31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2. 1 5 p.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following pet ition from 23 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth objection to the Metric system and request the Government to restore the Imperial system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– On behalf of Senator Keeffe, I present the following petition from 162 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned electors respectfully showeth:
That compensation benefits payable to injured Australian Government employees and Defence Forces personnel under the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1971 should be increased as a matter of urgency in view of the financial plight of recipients, particularly those suffering long term incapacity and because of the significant increase in the cost of living which has occurred since compensation payments were last adjusted; and
That statutory provision should be made for the automatic adjustment of compensation benefits.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
-On behalf of Senator Jessop, I present the following petition from 5,339 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia, respectfully showeth:
That those who have retired and those who are about to retire, are being severely and adversely affected by inflation and Australian economic circumstances.
The continuance of the income test on pensions causes undue hardship to them, we call upon the government to immediately abolish the income test on all aged pensions.
To ensure a pension for all on retirement, and a guarantee that all Australian citizens will retire with dignity. Acknowledge that a pension is a right and not a charity.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 100 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That restoration of provisions of the Social Security Act that applied prior to the 1 978-79 Budget is of vital concern to offset the rising cost of goods and services.
The reason advanced by the Government for yearly payments ‘that the lower level of inflation made twice-yearly payments inappropriate’ is not valid.
Great injury will be caused to 920,000 aged, invalid, widows and supporting parents, who rely solely on the pension or whose income, other than the pension, is $6 or less per week. Once-a-year payments strike a cruel blow to their expectation and make a mockery of a solemn election pledge.
Accordingly, your petitioners call upon their legislators to:
Restore twice-yearly pension adjustments in the Autumn session.
Raise pensions and unemployed benefits above the poverty level to 30 per cent of average weekly earnings.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 33 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the credibility of the Westminster parliamentary system is weakened by the resignation in protest of Ministers of the Crown without adequate explanation of the reason or reasons for the resignations being given to the electorate and that the situation is further exacerbated by the reappointment of the recently resigned Minister within a very brief period, again without any meaningful explanation to the people of Australia.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, take note of the need for the electorate at large to be fully informed so that the confidence of the people is not diminished in the democratic process in general and the parliamentary process in particular.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 39 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That annual indexation of pensions severely affects the livelihood and standard of living of Australia ‘s pensioners.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that this House direct the Government to reintroduce twice yearly indexation as a prelude to quarterly indexation.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 26 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That any downgrading or closures of Country Rail Services in South Australia would have grave consequences for the Railway Industry, Primary Industry, Individual Country Communities and the State as a whole and calls on the Parliament to ensure that the Federal Minister for Transport takes the necessary action to maintain all existing services.
That continued and increased Public Subsidy is fully justified in the long term National Interest.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 500 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of the Sutherland Shire respectfully showeth:
That they oppose the construction of any additional reactor at the Australian Atomic Energy establishment at Lucas Heights in New South Wales.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled:
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth objection to the metric system and request the Government to restore the imperial system.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Senator Sheil.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That restoration of provisions of the Social Security Act that applied prior to the 1 978-79 Budget is of vital concern to offset the rising cost of goods and services.
The reason advanced by the Government for yearly payments ‘that the lower level of inflation made twice-yearly payments inappropriate ‘ is not valid.
Great injury will be caused to 920,000 aged, invalid, widows and supporting parents, who rely solely on the pension or whose income, other than the pension, is $6 or less per week. Once-a-year payments strike a cruel blow to their expectation and make a mockery of a solemn election pledge.
Accordingly, your petitioners call upon their legislators to:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Senator Scott and Senator Puplick.
To the Honourable, the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the provision of payments for abortion through items of the Medical Benefits Schedule is an unacceptable endorsement of abortion which has now reached the levels of a national tragedy with at least 60,000 unborn babies being killed in 1977.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will so amend the Medical Benefits Schedule as to preclude the payment of any benefit for abortion.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senators Missen, Guilfoyle, Webster and Sheil.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned electors respectfully showeth:
That compensation benefits payable to injured Australian Government employees and defence forces personnel under the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1 97 1 should be increased as a matter of urgency in view of the financial plight of recipients, particularly those suffering long term incapacity and because of the significant increase in the cost of living which has occurred since compensation payments were last adjusted; and
That statutory provision should be made for the automatic adjustment of compensation benefits.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Senator Mcintosh.
– I give notice that on the next day of sitting I shall move:
That the following matter be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence: Australia and ASEAN.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I refer to the proposed visit to Australia of the leader of the Ananda Marga sect from India, Mr P. R. Sarkar.
Has a visa been issued to enable Mr Sarkar to enter Australia? What offences involving acts of violence have resulted in convictions by the courts against members of the sect in this country? Have any similar acts of violence been found against Mr Sarkar himself in India? If the answer to both those questions is no, could the Minister indicate why a visa has not been granted?
– With regard to the first question raised by Senator Wriedt relating to the issue of a visa, I am advised by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs that a visa has not been issued to enable Mr Sarkar to enter Australia. With regard to the second question relating to convictions for offences involving acts of violence, I am advised that this is not within the province of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. However, he states that one member of the sect was convicted on 7 November 1978 on charges of kidnapping and assaulting the Indian Military Attache and was sentenced to nine years imprisonment. With regard to the third question, the Minister advises that Mr Sarkar is the subject of criminal charges, including a charge of conspiracy to murder, and is not free to travel outside India until these charges are resolved. Therefore, the fourth matter raised by Senator Wriedt does not arise in these circumstances.
-Could you clarify it for me? Are we to understand that the Indian Government is refusing to issue a passport to Mr Sarkar on those grounds?
– I think that would be implied in what I said in answer to the third question-that it is understood that Mr Sarkar is the subject of criminal charges, including a charge of conspiracy to murder, and is not free to travel outside India until these charges are resolved.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. Has the Minister noted publicity in recent weeks regarding the rising price of beef, which I am sure is welcomed by all beef producers and fair-minded Australians? Has the Minister also noted comments by some consumer groups on whether or not those increases in retail prices of beef are justified? Has he noted the comments today by Mr Day, a Minister with the New South Wales State Government, relating to a beef stabilisation scheme? Would the Minister agree that the Federal Government’s policy for a classification scheme is preliminary to any beef stabilisation scheme? Is the Government considering any beef stabilisation schemes at the Federal level?
– I have noted the general rise in the price of beef over the past few months, but I would suggest that the prices now being paid by consumers would not yield to producers a return equivalent to former beef prices adjusted by increases in the consumer price index. I have noted the various statements that are referred to by the honourable senator. It is the Federal Government’s policy to be advised by the various primary industry producer groups. I know that there has been discussion in Cabinet and certainly with the Minister for Primary Industry about the possibility of introducing a stabilisation scheme. A great deal of discussion would be necessary before introducing such a scheme. I have no doubt that the industry itself will be putting propositions to the Government.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs. What is the most recent evaluation available to the Government on the operations of the Special Youth Employment Training Program? On the information available, does this program provide adequate training and useful work experience and does it enhance the ability of participants to compete in the labour market? Has an evaluation of this program been made by the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs? If so, does the Government intend to make this report public?
– I can answer the question only in fairly general terms and state the Government’s support for the effectiveness and value of the Special Youth Employment Training Program to which Senator Button referred. On behalf of the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs whom I represent in this chamber, I have made a number of references in debate and in answer to questions, to the number of young people who are assisted by the program in receiving training and keeping employment as a result of the training they receive. Senator Button asks for details of any recent evaluation by the Government. I do not have any special information on this matter. In the circumstances, I propose to refer the details of the honourable senator’s question to the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs and endeavour to find out what evaluations, if any, have been made and the other answers to the question.
-Does the Minister representing the Minister for Transport know whether the Department of Transport has received a copy of the study by the makers of the Airbus wide-bodied aircraft which compares the operating costs of those wide-bodied Airbus airliners with those of a Boeing 727-200 series aircraft? I believe the makers claim in that report that the introduction of their wide-bodied aircraft could lead to a reduction of about 30 to 40 per cent in domestic airline costs which obviously would lead to a consequent reduction in internal air fares. If the Department has received such a report, what stage has the departmental study of it reached? Will the Minister consider tabling the report and the Department’s analysis of it in the Senate? Will he also ask the domestic airlines to submit at an early stage reasons for and against the introduction of wide-bodied aircraft?
– I am unable to say whether the Department of Transport has received a copy of a study on the Airbus aircraft which was prepared by its manufacturer. I came across that report very recently. I certainly will refer it to the Department for its attention. The report, which is prepared by the maker of the aeroplane, indicates that a much lower cost per passenger mile can be obtained using widebodied jets. But I point out to the honourable senator that a number of other factors need to be taken into account. They include the fact that a high passenger pay load is required to get that result.
– They would cost about 3 times as much.
-As the Leader of the Opposition has just pointed out to me, the aircraft are expensive. Also facilities would need to be provided at airports and other places before the aircraft could be used. The honourable senator has raised a matter which is of great interest to the travelling public in Western Australia. I will refer his various inquiries to the Minister and seek a more definitive response for him.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Social Security. Was it before or after the question that was asked on 23 November about senior officers of the Department of Social Security accompanying the Commonwealth Police on raids against people suspected of social security frauds that the Minister learned that her Director-General, Mr Lanigan, spent two hours in the police operations room on the main night these people were arrested? Did she know about it when, on 24 November, the following day, she denied that her Department had been closely involved with police activities? Did she know it when she wrote to Senator Grimes on 5 December and reported -
– You are a slow learner.
-My advice to the Minister would be to sack Lanigan. If she had sacked him she would not be in the trouble that she is in. Apparently Government members are slow learners in this matter. I can see no reason why the Minister should defend the indefensible. I will finish the question. Did she know of the involvement of Mr Lanigan when she wrote to Senator Grimes on 5 December and reported on the liaison and interpreting activities of junior officers but wrote not one word about her most senior public servant?
– At the time that the answers were given to questions that were raised in the Senate, I gave all information that was known to me about the matters concerned. I still think that Senator Georges is confusing two matters when he refers to the question in November and the questions that were raised yesterday. The question in November related to the matter of officers of my Department accompanying the police on raids connected with investigations. I advised Senator Grimes accordingly of the information that was given by the Department. The questions yesterday related to the attendance of the Director-General at the Commonwealth Police headquarters on 2 April. To the best of my knowledge, it would have been late last year or early this year that I became aware of the attendance of the Director-General at COMPOL headquarters.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Science and the Environment or alternatively to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. It relates to the use of the herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and to the inadequate investigations so far conducted into their effect on the health of those who come into contact with them. Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to a recent Australian Workers Union survey which revealed that 25 per cent of respondents complained of nausea, dizziness, headaches and more serious illnesses which may be related to their exposure to 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T? Is he familiar with the Melbourne Age article of 14 February 1979 indicating that at least six workers compensation cases involving these herbicides have been lodged in Victoria? Will the Minister comment on this disturbing survey, and does he agree that the consistency of these complaints is quite concerning evidence of the possible danger of exposure to these herbicides? I refer the Minister to his answer to a question from me on 3 May 1 978. He said:
Under current circumstances there appears to be no justification for further restricting the availability of these materials.
With yet another example of public concern being highlighted by the finding of this survey, will the Minister agree that there is now justification for restricting the handling of them? What inquiries are presently being made by the Minister’s Department into the safety of these herbicides? Will the Minister assure the Senate that efforts will be made to restrict the use of them until more adequate investigations, particularly into malformations at birth, are made?
-The general question that is raised by the honourable senator is an important one. I do not know of any State government which, having conducted an inquiry into the use of 2,4,5-T or 2,4-D, has had cause, on review, to change the attitude it had to those herbicides when I answered an earlier question Senator Missen asked me on this matter. The matter basically lies with the Minister for Health, although obviously some areas of my Department have an interest. The latest information available from the Minister for Health is that public opinion, together with extensive media coverage, has resulted in the need for a meeting of the special working party of the National Health and Medical Research Council. 1 understand that that meeting is being convened at a very early date. The extensive data that has been provided from information gained overseas, to which Senator Missen and other senators have referred, will take some time to evaluate. In view of this, it has been deemed wise to hold meetings of relevant expert committees at times that will enable properly reasoned assessments to be made. My understanding is that the report of studies on 2,4,5-T, which claimed a possible linkage with high miscarriages and perhaps the ill health suggested by Senator Missen, has been received from the United States of America. Copies have been sent to individual members of the special working party of the National Health and Medical Research Council and to members of the pesticides and agricultural chemical subcommitteethe PAC Sub-Committee- and to departmental offices. I understand that the PAC Sub-Committee will be meeting on 21 and 22 March. The special working party of the Council will meet on 23 March. I believe that Senator
Missen can be satisfied that there will shortly be an authoritative statement from the Council. Arrangements have been made for preliminary comments of working party members to be collated, thereby allowing interim advice to be provided. All States and Territories will be notified of that progress.
