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Wednesday, 7 November 1973
Page: 1563


Attorney-General: Does he propose shortly to introduce several Bills dealing with human rights? Should the Government's concern, for the rights of the people come into question in the light of the experience of 2 Taiwanese fishing boat captains convicted on charges of illegal fishing off the north-west coast? Is the AttorneyGeneral aware that the captains when released from gaol accused the Australian Government of treating them unjustly? Was this accusation based on the fact that they were detained for 1 87 days, had their boats confiscated and had an offer by the Government of their fines being waived on condition that they dropped appeals against their convictions?

Senator MURPHY -It is right that at all times the actions of governments should be scrutinised in the light of our attitude to human rights. As to the particular instance the honourable senator raises, I am disturbed about the case in question and I am disturbed not for the reason that the honourable senator raises but for the reason that 2 men were in gaol and certainly at one stage the Government indicated that no opposition would be made to their release on bail on reasonable conditions. The matter has operated in such a way that no application was made by the fishing captains for bail although the Government was willing, as far as it could, to facilitate the matters and see to it that they were not in gaol. For reasons which I should like explored and am endeavouring to have explored an application was not made on their behalf. From the time the matter came to my notice and as far as I know to the notice of any member of the Government, the Government acted properly in relation to the 2 men.

There is one difficulty in relation to these cases. For technical reasons the forfeiture of boats is dependent upon the continuance of a case against the individuals. Obviously if there are intrusions into Australian waters which are a breach of Australian law, remedies and penalties should be available. One of the appropriate penalties is the forfeiture of the vessels involved. It would be much more appropriate if this were disconnected from the question of penalties and proceedings against individuals. There are proposals, and in fact they may be already in the mechanism, to separate the 2 matters, so that in future any questions of forfeiture of ships can be dealt with quite separately from the question of the proceedings against the persons. I assure the honourable senator that the Government is conscious of the problems that arose in this matter. If the honourable senator is looking for what went wrong I think he will need to look much further than the actions of the Government.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN -I wish to ask a supplementary question. In view of the Attorney-General's concern was an offer made by the Commonwealth of bail for these 2 men?

Senator MURPHY - Because the Commonwealth could not dispose of this matter on its own, the bail in this instance would have to be granted by the court. The Commonwealth indicated and suggested to the solicitor acting for the 2 men that application be made for bail. The Commonwealth indicated that it would not oppose the application for bail on the reasonable condition that the men would be available when the appeals were prosecuted.

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