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Wednesday, 11 December 1974
Page: 3443

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - I rise, and my colleagues knew I was proposing to rise on this matter, not because the Opposition intends to vote against the clauses, but to indicate a concern which ought to be raised. I simply want to say that when this Government departs from the scene and a new government comes into office, if not sooner, efforts will be made to remove from the statute book the dictatorial traces of this Government. This Bill contains provisions which I hope the people in the Press and other media will not allow to escape their attention. They have been concerned about Bills in various parts of Australia and overseas which can threaten the freedom of the Press, which can challenge the liberties of the subject, and which can take away citizens' liberties. This Bill is replete with provisions of that character which I wish we were in a position to alter at this stage. We are not able to do so, but I draw to the attention of the Committee and of people who are interested in a wider area the fact that commissioners may be appointed to conduct inquiries. These commissioners are not to be qualified as the legislation of the States requires commissioners to be qualified. They are individuals who may conduct inquiries. There is nothing whatever to prevent this Government from appointing Mr Mundey, who is a well-known person -

Senator Wheeldon - Communist.

Senator GREENWOOD - I accept what Senator Wheeldon has so generously proffered. Mr Mundey is a well-known communist, who is concerned to use sociological questions such as this to his own interests. There is nothing whatever to stop the Government appointing a person of that character as a commissioner. There is nothing whatever to stop the appointment of anybody the Government desires to appoint and whom the Government believes would give expression to a particular view as a commissioner. These persons will have coercive powers greater than members of the police forces in Australia to require persons to attend before them, to deliver up documents, to answer questions and to suffer penalties and possibly imprisonment if they do not do so. The penalty for failing to attend before a commissioner and for failing to answer questions is stated by the legislation to be $1,000 or imprisonment for 6 months. I seem to recall that this type of provision was challenged by some members of the Government when they were in Opposition, but it certainly has been inserted into this Bill with no inhibitions whatsoever. The commissioners have a power to inquire into any of the matters which are set out in clause S of the legislation. The width of these powers has already been adverted to. It is a width which is prescribed only by the fact -

Senator McLaren - Do you know we are off the air?

Senator GREENWOOD - 1 know we are off the air. That means that we can deal with the matter as the issue itself requires and not as governed by considerations of broadcasting time. I welcome this because this is a matter to which I think there ought to be some reference. It is a matter which I personally believe is of the utmost importance. I could see this legislation being used in a way that is not contemplated by this Senate at this particular time. It is hoped by the Opposition that, in the interests of this country, the power contained in this legislation will never be used. However, the power is contained in the legislation and it is a coercive power of the greatest significance because of the width of the inquiries which commissioners could undertake and the powers which they would have to compel people to appear before them.

I have mentioned that persons could be compelled under clause 1 5 to appear before a commissioner simply by a summons signed by the commissioner. The commissioner is not required to have regard to whether or not the person can give evidence. He may simply issue a summons and require a person to attend before him. The person would be liable to a fine or imprisonment if he did not attend. If he did not answer questions he would be likewise liable to a fine or imprisonment. If he did not produce documents he would be subject to a fine or imprisonment. These are arbitrary powers which would be exercised by a non-judicial officer and this type of provision should be regarded by this Parliament as inconsistent with the rule of law and the protection of liberties in this country.

I notice also that there are provisions contained in this Bill which give to the commissioners the protection or immunities of a High Court judge without imposing upon them the obligations of judicial office. In other words, the provisions give them power but impose no responsibility upon them. This is a frightening development. Likewise, it is an offence to insult a commissioner in the exercise of his powers or the performance of his functions or duties as a commissioner, yet he has such wide-ranging functions and powers that the ordinary person may not know when a commissioner is exercising his functions or his duties.

The onus of proof has been altered in a way which I think would cause havoc and horror if it were to happen in the area of conciliation and arbitration. Under this Bill, if a person is dismissed then the person who dismissed him is liable unless he can establish to the satisfaction of the tribunal that the person has not been dismissed for what might broadly be termed an environmental reason. If honourable senators examine the definition of 'environmental reasons' they will see the character of the change in the onus of proof which has been imposed. I note the undertaking which has been given but the original Bill conferred power on a commissioner, simply if he wanted to, to enter and inspect any person's land, building or place, or to inspect any material. These are the true marks of the authoritarian and you, Mr Temporary Chairman, in your capacity as custodian of the regulations and ordinances of the nation, which has been vested in you by this Senate, would be horrified if any regulation or ordinances were brought down which contained these provisions. The Government has brought them down. As I have said, they are provisions which I hope will be before us again at an early time so that they can be removed. I speak as one who is concerned that this Parliament should ever enact laws under which coercive powers can be used without restraint, guidelines or criteria to limit the way in which they could be used.

I think that it indicates the hollowness of the claims to protect civil rights, to protect human rights, which so often come from supporters of the Government that the Government should produce Bills which contain provisions of this character. That is what I wanted to say and I have said simply for the record because I am not happy that these things should be contained in legislation. In different circumstances from those in which the Senate now finds itself, I am quite sure that action would be taken here to have them removed, but it is not possible to do that at the present time. I think that we of the Liberal Party of Australia- some people of this nationhave some obligation to ensure that basic questions of liberty are preserved. I only hope that the civil liberties organisations of this country will have regard to these provisions and will look at them not in terms of the Government which has brought them forward but in terms of what intrinsically they can permit.

Another matter which I raise at this time instead of in the debate on the motion for the third reading of the Bill is the churlish attitude on the part of the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) not to be prepared to respond to the debate on the motion for the second reading of this Bill. He is sitting smugly with a smile on his face as if it is a great achievement not to do so. I asked questions of him during the course of the debate on the motion for the second reading of the Bill expecting a reply from him. I have not been given a reply. I suppose that the Government, in its dying days, feels that it does not owe any obligation to anybody in this country. I should have thought that the ordinary niceties of debate, the proprieties of the occasion at least would have required that the persons who raised issues were entitled to have them answered. We know that questions on notice in this place are not answered by the Ministers. I guess it is too much to expect questions asked in debates to be answered. I have had my say, Mr Temporary Chairman, and the record reveals it.

Bill agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.

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