– Welcome back to the Senate, Mr President.
– Thank you. Senator O ‘Byrne.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. It follows a question that I asked on 2 1 November last, relating to the Hospital Corporation of America and its plans to establish an $ 18m private hospital in Melbourne through a wholly owned Australian subsidiary company. The company had claimed that fees at the hospital would return a profit of 17 per cent rising to 20 per cent. On 29 December, the Minister graciously replied to me in the following terms:
My consideration of the matter has not yet reached a point where I am in a position to offer a firm view on this matter.
The Hospital Corporation of America is based in Nashville, Tennessee, and was founded by a former head of Kentucky Fried Chicken. He has made the following statement, through its current president as to its philosophy:
It is important to us, as a basic strategy to start building beach-heads in the international market with companyowned facilities. If down the road a moratorium were put on building hospitals in this country-
I ask the Minister: Has he seen recent reports that hospital fees are to rise sharply from 1 July and that the Commonwealth Government is pushing for differential rates from State to State? Does the Minister agree that this multi-national company anticipating a high return on investment will, in the long run, further increase health costs in this country? Finally, I ask the Minister: In view of his previous reply, has he any knowledge of the company’s activities and future operations in this country?
-I have no first-hand knowledge on any of these matters. The best that I can do is to indicate that I will seek out the information from the relevant Minister and provide it to Senator O ‘Byrne.
– Has the Attorney-General seen reports that the so-called ‘Moonies’ religious sect is recruiting youth in Australia? Is he aware of allegations by a former Adelaide gynaecologist, Mrs Stuart-Kregor, that her stepson has been so brainwashed by this sect that he now refuses to associate with his family because families are considered by the sect to be the work of Satan? Mrs Stuart-Kregor ‘s remarks have been supported by Father John Fleming, an Adelaide columnist, who has suggested that this sect could be compared with the Jonestown suicide sect because of its requirement for slavish following and mesmerism practices. Can the Minister say whether the Government is able to take action to prohibit the activities of this sect in Australia?
– My attention has been drawn to the article referred to by Senator Jessop concerning the activities of a religious sect known as the ‘Moonies’. But I do not really profess to have much information in relation to this sect. The question raises a familiar problem which unfortunately arises from time to time in Australia. But the view that has been taken by my predecessor and by me is that these matters impinge very much upon the question of religious freedom and belief and such activities. In our view, the proper way for these matters to be dealt with is in the area of persuasion and discussion and exposure of excesses of this kind and so forth.
As I have reported to the Senate from time to time, the matter has been discussed at meetings of the Standing Committee of AttorneysGeneral. Generally speaking, the attitude of the State Attorneys is much the same as the attitude I have expressed. However, the decision has been that these matters should be watched carefully to see whether there were any breaches of existing laws. It was felt that the matter should be tackled in that way rather than by taking direct action against any particular organisation because, as I have said, such action would impinge on the fundamental questions of religious freedom.
All I can say is that the matter is one which does give concern to governments, both State and Federal, but the method of tackling it is along the lines that I have suggested. I might add that almost invariably these matters would be questions arising under State law rather than under Commonwealth law.
-Does the Minister for Social Security really believe that her DirectorGeneral was present at the Operations Room of the Commonwealth Police late on a Sunday night when arrests were being made all over Sydney, to give information with regard to pensioners and beneficiaries? Would she not agree that information regarding pensioners and beneficiaries would be best given by other officers in normal working hours and not under such feverish conditions?
– It is probably a matter of subjective judgment as to who could best give information that may be required in the incident concerned. Attendance at the Operations Room by the Director-General was in the nature of a visit to determine what was happening with regard to pensioners and beneficiaries and to give to the police whatever information was required by them in the course of the normal relationship between the Department and the police who are acting where there are alleged frauds. It may be Senator Mcintosh’s view that some other officer in the Department could better do this but given the nature of the investigations being made, it was a decision of the Director-General that he should be informed at that time of what was transpiring.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Education, concerns early school leavers and youth unemployment. Yesterday, the Minister, in answer to a question from Senator Lajovic on school retention rates, said:
There is a relationship between leaving school early and the incidence of unemployment.
. the younger and the less equipped the school leaver, the harder it is for that school leaver to get a job.
I ask the Minister: What initiatives can and will the Commonwealth take to remedy this continuing problem? Will the Government, through the Schools Commission and through its funding to the States, encourage courses to be developed in schools to give remedial instruction and employment orientation instruction to potential early school leavers so that there will be a higher school retention rate and a more useful foundation laid for employable skills?
– It is true that those who leave school unduly early, particularly the 15- year-olds and those who leave before or around year 10, are less attractive to employers than those who leave later. That conclusion is, of course, qualified by the fact that there are varying degrees of skills, quite apart from the age at which one leaves school. Because this has concerned the Federal Government and myself I was given the opportunity by the Government to approach the Australian Education Council and raise the matter in discussion with the six State Ministers. I invited the Ministers to consider ways in which we could do two things: First, try to identify as early as possible in their junior secondary course those who might potentially be unduly early school leavers, and offer to them a variety of special attention by way of pastoral care, guidance or special courses, which might not only increase their motivation but also their understanding that school had a meaningful benefit for them; secondly, gain the co-operation of the States in ensuring that if such people nevertheless left school early they would be advised to undertake the transition to engaging in special courses at technical college so that their skills could be upgraded.
The Australian Education Council has expressed a keen interest in the proposals and has set up a working party to investigate them. That working party is at present in operation. I believe that there will be within the high schools a significant necessity for the identification of people who may feel that the generalist stream of education is not attractive to their particular attitudes, and for secondary education, whilst not departing from its general philosophic concepts to reach out and help such people.
-Mr President, I regret that on your first day back I have to address a question to you as Presiding Officer. It relates to the security of Parliament House and in particular to the area at the rear and across the road that has been in the past marked ‘public conveniences’. I ask: Are you aware that any person locating and entering those public conveniences is now being questioned by a Commonwealth policeman, required to identify himself and required to have his car registration recorded? Are you also aware that concern is being expressed by Commonwealth car drivers because a Commonwealth policeman has inspected a car parked outside the Senate transport office and that even the contents of its glove box were examined without the express permission of the driver concerned? Could you advise the Senate whether, in actual fact, an extension of the powers of the Commonwealth Police has been agreed to by both yourself and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, or whether either of you was consulted about this; also, whether you would consider keeping the Senate informed of any further proposed incursions on the privacy of individuals who may, quite inadvertently, find themselves under the general umbrella of Parliament House security?
– I must advise the honourable senator that I am not aware of the matters that were raised by her but will have inquiries made concerning them.
-I ask the Minister for Education: Is it a fact that the Federal Government is effectively providing a large proportion of the income of every tertiary student union in Australia, including the Australian Union of Students, through the payment of the incidentals allowance under the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme?
– Within the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme allowance is a component for the payment of fees should that be necessary, but let me make it perfectly clear that the Commonwealth Government has expressed the view that whilst the payment of fees for authentic sporting and recreational amenities should be compulsory, fees paid to student bodies for socio-political purposes should be voluntary. We have stated our intention to express this legislatively within our own Territory and have invited the State governments to act within their own States to bring about voluntary membership. We hope that throughout Australia there will be an understanding which will enable the compulsory component of the fees to be paid, in accordance with the 1973 agreement with the States, but which will allow voluntary participation by students in any student organisation at the institutional level or at any national level.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services and refer to the decision of his colleague, the Minister for Administrative Services, to dispense with the services of Mr Harry M. Miller as special adviser on Australia’s bicentennial celebration arrangements. Does the Minister intend making a statement to the Parliament on the reasons for Mr Miller’s dismissal? If not, what were the reasons? Further, was the Minister reported correctly as having said that Mr Miller had been able to get the 37-nation International Bureau of Expositions to reserve 1988 as Australia’s year and that he doubted whether anyone else could have done that? Is the Minister aware that the International Bureau of Expositions reserved that date following a letter that was written to it in 1974 by the then Prime Minister of Australia on the advice of officers of the former Department of the Special Minister of State?
– I am not familiar with the detail of the matters which were raised by the honourable senator. I will have to inquire of Mr McLeay whether he intends making a statement of the sort which was mentioned by Senator McClelland. I noted with interest the comment which the honourable senator made about the reservation of 1988 and will have it checked. If it is true, it is nice to know that the Whitlam Government left one legacy behind it.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Is it a fact that a Commonwealth statutory authority, namely, the Australian National Railways Commission, has not presented a report to the Parliament since its report for the year 1974-75? If so, what possible reason exists for this apparent total disregard for the responsibility of the authority to be accountable to the people through the Parliament? Will the Minister seek to obtain an undertaking that a statement will be presented to the Parliament within a fortnight providing at least some information on the position of the ANRC and whether the Commission proposes to get around to letting us know what it has been doing all these years?
– I understand that the Australian National Railways Commission has not presented audited accounts for 1975-76 or for subsequent years. In a prepared reply to a question from Senator Wriedt, to which my attention has just been drawn, I said that the preparation of accounts by the Commission had been delayed because of the need to develop procedures for a new accounting structure to be applied to the amalgamated railways making up the Commission’s railways. I would have to agree that the delay in receiving accounts is extremely long. I am not in a position to give the undertaking that a statement will be presented to the Parliament within two weeks but I will pass that request on to the Minister for Transport and seek an urgent reply for the honourable senator.
– I address a question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. It concerns the report on Aboriginal health presented to the
House of Representatives yesterday by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. Does the report recommend, among other measures, involvement of Aborigines in decisions affecting their health, involvement in the delivery of their own health care and recognition of the special health needs of Aborigines? Does the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service meet these criteria? If so, will the Minister reconsider the provision of increased funds to this service in Victoria to enable it to expand its services rather than curtail them as is now the case? What other measures will the Minister take to improve the health of Aborigines in view of the alarming conclusions of the report to which I have referred?
- Senator Chipp has asked me a series of questions about a report which was tabled in the House of Representatives yesterday. I must say that, although I have read the recommendations, I have not yet had a chance to read the whole of the report. It is true, as Senator Chipp suggested, that the report recommends, among other measures, involvement of Aboriginals in decisions affecting their health. That is a principle which has, in fact, been supported by the Government in the past and which it continues to support. I agree with Senator Chipp that the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service meets the criteria that he mentioned. It is an example of successful Aboriginal involvement in the delivery and planning of health services. I hope that all statements made during the recent problem that the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service has had with respect to financing have made it clear that the Government supports the Service in its work.
I make it clear to the Senate, however, that there are difficulties when the Government is funding a multitude of organisations in health and other areas when those organisations go beyond the amount of funds which have been made available in any budget for their operation. In the field of health alone, there is a whole series of organisations. There are 10 Aboriginal medical services. There are three community health services. These are funded to the extent of about $4.8m a year. An amount of $ 12.6m is provided in State grants for health. A problem arises when those funds are committed to the organisations which are working in the field and no additional funds are budgeted within the financial year.
asked me whether I would reconsider the provision of increased funds to the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. That is a matter which will have to await the further estimates of expenditure which will come before the
Parliament shortly. The Victorian Aboriginal Health Service has on its own initiative and with the co-operation of my Department but very much under its own control revised its operations and taken action to ensure that it continues to deliver health services within the budgeted amount available to it. I have publicly congratulated the Service for that. Senator Chipp asked me what other measures I will take to improve the health of Aborigines in the light of the conclusions in the report. No one could be at all satisfied with the state of Aboriginal health in Australia. Ample statistics are available to show that Aboriginals suffer far more from disease than the general population. They have a shorter life expectancy, a higher rate of infant mortality and so on.
I am sure that the figures are well known to honourable senators. Certainly the general picture will be well known. I can only draw attention to the fact that the Department actively pursues health programs both in conjunction with the States and through independent Aboriginal efforts. We are closely monitoring the effect of the independent medical services. Personally, I think that they are a very successful element in improving the delivery of health care to Aboriginals. I will study the recommendations of the House of Representatives Committee. I hope that through those recommendations we will see further advances in an area which needs advances.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. I refer to the recent report of the Australian Science and Technology Council on the future role of the Bureau of Mineral Resources. Can the Minister say what action the Government is taking on the recommendations of the report? Can he give an assurance that the consideration of these matters by the Government will be given high priority?
