicking and being hysterical it would have introduced a Bill which would have validated the civil matters and it would have said: 'No matter how much we despise those people who were convicted under the National Service Act or under some of these regulations or ordinances, the rule of law is so important that we are prepared to let these few thousand or hundred people go.' That has happened in the United States where at times tens of thousands of people who have committed dreadful crimes - not petty offences as most of these are - went free. The Government would have said: 'We will maintain that rule of law and we will vindicate it even in respect of the people with whom we do not agree'. In that way it would have gained the approval of the people of Australia. But it does not have that understanding. It has lost the spirit which once motivated it. It carries on with a kind of hysterical reaction. It wants to push the Bill through today because a few people who are in gaol might issue writs of habeas corpus and if they had a chance they would be freed by the courts. Today they are innocent. At 9.45 p.m. they will not be innocent, when the Government has its way. The Government will take the Bill over to the Governor-General in the middle of the night. I suppose that is what will be done. The Governor-General will be kept up until the Bill is taken across to him in a taxi so that the case of the poor woman who is having her writ of habeas corpus heard tomorrow to entitle her to be free will not be successful because the Government is rushing the Bill through. Is that the way in which the Liberal Government thinks that the rule of law should be administered? Whenever a case such as this arises will it abandon the principles for which it stands? It is not prepared to work out a sensible piece of legislation which will protect civil rights and maintain the rule of law.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood)- Order! The time allotted for the second reading of the Bill having expired, I put the question:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

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