– The Australian Science and Technology Council report to which Senator Knight referred makes a number of far reaching recommendations concerning the future role of the Bureau of Mineral Resources. I am informed by the Minister for National Development that these recommendations are currently being studied and that he will be bringing forward a recommendation to Cabinet in the near future. I will ask him to have regard to Senator Knight’s request that the matter be given priority, but I am sure that in fact it is being given priority.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. By way of preface I refer to the answer to a question on notice that Senator Carrick gave to my illustrious Western Australian colleague, Senator Wheeldon. Senator Carrick implied that Iran is reaching political tranquillity. Accepting that, do we have an immigration officer at present in Iran? In effect, would he be the officer who would make the points system evaluation of people rather than have them deemed to be political refugees?
– I will need to seek that information from the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I am not aware of the arrangements which we have in Iran, but I will seek the information and restore the tranquillity as soon as possible.
– My question which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources refers to the United Nations Common Fund. Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to the account, which has been outlined in today’s Press, of a United Nations conference in Geneva relating to the Fund. Has the Minister any further information on the agreement concerning the $750m Fund established to iron out commodity price fluctuations? What is the Australian involvement in the agreement? Is it solely financial or are there any managerial or administrative contributions? Will the agreement have any influence on Australia ‘s present program of international aid or developmental co-operation?
– I am afraid that I can answer the question of Senator Davidson only in fairly general terms. It is true that in the Geneva negotiations agreement has been reached on the fundamental elements of the Common Fund. These elements comprise the role and purpose of the Fund, its financial resources and capital structure, its management and voting arrangements. The financial resources of the Fund will comprise an element of direct government contribution as well as contributions from international commodity agreements and external borrowings.
The agreement which has been reached, of course, is to be strongly welcomed. It follows intensive negotiations over the last three years between developed and developing countries. As a member of the developed countries group Australia has sought to encourage a compromise between these two groups that accords with its own interest. The Minister for Trade and Resources believes that the role which we have played in that regard has been an important factor in the agreement which has been reached. However, much further work remains to be done to translate this agreement into a fully functioning international institution. Of course Australia will continue, as it has in the past, to play a constructive and positive role.
The question of how financial contributions and voting rights will be allocated to individual countries is not covered by the present agreement and is a matter for further consideration by government. So it is not possible at this stage to specify what Australia’s financial or managerial involvement in the Fund will be, nor is it possible to specify the same for any other country.
-Does the Minister representing the Prime Minister know why a prominent member of the National Country Party in trouble with the law was sacked from a government consultancy position by a Liberal Minister when two Country Party Ministers who had appointed him to statutory corporations did not take similar action? Do Liberal Party Ministers insist on higher standards than Country Party Ministers or are Country Party Ministers reluctant to establish potentially embarrassing precedents which make propriety in business a qualification for public office?
– The question is couched so crudely that I find it difficult to come to terms with it. I ask the honourable senator to put it on notice.
– My question to the Attorney-General is about a Mr James Miller Henderson, a former Controller of the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra. I refer to the conviction last month of one David Allan Gee on charges of receiving property stolen from the world famous Dixson collection of rare and valuable coins held by the New South Wales State Library. I ask: Was David Allan Gee an acquaintance of Mr James Miller Henderson, a former Controller of the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra? In March 1975 was the said James Miller Henderson committed for trial on charges of having stolen rare coins, some of which were found in the possession of Gee? Having been committed for trial, is it true that the trial of Henderson was postponed and never proceeded with at the direction of a former Commonwealth
Attorney-General? Can the present AttorneyGeneral say why that action, that is, the action not to proceed with the trial of Henderson, was taken by the Attorney-General in 1975? In view of the conviction of Gee and the evidence given upon the committal for trial of Henderson linking him with Gee, will the Attorney-General say whether the trial of Henderson will now proceed and, if not, why not?
-I understand that David Allan Gee was acquainted with James Miller Henderson, a former Controller of the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra. It is a fact that in March 1975 Henderson was committed for trial under section 71 of the Commonwealth Crimes Act on four charges of stealing property of the Commonwealth. In June 1975, following representations made by Henderson’s solicitors and others to the then Attorney-General he decided that the Crown should not proceed further with any of the charges on which Henderson had been committed for trial. Senator Lewis has asked why that decision was made. It is not the practice for Attorneys-General to give reasons why they make decisions in relation to prosecutions. In any event the decision was made by a predecessor and it would not be proper for me to inquire into his reasons. At any rate, the reasons, as I understand it, were not given. Senator Lewis has asked whether in the light of the trial and conviction of Gee the Crown will proceed against Henderson. This question raises very serious considerations. I have asked the Crown Solicitor to give me a report on the evidence at the trial of Gee and until I have that report and have given the matter consideration and considered the circumstances relating to the earlier decision I do not propose to say anything further about this matter.
- Mr President, I wish to ask a supplementary question. The AttorneyGeneral said that a former Attorney-General decided not to proceed. Can the Attorney-General say whether in fact a nolle prosequi was entered? If he is able to say, will he let me know in due course?
– That is a matter which I will be considering.
– The Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs will be aware of the concern of many members of the Parliament and the community at the continued destruction of the Eritrean peoples by Ethiopian forces directed by Soviet military personnel. I ask the Minister: What political and humanitarian response is the
Government making to this tragedy? In particular, will the Australian Government assist in the transport of medical and food supplies to points in the Horn of Africa from which voluntary agencies can distribute relief to the victims of war within Eritrea.
– The Government remains very concerned indeed at the continuing conflict between Ethiopian Government forces and Eritrean guerrillas in northern Ethiopia. Ethiopia has been supported in that conflict, more particularly, and in its conflict with Somalia, by the Soviet bloc and Cuba. This Soviet-Cuban involvement is in the face of the consistent African view that the problems of Africa should be settled without outside interference and introduces new and dangerous strategic elements to the situation. It can only encourage instability in the part of Africa where the major priorities of the people are clearly social and economic development rather than war. While the conflict in Eritrea is an internal Ethiopian problem involving differing and conflicting independence groups, the Australian Government would like to see a negotiated settlement which we believe can be brought about if goodwill is shown by both sides. The Government’s concern is particularly directed at the long sufferings of the people in the area. Australia has so far contributed $ A 1 60,000 to international relief organisations to assist in resettling refugees who have fled to Eastern Sudan. The Sudanese Government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to whose budget Australia contributes, and a number of international relief agencies, are also involved in giving humanitarian assistance to the refugees.
– I ask a supplementary question. The Minister did not direct his mind to the latter part of my question. I asked whether the Government could consider providing aid to voluntary agencies operating within Eritrea in disregard of national boundaries which seem to be as satisfying to modern African dictatorships as they were to the old European imperialist powers?
– I will bring that suggestion to the attention of the Minister concerned.
-Has the Minister for Education seen a report in the Launceston Examiner of 13 March 1979 under the heading ‘Federal Government damaging Uni’, in which the Tasmanian Minister for Education, Mr Holgate, is reported as saying that Federal Government financial policies were forcing damaging cuts in services offered by Tasmania’s only university? Is there any truth in the claims that 33 academic positions and 15 support positions at the University of Tasmania have had to be cut this year because of the lack of Federal funds? Is it not true that the University of Tasmania and the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education have been generously provided for by the Commonwealth Government in recent years and, coupled with the development of the Australian Maritime College in Launceston, provide an excellent range of tertiary level opportunities for Tasmanians?
– I have read the reported comments by the Tasmanian Minister for Education.
– Ha, ha!
– That is why you are prepared now.
– Honourable senators, including Senator Georges, will be delighted to know that I am able to give, as usual, an entirely accurate response. I have read the Launceston Examiner of” 13 March and I am able to saySenator Wheeldon will be delighted with thisthat the report is without any foundation and does not accord with the facts at all. The report is entirely erroneous. So, the Labor Party will join with the Government in being delighted that the conditions in Tasmania are not as described.
In a situation of static student demand for university places, universities must take every opportunity to re-arrange their internal priorities, and that is what has happened. The statements made in the Press on the decisions taken by the University reflect the ordinary processes of institutional management in relation to staff positions. The University of Tasmania has reviewed its staff establishment and has reduced the number of its vacant positions. It has not retrenched any staff. All universities have adopted a policy of reviewing positions. Senator Archer asks: Have the institutions been generously provided for? The facts are clear. Following reviews of tertiary education in Tasmania in recent years, there has been a re-arrangement of the total provision of tertiary education in that State including the further development of the Launceston campus of the Tasmanian Council on Advanced Education. This development, funded by the Commonwealth, includes provision for the construction of two buildings in Launceston in 1979 at a total cost of $ 1.4m. The Commonwealth Government is providing funds for the development of the Hobart Technical College, including the commencement in 1979 of a technical and general courses building to a value of $8.4m. Of course, we all will be aware, and I hope delighted, that the construction of the Australian Maritime College is proceeding on schedule. I regret that there should have been an erroneous report in the newspaper.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services. The Minister will be aware of my previous questions over a period concerning expenditure incurred by Mr Harry M. Miller in his capacity as a government appointee to many government controlled organisations. Will the Minister expedite an answer to my Question on Notice No. 1326 of 22 February seeking information about Mr Miller’s various telephone accounts in connection with his many government appointments?
– The honourable senator is quite correct. I recall the fact that he has asked questions about this matter before. I will ask my colleague, the Minister for Administrative Services, Mr McLeay, to expedite the answer he has requested.
-My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. While applauding the continued efforts of the Commissioner of Taxation in seeking to crack down on artificial tax evasion schemes, I draw the Minister’s attention to a recent decision of the full bench of the High Court of Australia in the case of Smorgan which confirms that a bank holding documents in safe custody will be required to open clients’ safe deposit boxes and hand over documents to the Commissioner. Can the Minister state whether such actions on the part of the Commissioner are widespread? Does he agree that banks receiving such requests are placed in an invidious position when they are required to deliver such documents to the Commissioner thereby breaching a contract with a private client? Will the Minister raise this matter with the Commissioner of Taxation to ensure that careful consideration is given to this onerous practice which may be interpreted as a misuse of administrative power in order to break private contracts?
-I have, in fact, seen newspaper reports of the decision of the High Court of Australia in the matter Senator Messner raises. I am not equipped to respond to the other aspects of the question that Senator Messner asks. They are matters of some considerable importance. It is true that they pose a conflict between the need to protect the reasonable privacy of the individual on the one hand and the need for the Commissioner of Taxation to have access to documents to carry out his lawful pursuit to ensure that there is no tax avoidance or tax dodging on the other hand. Because the matter is important, I will refer it to my colleague, the Treasurer, and seek an answer.
-I think that my question is properly directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to recent reports about the possibility of adopting measures in Australia to reduce petrol consumption. I also refer to reports that President Carter recently asked Congress for authority to order petrol rationing coupons such as existed in World War II. Has the Government any plans for petrol rationing in Australia or for the imposition of any other measures to reduce petrol consumption such as the weekend closure of service stations or the reduction of maximum speed limits?
– I have no knowledge of any intention of the Government to print coupons for petrol rationing or to undertake any system of petrol rationing. I have abundant knowledge of the Government’s desire to conserve energy. Numerous attempts are being made in that regard. One of them is to seek and to develop alternative forms of energy, not only in Australia but also world-wide. That is why the development of natural gas deposits, the proper and controlled exploitation of uranium, trie development of coal, et cetera, are all proceeding with expedition.
Senator Colston referred to the closing of petrol stations on Sundays. That would be largely a State matter but my understanding is that it is asserted by the station owners that Sunday closing is due to the exorbitant penalty rates payable on Sundays and has nothing whatsoever to do with any attempt to ration petrol.
– That is rubbish. They are mostly self-service stations and no wages are paid. That is your famous throwaway line that gets you into trouble.
- Mr President, I am always grateful to Senator Georges and others for their endeavours to help. The fact of the matter is that the service station proprietor, as an individual entrepreneur, makes his own decision whether or not his station is opened on a Sunday. I repeat that my understanding is that the closing is done largely because of the high cost of overtime on Sundays. Senator Colston asked about other special arragements. There are numerous arrangements, as the energy policies of governments have shown.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Education. I preface it by saying that in recent weeks the Minister may have seen Press reports regarding the need for broad work experience programs for teachers, in particular, teachers engaged in giving career guidance in secondary schools. Has the Minister given consideration to the need for new forms of training for teachers, including teachers employed as careers advisers in secondary schools? Can he inform the Senate whether it might be appropriate for secondary teachers to have short periods of work experience in industry and commerce? Secondly, has the Minister given consideration to a request to the States to examine the possibility of placing school careers advisers in the executive training courses run by the largest Australian companies?
– At the last Australian Education Council meeting there were very wide ranging discussions on the problems of transition from school to work- the problems of the young person leaving school and finding a vocation, and a suitable vocation. One of the main difficulties has been the inadequacy of proper vocational counselling and guidance within schools. I have commented that, in the generality, in the natural course of things, those who are now teachers, with few exceptions, transferred from school to university or college and then back to school without obviously being able to gain any kind of practical experience of the outside world.
I therefore raised with the Australian Education Council the thought that we might work towards some kind of upgrading of experience of teachers, particularly teachers in high schools and particularly those who should do vocational counselling. One of the things I suggested was that we might enlist the aid of the big industries in Australia, including government industries and commerce, to ran intensive in-service and pre-servicestaff training programs for groups of teachers. Honourable senators will know that many institutions do a very good job of staff training which would give a teacher in the short term a highly concentrated picture of the nature of commerce and industry.
It is not really possible for teachers to go to industry or commerce on secondment for a lengthy time. Most interestingly, I have received a considerable amount of correspondence from industry and commerce saying that they would be interested in helping to undertake this type of training. I am sure that all honourable senators would commend that.
THE PRESIDENT- I inform the Senate that the Deputy President received the following letter dated 20 March 1979 from Senator Grimes:
Dear Mr Acting President,
Pursuant to Standing Order 64 1 give notice that tomorrow I shall move:
That in the opinion of the Senate the following is a matter of urgency-
The need for an independent inquiry into the conduct of Government officials in the investigation and subsequent treatment of pensioners and beneficiaries in the alleged New South Wales social security frauds ‘.
Yours sincerely, DONALD JAMES GRIMES Senator for Tasmania
Is the motion supported?
More than the number of senators required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
– I move:
The Opposition raises this matter in the Senate once again, not to debate the innocence or guilt of any individual or individuals and not to defend those who would defraud or have defrauded our social security system. It is not raised because of the revelations yesterday of the presence of an individual in the Operations Room of the Commonwealth Police but because the Opposition remains convinced that the now longdrawn out case of alleged conspiracy against members of the Sydney Greek community presents unsatisfactory features which are damaging to that community. We believe that the questions that have been asked about the conduct of the case remain unanswered or have not been satisfactorily answered. We believe that the nature of the inquiry and the charges have been such as to give rise to a feeling within the Greek community that its members have been singled out for special treatment. We also believe that the evidence from the welfare workers involved with the people concerned is that unnecessary hardship has resulted.
The final, precipitating factor is that to the voices of the Greek community, the Opposition and the Redfern Legal Aid Office, which in the past has called for an inquiry into this matter, the voice of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has now been added. I might add that this is not a radical organisation, nor can it be termed in any way a political organisation. This organisation has called for an inquiry into the matter. I state quite clearly that the Opposition believes that those who defraud or would defraud our social security system should be detected, should be charged and should be penalised according to the law. We believe that it is appropriate that the Commonwealth Police should be the agent to conduct such inquiries and to lay such charges. We accept that inevitably the Department of Social Security must be involved in the detection and the prevention of such breaches of our legislation. We are concerned that such charges should be proceeded with in such a manner that the rights of citizens are protected and that no section of the community is singled out for special treatment. In other words, we are concerned that justice must not only be done but also must be seen to be done. We believe that this House and this Parliament should be kept fully informed, through the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) or anyone else involved, of the details of the conduct of such cases. We should not be left with unanswered questions or misleading information.
Charges relating to criminal conspiracy are serious ones and the potential penalties are considerable. The nature and description of the charges are such that they confuse and frighten the people who have been charged. In this case the people have little grasp of our system of justice and law; many have a very poor grasp of English; some of them in fact are illiterate in their own language; they are certainly ignorant of their rights under our laws. They deserve the protection of this parliament and we should give it to them.
I would like now to deal with some of the aspects of the case which I consider unsatisfactory and to question the actions of some of the principals in the affair. On the days on which the arrests were made the Commonwealth Police conducted raids in most of the cases early in the mornings on the weekend; others were conducted during the next week. During the next week people were arrested in the waiting rooms of doctors’ surgeries. They were selected from those waiting rooms because of their Greek names or their Greek origins. I assert that no one, other than those with Greek names or of Greek origin, was arrested and removed from doctors’ surgeries on those days.
The police were accompanied on some of their weekend raids by reporters of one particular newspaper who were obviously advised previously as to what was going to happen and wrote up the cases in that way. Both the Minister and I have deplored the subsequent reporting of these cases. The assumption of the guilt in so many of the reports and the wild stories of the amounts involved being up to some $60m in some cases disturbed us all and we all commented on that in this House. Stories were written about people living in luxury in Greece on Australian pensions. This House cannot do anything about this sort of reporting, except deplore it. My question is: Can the blame for this sort of reporting in this case be laid solely at the feet of the media or did the conduct of the police in this case, acting under instructions, contribute to these reports and to the nature of them?
– The conduct of the Opposition.
– If Senator Missen is questioning the right of the Opposition to raise matters like this in this House, I am sure that many people in the community would be interested. I repeat the questions that I asked in May 1978 which, I might add, have not been answered. I asked: Why were the raids conducted at the times they were conducted, that is, early in the morning and on the weekends? What were the Press doing with the police, witnessing the affair? Under what circumstances did the Press accompany the police and were they informed previously by the police? Why did the superintendent in charge of the case make statements to the Press such as: ‘There are another 1,000 people involed in this case and we will get them all’? He made this statement at the time when people were being charged and when the charges were yet to be proven. I might add that I believe that at the moment the number of charges is about 166. These questions have not been answered, and they were asked in May 1 978.
The annual report for 1977-78 of the Commonwealth Police Force contains the following words:
Undoubtedly 1977-78 was Compol ‘s year for success against offences involving social security and health services legislation. During the year major investigations involving many millions of dollars were undertaken and brought to the stage of legal proceedings. This figure of course excludes routine investigations where additional significant amounts were involved. Compol ‘s success must have had a salutary effect on other persons contemplating similar fraud against the Commonwealth.
I am completely satisfied with the professionalism and standard of policemanship demonstrated by members of Compol throughout 1977-78.
I suggest that that report, which was made before people had been found guilty- and no one has yet been found guilty- contains an assumption of guilt which may please some but which, I suggest, is quite unfair to those who are being charged. Has the behaviour of some members of the Commonwealth Police been fair to the people charged in this case? Should they not have been more circumspect? Should they not have been more accurate in, for instance, their Press statements? Should they have made Press statements at all? In fact, is it usual for Press statements of this type to be made in cases like this? Should not more concern have been shown for the feelings of the members of the community and those who had been charged?
I move on to what has happened since then, and in particular to the matter of the Court proceedings which have occurred. On 3 April 1978, the first people, some 83 in number, were charged in court. The scenes in the court were described in the Press, apparently accurately, as chaotic. There were insufficient interpreters. There was great difficulty sorting out the charges and the names. Eventually the proceedings were adjourned to a later date.
On 12 June, a further hearing was held in the Central Court of Petty Sessions and again the scene was described as chaotic. The headline in the Sydney Morning Herald the next day was, Court in chaos as 153 defendants appear together’. In this court case the numbers allocated to the charges did not match the bench papers and an adjournment had to be taken while this was sorted out. Legal representatives of those charged could not reach the bar table and in the court there were scenes of general confusion. The case continued, with several interruptions, until 31 January 1979, when again the defendants appeared in court. Mr Bruce Brown, SM, became fed up with the delays and the conduct of the Crown and the best description of what happened appeared in the Australian of 1 February 1979:
A magistrate said yesterday the Crown had been guilty of a fundamental denial of the defendants’ rights’ in its handling of fraud conspiracy charges against Greeks.
Mr Bruce Brown, SM, told Sydney’s Central Court the prosecution was in no better position to proceed with the case than it was nine months ago.
The defendants had suffered hardships while waiting to see what would happen to them and many were still completely uninformed of the precise nature of the charges against them, he added.
Mr Brown said the Crown had not provided any real particulars for the matter to be taken any further.
They have provided only a surface cover … a veneer to show cause to continue the matter’, he said.
The manner in which the Crown had presented its case was ‘a fundamental denial of the defendants’ rights’ as the prosecution had not been specific in any individual charges.
Mr Brown said he was confronted with a situation that he could not condone, nor would it be condoned in any other court.
He then added:
But nonetheless, I feel the Crown is entitled to test the strength of its allegations.
These charges are being made against people who, by and large, with the exception of a few professional men, are migrants to this country; who, I repeat, do not understand our system in general, do not understand our language well and do not understand our legal system. What sort of an impression do they get when they hear comments like this from the stipendiary magistrate who is hearing their case? What sort of confidence can they have when they appear in our courts of justice, if that sort of thing occurs?
Finally on the matter of justice, I would like to question the fact that the basic concept of innocent until proven guilty, which most of us accept as fairly basic to our legal system, would appear to have been offended in this case. This is not only an assertion by the Opposition. It has been put to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in a letter by the Ethnic Communities Council, which is certainly not a radical organisation. This arises out of the fact that people involved, but not always charged I might add in this case, were deprived of their benefits and then investigated by the Department and the police. This was a matter of major concern to those Greek welfare workers who were faced with the problem of scores of Greek recipients, deprived of their income, landing on their doorstep looking for help. These Greek welfare workers formed themselves into an organisation so that they could exchange views and information and represent their clients as best they could. They produced a report, which the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) and many others in this Parliament have seen, in which they repeatedly commented about the real difficulty they had because they, as well as their clients, felt that their clients were being convicted before being proved guilty. The report states:
We have been accused of over-reacting to the situation. That is not so- we are endeavouring to help people to obtain their rights and justice. We all believe that if any person in our community contravenes the laws of the land, he must be tried by a court of law and, if found guilty, then must be punished accordingly. However, to assume a person guilty until proven innocent is contrary to our system of justice.
The appearance that people were being thought guilty without being proved so arose out of a series of statements and incidents. In support of this contention there is no question that people had their benefits stopped before they were investigated and there is the evidence of the people who were involved in the cases. Miss Isabel Lucas, the ethnic reporter of the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote on 19 May 1978:
Mr Lanigan told me from Canberra that payments to between 500 and 600 Greeks living in NSW had been suspended in order to confirm their eligibility.
Mr Lanigan is the DirectorGeneral of Social Security. However, on 3 May 1978 Archbishop Stylanos of the Greek Orthodox community was given an assurance, so he said, by a representative of the Department of Social Security that members of his community would not be deprived of their benefits until charged. He was complaining that members had been deprived of their benefits before they were charged. On 20 April at a large meeting in the Paddington Town Hall called by the Greek Orthodox community in Sydney, Mr Portley the then Acting Director of the Department of Social Security in New South Wales and a man who, at that meeting, conducted himself extremely well and with great propriety and reassured many members of the community, said that more than 500 people had been taken off pensions and benefits pending investigation. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 19 April 1978 stated:
One social worker who asked not to be identified because she is an employee of the Department said that in the past seven days she had seen about SO people who had been charged with no offences but had not received their sickness benefits or invalid pension payments. In addition she said most of them had not been notified of the suspension.
The Minister, Senator Guilfoyle, was asked about this and on 3 May 1978 replied:
The people concerned are not having their payments stopped until they have been medically reviewed. It is quite contrary to my instructions and my understanding of the situation.
I do not question that that was the Minister’s belief at the time. She then went on to say:
Lists were supplied to my departmental officers by the Commonwealth Police of persons who were under investigation, some of whom have been charged … a Press statement of 1 9 April made it clear that if medical examinations could not be arranged before the next payment was due, the pension or benefit would continue in the meantime.
Obviously a great difference existed between the Minister’s conception of what was happening and the conception of the people concerned. On 10 May 1978 my office referred six persons to the Minister’s office. They had received no money since they had been arrested. They had received nothing for six weeks. They had been in receipt of benefits which should not have been stopped. This demonstrates that statements contradicting one another were being made by different people from the Department of Social Security. There is some doubt whether the Minister really was being informed correctly by the officers in her Department. The Legal Service Bulletin of June 1978, at page 87, reported a Mr Portley as having said that a further 500 to 700 recipients who had not been charged, or even questioned, had had their payments suspended because they were Greek and were receiving a sickness benefit or invalid pension, and had at some time visited one of the doctors charged, and had lived in a particular locality, especially Marrickville. What was happening was that people were losing their benefits before they were investigated and before they were charged, and this was giving the impression in the Greek community that the principle of British justice that we all talk about was being ignored.
The next of the many matters which raised concern is that of medical records. I put it to the Minister for Social Security that medical records have been used in these cases in a questionable way. In some cases, and I produced evidence of this in the last debate, medical records were obviously provided to the Commonwealth Police by the Department of Social Security without the permission of the persons concerned. Medical records of patients charged and, in many cases, patients not charged, were seized from doctors’ surgeries and have been kept by Commonwealth police. I suggest that both these practices are questionable to say the least, and I am not the only one who says so. The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties is saying so, the Australian Medical Association has made a complaint about it and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Greek welfare workers in their report also have made complaints.
Over the last few years in debates on the national health service we have heard a lot from honourable senators about the confidentiality of medical records and the importance of their being kept confidential. In this case that principle seems to have been thrown out. In at least one case a private practitioner, a specialist, gave to the Department of Health a report on a private patient without the approval of the patient and without the approval of the patient’s general practitioner. I have proof of that and would make it available to any investigation. This has disturbed the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and others who have been involved.
After people had been interviewed and charged there was another disturbing incident when these people, having sought to go back onto the benefit because of their insufficient means, were asked by officers of the Department to produce, when applying for the benefit, the police records of interview which they had been given by the police. I questioned the Minister about this matter and raised it in a Press statement on 2 1 April 1978.1 also asked a question on 10 May 1978 about the Department requiring these people to produce the police record of the interview when applying for the special benefit. To my surprise the Minister said that this was the first time that a matter of this nature had been drawn to her attention. Later on during Question Time she said that she had been assured by the Department of Social Security that in some of the earlier interviews the supplying of these statements had been requested in order to obtain an indication of income which might have a bearing on the applicant’s eligibility for the special benefit. She then said:
I am advised that these statements were voluntarily submitted . . .
This assurance by the Minister, well-meaning though it might have been, is worthless. People had been accused and charged. They were desperate enough to seek special benefit. People in this country have to be pretty desperate to seek special benefit. They were doing so on the advice of the welfare workers. They were asked to take their records of interview. The impression which they and their welfare workers gained was that if they went without their records of interview they would not get special benefit. The Minister and the Department recognised this and stopped insisting that people take their records of interview, but it is another occurrence in the long story of people at least being given the impression that they were being harassed.
Finally, in the brief time allowed to me- other speakers will follow me of course- I bring up the questions that have been asked and answered in the Senate. I repeat that they are only part of the whole affair. The first question asked involved the affair of Mr Horafios. I raised the matter in a Press statement on 2 1 April and in the Senate on 3 May. Mr Horafios claimed that he had had a photograph taken by the police with a placard held in front of him on which the word ‘Greek’ was written. Mr Horafios was not charged with any offence. The Minister, on advice- I am not questioning the Minister’s honesty in this matter- said that this had not occurred. On 3 February 1979, many months later, an article appeared in the National Times showing quite clearly that the placard bore the word ‘Greece’, not the word ‘Greek’. I suppose that the Minister’s answer on 3 May was technically correct. The problem was- the Minister brought this up in her answer on a later date- that she had been given misleading advice. She had then given misleading advice to the Senate. That was only one of the many matters I raised on 3 May, all of which were denied on the advice of the Commonwealth Police and the Department of Social Security. If the advice in this case was misleading one wonders about the advice in other cases.
The presence of the Director-General at the Operations Room, although the matter created a fuss in the Senate yesterday, is, I believe, of minor significance but adds to the problem. I simply asked the Minister whether any officers accompanied the police on the raids. The Minister said no. This was technically correct, but she volunteered in her letter to me the information that junior officers of the New South Wales division of her Department had been assisting the police and liaising with them. She did not point out- apparently her Director-General did not do so either- that while those junior officers were liaising with the police so was the most senior officer in her Department, the Director-General. In any definition of the term he was involved in the case with the Commonwealth Police. I suggest that misleading information was given to the Minister.
Many other questions were raised by the Greek Welfare Workers’ Group and the Redfern Legal Centre which has been involved in the defence of many of these cases. Questions have been asked about whether people were informed of their rights; whether warrants had been issued; whether those warrants had been used; how an alleged conspiracy of this size in one small section of Sydney involving similar diseases could have escaped detection by the Department for so long, allegedly since 1971; and about assurances by the Social Security Department, the Commonwealth Police and others to the Minister in reply to questions such as the ones I have raised. The very real problem has been that the people of the Greek community feel that they have been put upon. I have brought out only some of the examples of how they feel that they have been put upon. I believe, together with the Greek Welfare Workers’ Group, the Redfern Legal Centre and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, that the time has come for an investigation, not into the guilt or innocence of people but into the manner in which they have been charged and the manner in which those charges have been investigated.
- Senator Grimes has brought forward a matter of urgency in which he calls for an independent inquiry into the conduct of government officials in the investigation and subsequent treatment of pensioners and beneficiaries in the alleged New South Wales social security frauds. It may be felt by some, as it was by me, that Senator Grimes made no case for an independent inquiry. He said at the beginning of his speech that this was not a debate on innocence or guilt. He should have said that that matter will be determined in the first instance on Monday of next week when the proceedings in the New South Wales courts will take place. To have an independent inquiry at the same time as justice is being sought through the courts would seem to me to be a peculiar way to conduct the affairs of a government department.
To put this matter into perspective, I need to refer, as Senator Grimes did, to the presence in the Operations Room of the Commonwealth Police of the Director-General of Social Services. This matter has been commented upon and has been subject to questions in the last day or two. I need to correct what might have been a tacit agreement to the reference to two hours in the Operations Room in questions from Senator Georges and, I think, Senator Mcintosh. When I restated the question it might have been inferred that I was agreeing that two hours were spent by the Director-General in the Operations Room of Compol. I have a telex message from the Director-General that he believes that it is most important that we should deny a concession that was made tacitly, probably by inadvertence, in the answers to Senator Georges. The way in which I restated the question asked by Senator Mcintosh may have given that impression. The Director-General stated:
I did not spend two hours in the operations room of Compol headquarters. All but a very small part of my visit was spent on a different floor in the suite of offices occupied by the Superintendent and his senior officers.
The operations room is a small glassed off area on the tenth floor which is predominantly a large open plan office area used by detectives. If I was in there at all- which I greatly doubt- it would be for a few minutes of informal conversation to someone to whom I was introduced.
I may have spoken to our interpreter there but I do not think so.
It is not true- as alleged by the Senator-that I was there while arrangements were being made for arrests. As far as I know or Detective Chief Inspector Thomas could recall, there were no arrests being planned or executed at the late hour at which I went to Police HQ.
At this stage I want to give the answer I promised to give Senator Cavanagh yesterday about the
Director-General’s attendance at the Commonwealth Police Headquarters. I respond in accordance with advice received from the DirectorGeneral. He said:
Chief Inspector Thomas put the issue very clearly in his own words this morning when he said that I came -
That is to Compol- to receive a progress report on what had happened to date. This was for the purpose of getting an up-to-date account of what was happening at a dme when the police inquiries clearly involved the implication that we had wrongly paid out millions of dollars in invalid pensions, where the whole matter was to be exposed to the courts and the Press on the following morning, and where it was vitally necessary for the DSS as the pension paying authority to review its position- both as regards explaining its past work and deciding what to do about cheques which were being issued to people believed by the police to be involved in a major conspiracy. We also had to be in a position to brief you -
That is me- for the flood of newspaper inquiries that would be expected next morning.
The Director-General attached a sheaf of typical cuttings from the Press of Monday 3 April which surely speak for themselves on this issue. He continued:
Chief Inspector Thomas has stated categorically that I had no discussion whatsoever about what the police were planning to do or what they should do.
He went further and said that he would have rejected any attempt 1 might have made to interfere in any way to advise, direct or influence the police as to the way in which they should carry out their operations. Nothing of that kind ever took place or could have taken place.
By Cabinet Direction, the Police had the responsibility for investigating fraud against the social security system and this was respected at all times by the department.
We have carried out our responsibilities to help the police- as the authorised investigating authority- by giving them access to the records without which they could not perform their task. Our officers of the New South Wales branch have helped them to locate the documents they need and to explain the social security actions indicated on those documents, but the police have at all times gone their own way with their investigations- as was both their duty and their established practice in cases involving suspected criminal offences.
That is the statement of the Director-General of Social Services which is essentially in response to the questions raised by Senator Cavanagh yesterday.
– He admits it was a discussion on the frauds at the time of making the arrests.
– Read the statement. I will not rephrase it because that would take more time. Read what was said by the DirectorGeneral and also by Chief Inspector Thomas. He stated categorically that the Director-General had no discussion whatsoever about what the police were planning to do or what they should do. That is the statement of the Director-General and I make it on his behalf. Senator Grimes mentioned that he wished to talk of the conduct of the case. Of course this involves a number of different Government departments. It involves the Department of Social Security as the department that pays pensions. It involves Commonwealth Police. Obviously it would involve the Attorney-General’s Department in the matters which are before the courts. It could involve the Department of Health as the Commonwealth doctors act for our Department in matters of eligibility and so on. I do not think anyone who has been close to the case would argue that it is a simple case or one without great difficulties for a variety of reasons.
Senator Grimes early in his speech stated that the charges which have been placed by the police give rise to a feeling in the Greek community that there has been some singling out of Greek people for special treatment or some discrimination against them. I say on behalf of the Government with all the force that I can that the Australian Greek community was not singled out for special treatment or special investigation. This was an investigation of an alleged conspiracy in which it emerged that the people suspected of being involved were of Greek descent or had Greek association. I have repeatedly expressed my concern that members of the Greek community may feel that there is some discrimination against them as a group of people or that in some way some damage has been done to their reputation. The Government does not discriminate against any person on the grounds of ethnic origin. I believe it would be accepted by all people in Australia that any social security system should operate without discrimination. But in this instance the people who were subjected to investigation happened to have particular associations, probably for their own reasons. For this reason there are people who could say that there was some singling out of a particular community group.
In my discussions with the Archbishop in February of this year I stressed to him my concern that there would be some people who may feel that discrimination had occurred. I said that the Department of Social Security does not discriminate against any person seeking its services and that eligibility for social security pensions and benefits is determined strictly according to law. The Archbishop and I both said that the Greek community and the Commonwealth Government have a mutual concern to ensure that the rights of individuals are protected and that justice is done. While breaches of the law could not be condoned- Senator Grimes agrees- it would be a matter of great regret if innocent people suffered hardship. It goes without my stating it that the Greek community has made an important contribution to Australia and continues to make that important contribution. The good name of the Greek community should not in any way be affected by charges which have been laid against a relatively small number of people. His Eminence deplored the sensationalising of the matter in some of the media. I share his concern on that matter. He also stressed that the moral aspect of the matter required that truth and justice dominate the procedures involved. That is the point at which we are now. Early next week in New South Wales the justice of the Australian courts will be applied to those people against whom charges have been laid.
In relation to the role of my Department- this seems to come up again and again, although I was pleased to have Senator Grimes ‘s acknowledgment that we could not avoid involvement because the Department of Social Security has the primary interest in the payment of pensions and benefits- I simply assert again that the Department of Social Security did not undertake the investigation of the alleged frauds. This was undertaken by the Commonwealth Police. The Department of Social Security discussed the case with the Commonwealth Police and other relevant departments and provided the usual assistance to the Commonwealth Police in the course of this investigation. I am advised that certain files which were considered essential to the investigation were handed over to the Commonwealth Police in accordance with established practices and guidelines for the disclosure of information held by the Department of Social Security to other Commonwealth departments and authorities. That was a matter of discussion earlier and I will not restate the position.
A question has arisen as to why this fraud was able to continue for a long time without detection by the Department or without some changes being made in regard to those eligible for pensions and benefits. There has been discussion in the Senate in the past about that matter. There has been discussion of the origin of the alleged frauds which were detected from information from members of the Greek community which flowed through to my department, the Department of Health, the Commonwealth Police and the law authorities so that the proper course could be followed in dealing with the matters. It can be said that charges of negligence could be made against Commonwealth medical officers. But I hear no such charges being made. I have heard no allegations that Commonwealth medical officers were part of the alleged conspiracy, nor have I heard that this matter is related in any way to the negligence of Commonwealth medical officers. I think that point ought to be made when we are dealing with a motion such as that moved by Senator Grimes.
Hardships caused to individuals of course concern me. I believe that my department did all that it was able to do to minimise hardship that occurred. I too have had a very useful meeting with the Greek welfare workers from New South Wales. The Acting Director of my New South Wales division at the time of this incident greatly valued the assistance that was given to him by the Greek welfare workers and by other welfare workers in New South Wales. Early in the history of this incident, they had a special telephone number to be used to facilitate the clearing up of matters which related to the payment of pensions or benefits. Perhaps not enough use was made of that special facility. I believe that meetings that recently have been held have clarified what can be achieved through the special arrangements that have been made where there are difficulties, particularly of language, and other problems that can arise where people are seeking their entitlements under the income security system in this country.
A question arises with regard to the numbers of people who were charged and the numbers of people, involved with the payment of pensions and benefits whose eligibility needed to be tested. The question arises of why pensions and benefits were suspended in 720 cases when only 180 were charged and why was there such a delay in restoring the payments. It is a fair question. I respond by saying that the action to suspend payment in 720 cases was taken because doubts had been raised about the recipients’ eligibility for pensions or benefits under the social security legislation. I have been informed that in those cases in which the persons concerned responded quickly to an invitation to attend the Department for interview and fresh medical examinations payment was restored promptly and in some cases without interruption to regular payments. Where payments were not restored immediately, this was because of some action or inaction on the part of the client or because of the need for the Department of Social Security to make further inquiries about the person’s current eligibility.
Government policy is that where a person has established his or her eligibility for a pension or a benefit the payment will be made without delay.
A decision whether to suspend payment while inquiries are made, if there is a doubt about eligibility, is made by the Director-General of Social Services or his delegate. The question of current entitlement to social security benefits and of possible involvement in the conspiracy are quite separate issues, but in the case of the payment of any pension or benefit at any time that the Department doubts the eligibility for it, the tests on income and medical grounds must be made to see that the person has a continuing entitlement to the pension which he seeks. That is the position and, as far as my Department is concerned, all action possible was taken to minimise delays. In respect of those people who were invited to come in and who responded to that invitation quickly, there was no interruption to the payments that were made to them. I had heard that there were those who found difficulty in obtaining medical services. Special arrangements were made by my Department in Sydney to ensure that that difficulty was overcome. I have found that there were those who felt that they were uncertain and in this way we were assisted greatly by the welfare workers whom I mentioned earlier. All of these matters are matters of record and I do not believe that they have been challenged. I do not think that anyone doubts the efforts of my Department to ensure that these matters were put in order as smoothly as is possible and in accordance with the requirements under the Social Services Act.
Mention has been made of persons who were living in Greece and about whom we felt that investigations had to be made in respect of their eligibility. I have discussed through the Senate with Senator Grimes the delays that occurred in respect of giving to these people the right of appeal against the medical decisions taken in April of last year. For the first time the matter of an appeal overseas has been exercised in this instance. There had been no appeal overseas against any decision that has been taken formerly. In this instance we sent a medical review team from Australia especially to review again the decisions that had been taken in April. That medical review team recently visited Greece and carried out examinations in 7 1 cases in which an appeal had been lodged against the decision to terminate the invalid pension. The medical review team has returned to Australia and I would hope later this week to be able finally to announce the decisions in respect of those appeals. But I can say in broad terms that the review undertaken by the medical team which travelled to Greece upholds the decisions that were taken earlier in regard to the eligibility of these people for an invalid pension payable in Greece.
The delay in sending the medical team to Greece arose from the fact that appeals were lodged over a period. They were flowing into the Department through August/September, as I understand it, and a decision was taken then to give a right of appeal to those people living in Greece. We sent to Greece a medical team consisting of Dr Webb, the Victorian Director of the Commonwealth Department of Health and Dr Spragg, a senior psychiatrist from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The medical team examined all of the people in Greece who were known to be appealing against cancellation of pensions and who were prepared to come to the Embassy for examination. The examinations were made in January and February and the medical team, as I have said, has returned. The medical team examined 69 appellants and has reported that, in the great majority of cases, it is satisfied that the claimants are not permanently incapacitated and the decisions cancelling the pensions in these cases will accordingly be confirmed. In some other cases, further examinations or inquiries have been requested and these cases will also be brought to finality as soon as possible. As I have said, I hope later this week to advise those people individually of the decision of the review that was conducted.
Senator Grimes mentioned that there were people in my Department anonymously providing information and not wanting to be identified. I would regret that very much indeed because the whole climate in the Department was to facilitate the payment of pensions and benefits. If there are people in my Department who hide behind anonymity in the exercise of their duties that would be regretted particularly as I have publicly invited Senator Grimes on a number of occasions to put forward to me the names of people with whom he had been in contact or who had been referred to him as suffering difficulty in the pursuit of a determination on their eligibility for a pension under the present investigations. As far as his contacts are concerned, I still welcome any advice that he has, advice that is given to him and which may not come into my office because if there are people who still claim that they are under difficulty I believe that the Department has the responsibility to have this dealt with as expeditiously as possible. If there are other people who make contact and who are in possession of information which would assist people to gain a pension or a benefit to which they are entitled, I would see any parliamentary representative as being a representative of that person and would make available to him or her whatever information I am able to supply.
The difficulty that we have in dealing with matters through the Press where numbers of cases are cited and all sorts of matters are raised is that the confidentiality provisions of the Act precludes me from in respect of the article in the National Times putting side by side with the cases cited the actual case histories held by the Department so as to show the discrepancies which existed in that article. I am unable to do that and I would not do that but if Senator Grimes on behalf of the Opposition wishes to see the information I would freely make it available as I have already invited him to contact me on this subject.
Mention was made of the medical evidence and the resolution that was passed by the College of Psychiatrists of Australia and New Zealand. I saw the Press release from the College. Again I would want to know whether there are cases in which medical evidence has not been treated properly by officers of my Department. There are the confidentiality requirements and I am not able to uphold any officer who in his duty is not respecting that confidentiality in the way in which the Act itself requires and the way in which I would regard as proper standards of conduct.
Earlier I spoke about assistance that had been given to my Department by Greek welfare officers. Recently I had a meeting with Greek welfare people from Sydney. They appreciated that we had shown sympathy for and understanding in respect of the matters that were raised by them. I think that if honourable senators go back to the beginning of this matter and read some of the articles that were written in 1978 they will see that the attitude of the Greek community was significant in the way in which it was expressed. All sorts of matters had been mentioned in connection with the whole of this episode. On a matter which is before the courts there are inhibitions on those in my own position or in other Government departments in respect of always answering publicly some of the allegations that may be made and which very often are made without foundation.
Senator Grimes again raised the matter of Mr Horafios who claimed he had been photographed with a notice bearing the word Greek’. Senator Grimes restated the questions which had been asked and in the article of the National Times in February of this year he said that the answer that had been given was misleading. I state again that the answer that was given to the original question was an answer to a question that claimed that the word ‘Greek’ had been used. I was advised by the Commonwealth Police that the word ‘Greek’ had not been used. I was later informed that the Commonwealth Police had used the word ‘Greece’ as an identity of the place of birth of the person who was photographed. When I gave that answer I stated that the Government could not justify the action of the police in that instance.
It is inappropriate in a multi-cultural society such as ours to use such a word for identification purposes or for any other reason. The Government would not wish to attribute any special relationship to a person on the ground of his place of birth. The Government is of the view that this should not have occurred and action is being taken to ensure it does not happen again. That is one of the regrettable incidents that has perhaps given some offence in this investigation. My answers were not misleading; they were answers to the questions and were as accurate as the information which I had. I believe that information was properly given to the Senate on all occasions.
Another matter concerned questions relating to my senior officers accompanying the police on their raids and throughout the investigations. This matter has been the subject of comment in the last day or so. I think it just has to be said again and again that I am advised that my officers did not accompany the police on their investigations. I am told that junior officers in my Department acted in liaison with police in the pursuit of the normal responsibilities of my Department with the police who were conducting investigations into alleged frauds. That is the advice that is continually asserted by the police and by the Director-General of my Department. I am unable to say any more strongly that that is my advice and I believe that that advice is accurate. I believe that what was given by the Director-General as an explanation today of his attendance at the Commonwealth Police office is an answer to the question raised by Senator Cavanagh. I think that to pursue the matter again and again as to whether my Department is involved- that is the word that is being used- is to take it to a point of absurdity.
I was very pleased to hear Senator Grimes acknowledge today that of course my Department must be involved in a matter of this kind, as any other department is involved in something that affects the administration of government. It could be argued that a head of a department has a responsibility to assure himself that his department ‘s responsibilities are being properly carried out. I would certainly wish to be advised from a proper level on what is transpiring in negotiations between my Department and any other department of State where such grave matters of concern to me are being pursued. As far as I am concerned, the motion of Senator Grimes seeking an independent inquiry into the activities of government officials in this instance is very improperly moved at a time when we are to proceed into court hearings next Monday. I think that court hearings in the system of the Australian courts of justice could have very great distractions if an Opposition were to pursue a political and independent inquiry at a time when the justice of the courts must be seen to be done- as Senator Grimes urged was essential.
If we are to have a proper approach to the payment of pensions and benefits and if we are to facilitate those payments to people who are eligible, there are checks, tests and reviews which must be made from time to time. Where there is the gathering of evidence, as there was in this instance, by Commonwealth Police, which led to the suspension for a short time of some pensions and benefits, in most cases without interruption to the normal payments, so that we could determine eligibility, I believe that is a matter in which my Department is properly involved and I believe that what has been done by my officers in the Department in New South Wales has been at all times to show to the members of the Greek community in general and to Australia as a whole that we have a system of income security which requires certain tests for eligibility and that once those tests are met payments are facilitated.
I reject the matter of urgency in the motion that was moved by Senator Grimes for the Opposition. I would counsel him on seeking an independent inquiry and ask him to review how that would reflect upon the court hearings which are to be held next week.
– Last May the Opposition began a persistent and consistent approach to the Government and asked the Government, through its Ministers, to make a detailed statement to the Parliament about the serious allegations that had been raised in the previous few weeks about social security frauds in New South Wales. Even nine months ago it was clear that there was a growing concern in a section of the community that it had been treated in a discriminatory manner. There was a concern that just treatment had not been received, that a section of the community had been singled out, had been accused of being guilty rather than being presumed innocent. In fact, the accusations were made in such a way as to presume that those persons, whom it was alleged were involved in the fraud, were guilty. The concerns raised nine months ago in this place have been reinforced subsequently by the questions that have been asked from both sides of this House.
What we have from the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) today is another coat of whitewash upon the way in which her Department and the top echelons of the Commonwealth Police have handled this whole sorry question which can only be described as being one of the great scandals of this Government since it came to office in 1975. When the Minister is placed on the defensive she persists in answering questions in this way: ‘I am advised . . .’, or, ‘My advice is . . .’. She never at any stage asserts what were the facts in respect of these matters that have been so much a concern of the Parliament and of the community. There has been prevarication and deception. There have been misleading answers to questions in this place, and always the specious reply is that that is what has been said to her by her Department.
On 31 March 1978, 100 Commonwealth police launched a series of raids on doctors and persons of Greek origin in Sydney. In the SunHerald of 9 April 1978, Chief Inspector Thomas, who planned the raids in association with another senior officer- I think it was Assistant Commissioner Davies- to whom the Minister referred today, was quoted in the newspapers as having said that it was the biggest single criminal operation in Australian police history. His assessment of the operation was reported in another statement as the biggest breakthrough in the history of the police force. He supported this contention with the announcement that 1 82 people had been arrested, 83 people had been charged with conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth, 1,000 further arrests were expected and that moves were underway to extradite 300 people from Greece to face charges. Police alleged that these people had been involved in a massive conspiracy to defraud the Department of Social Security of huge amounts of money which totalled, as Senator Grimes said, somewhere between $6m to $60m.
That was the scenario, and who set it up? It was Chief Inspector Thomas, Assistant Commissioner Davies and Mr Lanigan, the DirectorGeneral of the Department for which the Minister is responsible to this Parliament. I am not particularly concerned whether Mr Lanigan spent half an hour at the operation headquarters or whether he spent an hour and a half in the bar subsequent to that. I am not concerned with the specious answers that are given that he spent only a short time there. We all know how words can be used to describe a different set of circumstances. It has to be said that a scenario was set up which could only be described as hysterical, flamboyant and sensation seeking.
It was in the light of the creation of that son of climate that we asked questions in the Senate of the Minister for Social Security. The scale of the police operation, the flamboyancy of the senior officers concerned- the so-called responsible police officers- and the seriousness of the alleged offences have been taken as an open invitation to victimisation of a large number of persons of Greek origin receiving pensions. It has been estimated by a Greek welfare rights officer, Angela Manson, as reported in the Melbourne Age as recently as 31 January this year, that about 800 people who have never been charged have been treated as suspects merely because they were patients of the six doctors charged in this case. It is probable that many people attended at least four of these doctors as patients, not for any conspiratorial reasons, but because they spoke the Greek language.
Anyone who knows anything about the Mediterranean countries knows that it is the practice for people to go to those in authority, whether they be officials or professional people, to seek assistance in gaining help from the governments in their respective countries. There is nothing wrong with people availing themselves of the opportunities that exist in this country. For many of these patients this suspicion and this apparently unjust presumption of guilt were a source of serious hardship, serious embarrassment and serious harassment. Many members of the Greek community have felt that just because they were Greek they were presumed by other members of the Australian community at large to be involved because of the way in which this whole case was dealt with by Chief Inspector Thomas. Never once has the Minister for Social Security, the Government or any spokesman for the Department of Social Security denied the exaggerated claims that were made by that officer who masterminded the whole exercise.
In the National Times on 3 February of this year, Ms Manson said she had personally seen about 80 clients who had been suspended from receiving social security benefits after the raids. She claims that many of her clients were left without payment for as long as four months after she had personally telephoned the Department to make appointments for interviews for them. One of her clients was forced to wait for three months before again receiving social security benefits. This seems to fly in the face of the pious statements and explanations that were given by the Minister who suggested that nobody has been disadvantaged by what took place at that time. I make the assertion that if any section of the ethnic communities which have come to our country in the post-war years were eligible for special recognition for being law abiding and well-adjusted it would be the Greek community. Yet such was the way in which this Government, its officers, the Department of Social Security and the Commonwealth Police handled this whole episode that thousands of people were placed under this cloud.
It would appear that the Minister herself, in attempting to say that we ought to wait until such time as the case has been dealt with in the courts in New South Wales, ignores what is behind the motion moved by Senator Grimes today. We are calling for an independent inquiry into the way in which the Government handled this whole incident. We are not seeking an inquiry into the rights or wrongs of those people who were alleged to have been involved in fraudulent claims for social security benefits but the way in which this Government has handled this whole question and the way in which the senior officers of the Commonwealth Police have handled it. I am referring to police who are notorious for harassing minority groups in our community. Let us face the fact that this has been our general experience. I can recall Catholics telling me how 50 years ago they were harassed in various parts of Australia because they were a minority group in our community. We know how black people have been harassed in various parts of our country. We know how homosexuals have been harassed by police in various parts of our country, how the poor have been harassed and how radicals and demonstrators have been harassed. It is that same sort of sentiment, the same philosophy, that prompted senior members of the Commonwealth Police to make that sort of judgement in respect of the members of the Greek community in Australia.
If only some of the allegations that were made by Mr Thomas on behalf of the Commonwealth Police, acting on behalf of the Department and the Government, are true the Minister for Social Security has been either irresponsible or incompetent. She has allowed a situation to develop in which responsible welfare officers and members of the Greek community have found themselves unable to continue to expect just and fair treatment from her Department. She is aware of that fact as we are aware of it. We know that those people who act on behalf of the Greek community are aware of these difficulties. Mr Lanigan, the Director-General of the Department of Social Security, promised in a Press release issued on 19 April last year that ‘no person need fear that he will be left without income’. How does that statement compare with the statement from the Greek welfare officers who have had to deal with the problems in the field? Of course, they know that there is a vast difference between what has been said by officialdom and what has been practised in the field. We must bear in mind also the additional comments of my colleague, Senator Grimes. There can be no doubt that Senator Guilfoyle has on a great number of questions failed to answer satisfactorily questions properly put to her in this place. Senator Grimes has clearly shown the deficiencies in Senator Guilfoyle ‘s statements. We believe that those deficiences should be considered by some public inquiry into this whole event.
There is another matter which I believe is alarming. In an interview on the radio program P.M. on 3 May last year, Senator Guilfoyle said:
The Commonwealth Police decide the means that they require in order to conduct a full investigation and the documents that are required to do this are made available to them on that basis.
She went on to say: whatever information was asked for by the police in that case, was made available to them.
What does this actually mean? Does it mean that any information possessed by the Department of Social Security was made available, that all information on all recipients of social security benefits was accessible to the Commonwealth Police, that the private and personal lives of thousands of people in need were sifted through by the police? That is just what it means.
Detective Chief Inspector Don Thomas was interviewed on This Day Tonight on 3 April last year. He was the leader of that now infamous raid code named ‘Don’s Party’. I quote from what he said:
We physically looked at several hundred thousand files within the Department of Social Security.
When he says that they physically looked at several hundred thousand files, does that mean they looked at the file for every person whose name, like mine, has a ‘z’ in it, or people whose name appeared to be of some foreign origin? Were those files dealing with people’s lives freely made available to and examined by the Commonwealth Police? Several hundred thousands were looked at resulting in only 179 arrests. Where are the people to be extradited from Greece? The Inspector referred to 300 people when he made his famous extravagant statements last year. He has been to Greece several times. In fact, he has been to Greece since Christmas of last year. Where is the proof of this man’s statements and allegations which create a climate that affected so many of the hapless and helpless people in our community in Sydney? The access to these files must be regarded as the greatest invasion of privacy ever committed. It is worse than the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation getting access to them. The Commonwealth Police obtained access to the files on the say-so of the Minister. They looked at, to use the Minister’s words, several hundred thousand files. Yet the net result is that only 179 people have been arrested and put on trial. Yet the Minister has the gall to stand up in this place and suggest that the Government and those who have acted as agents of the Government have acted properly. The Minister has suggested that the Opposition is somewhat irresponsible in suggesting that there ought to be a public inquiry into the way in which this whole question was dealt with. The Opposition raised this matter because of clear discrimination and an attempt to make scapegoats of a section of the Australian community.
It seems to me that what is involved here is the fundamental question of ministerial responsibility. It is no good the Minister suggesting that she acted only on the advice that was given to her. Many of us, I suppose, take the view that Senator Guilfoyle is a very nice person. She is a woman, and in this period when women’s rights are receiving a great deal of extra attention from the Parliament and from senators individually, we do not feel we want to criticise her because of who she is. She is still a Minister of the Crown. She is still a person who has to accept ministerial responsibility. The establishment of a committee of inquiry to investigate this matter is one way to establish whether she has been competent or otherwise.
– Order ! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– The Opposition has brought forward as a matter of urgency for debate in the Senate this afternoon ‘the need for an independent inquiry into the conduct of Government officials in the investigation and subsequent treatment of pensioners and beneficiaries in the alleged New South Wales social security frauds’. So far we have heard Senator Grimes and Senator Gietzelt on behalf of the Opposition. Between them they spoke for about three-quarters of an hour on this subject. Despite the time and the opportunity they had, I do not believe that they brought forward any substantial arguments to show that an independent inquiry into these matters is justified. They certainly did not indicate the need for an inquiry at this time and in present circumstances. Indeed, so confused does the Opposition’s case as presented by Senator Grimes appear that we are uncertain of the identity of the Government officials about whom it is suggested there should be an inquiry. He referred very broadly to officers of the Department of Social Security, Commonwealth Police and even officers of the Crown Solicitor’s Division of the Attorney-General’s Department. He made no serious attempt to specify the particulars of the allegations being made.
Senator Gietzelt seemed to be saying that the inquiry should be into not government officials but indeed my colleague, Senator Guilfoyle. Most of his speech seemed to deal with allegations that are being made very directly and personally against her. His approach was quite different from the proposition which the Opposition had brought forward. So I think the Senate and those listening to this debate must be very confused at this stage as to what it is that the Opposition is saying should be done.
Let us assume that the Opposition is serious and that it did not bring forward a motion just for political purposes or to bring political pressure to bear at a very critical time in proceedings against certain people. Let us assume that it brought forward this motion with the honest purpose of seeking an inquiry into the activities of government officials in the investigation referred to in the motion. Even if the Opposition had produced any substantial evidence in the threequarters of an hour at its disposal this afternoon, which I deny, this would be a completely inopportune moment for any inquiry of the sort suggested. Let me remind the Senate that at present 166 people stand charged with conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth in what has been known as the social security fraud case. Those people were arrested and charged about a year ago, cases have been prepared and appearances have been made in court over a period. I want to say a little more about that in a moment, but the fact of the matter is that next Monday, 26 March, the committal proceedings will commence against the first 22 defendants. Of course, the hearing of charges against the others will be staggered at later dates. The position is that over the next few weeks and perhaps beyond- such a substantial case may well take longer- the court proceedings will be in session.
If the Opposition’s motion were to be supported and acted upon by the Government, then the setting up of an inquiry would create the greatest confusion and the greatest injustice to the court proceedings which are about to commence. The Opposition wants a public inquiry into the conduct of officials in the investigation of matters which, to a very large extent, are issues that will be before the court. The matters which will be before the court will be the gravamen of the charges being made against the police, the actions of the police, the investigations of the police, the results of those investigations and the evidence the police will be bringing. These matters will be investigated to a very large extent in the proceedings that will be taking place in court. Therefore, if there was any justification at all for an inquiry as proposed by the Opposition, certainly it is not something that should be set up at this stage. Any question of such an inquiry would be appropriate for consideration only at the completion of the legal proceedings which are about to commence.
I listened to the speech of Senator Grimes with close attention because I expected that he, as a responsible senator and a shadow Minister in this place, would not bring forward a proposal for an inquiry. Inappropriate and all as it may be to have an inquiry at this stage, I would have expected a very much stronger case to be made by him in suggesting that there was justification for an inquiry at some stage.
Senator Grimes ranged over the conduct of a number of Government officials. The first matter that he appeared to be raising for inquiry was the conduct of officers of the Department of Social Security. But he went to great pains to say that in a matter of this kind he was not seeking to defend any conduct to defraud the Commonwealth through the social security system. He was at great pains to say that was not the purpose of his bringing forward this matter. That was to be put on one side. He specifically recognised, of course, that it was a duty of the Department of Social Security and the officials of that Department to be alert and vigilant about these matters, and they were properly concerned in these activities. In the last day or two we have heard a great deal about the activities of the Director-General of the Department of Social Security.
I thought at one stage this afternoon that probably the purpose of this motion was to have a good old bash at the Director-General, a man who is not able to defend himself in this place. I thought that was probably the idea, but it turned out that Senator Grimes did not see Mr Lanigan ‘s presence during investigations as being of any great importance at all, despite the hoo-ha that we had yesterday, and to some extent again at question time today. Senator Grimes did not attach very much significance or importance to that. I am very glad to find that he has been frank and sensible enough to realise that that was a matter of little significance.
Other questions that have been raised from time to time have been answered very fully and frankly by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). Whether the words Greece’ or ‘Greek’ were displayed on any placard has been dealt with and clarified by the Minister for Social Security in answer to questions. There has been no attempt, and ideed there would never be an attempt, by any Minister of this Government to defend conduct of the kind alleged. These matters have been the subject of very vigorous questioning in this chamber over a period and have been dealt with fully by the Minister for Social Security.
There was a complaint about police conduct when making arrests over weekends and in the early hours of the morning. It is quite normal for the police to make visits and arrests at that hour of the day. It cannot be brought forward as a basis for any special inquiry concerning police conduct. We have had complaints about the conduct of court proceedings- I assume that these were directed at my own Department- and particularly about events that occurred or statements that were made by a magistrate on 31 January. It is recognised by all that this is probably the largest case of its kind that has ever been brought before the courts. It is a case where 1 8 1 people have been charged with conspiracy. There is bound to be a great deal of confusion when so many people are brought before the courts to be charged and when their cases are subsequently processed at further hearings. It is a major problem to marshal the evidence against such large numbers of people. It is a major question of how the court proceedings are to be conducted against such large numbers of people.
On 31 January this year, on the recommendations of counsel, the magistrate decided that proceedings should be taken in batches. It was then decided that the first batch of 21- I believe it now to be 22- defendants would be proceeded with on 5 March. On 3 1 January there were complaints and a statement was made by the magistrate to the effect that sufficient particulars had not been given by the Crown counsel as to the charges brought against the defendants. On 30 January brief particulars had been given to the defendants. It had been hoped that particulars would be given at an earlier stage, but this was not possible because of the difficulties experienced in marshalling the large volume of evidence. But particulars were given on 30 January and the case had only been set down for 31 January for mention before the magistrate. The magistrate had indicated some months earlier that the Crown would be required to proceed on or about 1 March 1979 and not on 31 January. The question as to whether or not the particulars were sufficient was then taken to the Supreme Court of New South Wales. The particulars provided by the Crown on 30 January were the subject of the proceedings, as indeed was the question of whether the cases should proceed in batches. The Supreme Court of Appeal heard this matter on 14 March and decided that the particulars that were given were the only ones to which the defendants were entitled. The court of appeal decided that the case should proceed in batches. If complaints are being made of inadequate particulars it is now the decision of the court of appeal of New South Wales that the defendants have no claim for further or better particulars.
– That is not so.
-That was the decision of the court of appeal, Senator Grimes. When counsel opens the case he will, at that stage, give full particulars concerning the charges. I can only conceive that this motion has been brought forward by the Opposition to make some political capital out of a very serious situation in which a large number of people find themselves as defendants facing very serious charges. They have their legal rights which they have been exercising and will continue to exercise, and I am sure that the administration of justice in this country is well able to cope with the situation without the aid of the Opposition.
– It is a great honour to follow Senator Durack at this late stage in the debate on the Sydney social securities fraud affair. After all, it is not often that the Government feels obliged to wheel in not just one but two Ministers to answer an Opposition urgency motion. Is it not an indication- if indeed that was not already obvious from the emptiness of what has been said by the two Ministers- of just how nervous the Government is about its inability to answer with precision, detail and conviction the series of questions about the conduct of this affair that have been put so admirably and succinctly by Senator Grimes and Senator Gietzelt? Their contributions have been so effective that I do not propose to burden the Senate with unnecessary and tedious repetition. The charges have already been effectively made.
Let me proceed to deal with an aspect of the affair that has received only fleeting attention. I would suggest that not the least unpalatable feature of this whole unsavoury episode has been the way in which the whole Greek community has been abused, insulted, denigrated and defamed as a result of the actions and attitudes of those at all levels responsible for the conduct of the operation in question in April 1 978, and of course the reports by the media of those actions and their aftermath and the apparently endless court procedures.
The contribution that I want to make is to suggest that one of the constructive things that might emerge from the kind of public inquiry that we are urging, is a recommendation for a change in the law, and in particular in the law of defamation, to ensure that this sort of thing will not happen again or be less likely to happen again. In considering the trauma that the Greek community has been subjected to since the start of this affair, nobody in the Government or in the media has emerged with much credit. We have learnt with regret just how close to the surface these reserves of xenophobia are in this country, even after 30 years of European immigration, and even after the creation, or what most of us would like to think has been the creation, of a multi-cultural society.
For a start, little credit attaches to the behaviour of those most immediately involved in the conduct of the affair of April 1978. A number of aspects, specifically police behaviour, have been canvassed by earlier speakers. Well-founded complaints have been made and documented to the effect that many of the police barged in without having or producing warrants, perpetrated irregularities in the conduct of interviews and detained in police custody without charge for sustained periods particular members of the Greek community. These have all been recalled to the Senate. But in addition to all those particular matters, what emerges most clearly from all the accounts of this affair is what can only be described as a conspicuous lack of sensitivity on the part of the officers most immediately concerned. Several reports have come forward from the Redfern Legal Service of derogatory remarks being made by particular police officers in the course of conducting those raids- remarks to the effect that: ‘We are going to fix you Greek people’ and remarks to the effect that ‘the Greek community should be sent back to an island ‘. In addition we have the documented allegations that a number of people were plucked from doctors’ waiting rooms during the course of these police investigations, simply because of their
Greek name or because of their obvious Greek descent. They were detained and interrogated even though on numerous instances charges were not subsequently laid, whereas others in identical circumstances, even in some cases in identical waiting rooms, were not so detained or interrogated simply because they were not in fact of Greek name or of Greek descent. It was a dragnet operation, but it was a dragnet operation of a very selective kind, directed specifically at the Greek community.
Then there was the series of extravagant claims made by Chief Inspector Don Thomas to which both Senator Grimes and Senator Gietzelt have referred. The officer in charge of this operation, flushed with the drama of it all- and his character as the mastermind of it all- made a series of Press statements to the effect, as we have been reminded today, that some 1,000 or more people were involved, that up to 1,000 future charges would be laid, and that 350 or more people would be brought back from Greece- all prophecies which have completely misfired. As we have been reminded today, less than 200 charges have been pressed. No one has been brought back from Greece. Indeed, of all the thousands of people in Greece receiving pensions, only 135 of those pensions were stopped as a result of these investigations and I understand that at least 29 of them have been restored subsequently. Inspector Thomas’s predictions were part of this whole set of self-serving statements that were made at the time about the massive scale of the operation. As Senator Gietzelt reminded us, the statement was made that this was the biggest crime operation, the biggest criminal breakthrough, in Australian police history. It was all part of the claim that huge sums of money were involved and that the tentacles of this matter spread throughout the migrant community, when in fact the misbehaviour, if such there was- and this of course is a matter for the courts to determine- was confined to a small group of people in a very small area of this country.
Referring again in this context to aspects of the behaviour of those people most involved we have the Horafios Greek affair, which has been the subject of some discussion already today. It has been admitted that in at least one case a person was photographed with a signboard bearing his nationality described upon it. This was denied by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle), as was subsequently revealed, on the basis that the word in question was not ‘Greek’, as had been claimed, but ‘Greece’. Whether or not the Minister in fact can blame successfully all or part of this episode, like the others, on the bad advice she has received, the fact remains that with this one, as with the Lanigan affair that we discussed yesterday and today, the Minister is developing a reputation for semantic quibbling that would make a Jesuit blush. However much she may quibble about these semantic points, the point remains, as indeed she directly acknowledged today, that there was a gratuitous ethnic identification in this particular aspect of the police activity that was carried out.
This phenomenon of gratuitous ethnic identification, which is the single greatest source of concern to us and to the Greek community, involves the media’s handling of everything that followed this unhappy affair. The media reporting throughout the whole course of this matter has bordered on the really quite scandalous, with repeated reckless references to Greeks or the Greek community as being responsible for this so-called social security fraud of massive and unprecedented proportions. This is a perfect demonstration of what Mr Grassby complained of in his 1976 Commissioner for Community Relations report. He referred to the irresistible tendency which the Australian media seems to have in reporting criminal cases, of describing Australian citizens by their ethnic background, even if they are born in Australia, if that background happens to be other than Anglo-Saxon. There have been innumerable spectacular examples in the media of this phenomenon at work.
I have noted at least three categories of media denigration along these lines. I shall give a quick example of each. The first category might be described as the ‘giggling adolescent stereotyping’. An excellent example of that was a report which appeared in the Melbourne Age of 13 June last year which, without reading it into the record, involved no less than five separate references to Greeks or to the Greek community in the first five sentences of that report, together with innumerable other references in what purported to be a description of the initial court hearings involving bedlam, chaos and unpronouncable names. The whole colour and flavour of this report was calculated, intentionally or otherwiseone does not know- to appeal to every latent schoolboy prejudice which regrettably still prevails in the Australian community.
Then we had the class of media comment or analysis of this affair which one might describe as patronising irony’. An excellent example of that particular phenomenon is this by now notorious article by one Victor Walker headed, ‘Ah, those “gentlemen pensioners” ‘, which appeared to the shame of the Melbourne Herald again round about June 1 978. The article, after a preface relating to the Sydney social security affair and pensioners returning to Greece to live on Australian pensions, went on to talk about the situation in these terms:
Few ordinary Greeks in any kind of job, and almost none on pension, could hope to live as well in this country as a Greek Australian mucking along on $ 100 a week.
It then went on to describe in elaborately ironical and cynical terms that perhaps would have made even Evelyn Waugh feel a little bit ashamed, the life in Athens of a Greek Australian pensioner gentleman of leisure. Patronising irony and a contemptible tone run right through that kind of reporting and, regrettably it is not unique.
Then we had the kind of reporting which I describe simply as ‘throw-away character assassination’ of the kind perhaps revealed in a very fine example by that master of the art, Peter Samuel, in his contribution to the Bulletin of 4 July 1978. In the course of one short paragraph he succeeded in defaming no less than three complete ethnic communities by imputing massive criminality to them without offering a shred of evidence, and indeed no such evidence has subsequently appeared. This is the paragraph in which he said:
For example, the $60 m a year fraud by Greeks is said to have been only one of three major organised rip-offs detected in the Social Security Department. Turks and Lebanese have been involved in other major organised frauds, say department officials.
What can be done about this kind of thing which, as we know, has caused acute unhappiness, profound unhappiness, in the Greek community? If anyone was unable to get access, because of the language barrier, to what the Greek community has been saying in its own newspapers about this matter, I refer him to the report summarising complaints along these lines, once again received by the Commissioner for Community Relations. That report is set out in detail on pages 78 and 79 of the latest annual report of the Commissioner. I will read just one of the comments which have been recurring to the following effect:
The Australian press is having an orgy and at this moment it is hard to predict the harmful consequences that this scandal will have for all of us. This constitutes a national insult and brings shame on us all.
There are innumerable other comments to that effect in the report. The reaction of the Greek community is not in doubt. What do I suggest should be done about this? What sort of constructive suggestion can be made about this aspect of the problem which was generated in so conspicuous a way by this social security frauds affair? What sort of solution can perhaps emerge? I suggest that one of the most attractive proposals is a change in the law of defamation, to enable a remedy to be provided for group defamation- where no individual is specifically defamed or damaged but where there is an unjustified blackening of the good name of the whole community or social or ethnic group. At the moment, of course, to defame a group generally is not actionable. There must be some imputation about particular members of it. No doubt the justification for that prohibition is the perhaps oppressive multiplicity of damages claims which might otherwise be brought.
Might I suggest that there is a relatively simple legal way of getting over that. It was canvassed by the Law Reform Commission in its discussion paper on the subject in 1977. It was not, as no doubt Senator Missen will tell us with great aplomb in a moment, ultimately recommended with any great enthusiasm by the Committee. Nonetheless, it is a proposition which I suggest deserves the careful and sympathetic attention of this Senate and this Parliament. The suggestion is that the law of defamation should be changed to create an avenue for an action by representatives or members, as a whole, of a group which has been defamed. That action would take the form not of a claim for damages but rather the seeking of a declaration as to the falsity of the slur in question, and perhaps an injunction, if that were sought, against its repetition in the future. It is the kind of action which is familiar enough in other jurisdictions overseas, where this kind of issue has long been one of community sensitivity. I would recommend it to this Parliament as something which deserves very serious consideration indeed.
There are, of course, many contexts other than the Greek social security fraud affair in which such an action might have had some utility. One obvious example that is in the recent memory of all, I fear, would be the Griffith Italian marihuana growing affair. There was conspicuous repetition of reckless media references to Italians’, ‘Calabrians’, ‘Sicilians’, the Mafia and so on, in a way that brought great and unjustified harm and disrepute upon the Italian community as a whole.
I suggest that these proposals would not in any way inhibit the reporting, or conducting, of vigorous public debates on controversial issues. What it might do is curb some of the more wildly irresponsible racial statements that have been so deeply hurtful to large sections of the community, or at least ensure that the victims of such irresponsible statements will be given a right of reply. A right of reply, a right to be heard in their own defence, is something which the victims of the government mismanagement of the Sydney social security affair, which we are discussing today, have so far not had. The situation which arose was an unhappy one but one which could be remedied at least to some extent, we suggest, by the conducting of a public inquiry of the kind that this motion urges.
-Today we have heard an extraordinary series of speeches by the Opposition on a motion of urgency which, for the benefit of those who may be listening, it is important to read, so that they will know what it is that we have been talking about. It is suggested that the following is a matter of urgency:
The need for an independent inquiry into the conduct of Government officials in the investigation and subsequent treatment of pensioners and beneficiaries in the alleged New South Wales social security frauds.
This proposal has been castigated by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) and the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) for what it is, namely an interference with and a clumsy attempt to cash in on proceedings which are to commence on Monday. It is a shameful demonstration of the Opposition’s desire to cash in on these trials which are about to proceed.
– Are you saying the same thing about the College of Psychiatrists?
– I am saying that you are to be judged by your own actions. If the honourable senator looks at the motion, the so-called need for an inquiry is into the conduct of government officials, into the investigation which has led to these proceedings being undertaken and into the alleged social security frauds. Therefore, it is an attempt to try, and to discuss, in this House matters which are properly within the province of a court and which will be proceeded with in a court. It is a disgrace that the Opposition is probably damaging the interests of the people who have to stand trial. Probably the Opposition’s actions are also damaging the interests of the Greek community.
It took a long time in this debate today for senators to find out the purpose of the motion. It was only the castigation by the Attorney-General that brought finally an explanation from Senator Evans that this independent investigation might give us an opportunity to change the law of defamation; that recommendations might come forward. Of course, he invited me to go off on a wild goose chase after his own interesting explanation of defamation, which I have no intention of doing. The matter is one that has been looked at by the Law Reform Commission. It is one which is still within the Commission’s jurisdiction. It has made only tentative proposals in regard to defamation law. Apparently the idea of the Opposition is that there should be an independent inquiry. Actually, it is designed not to do justice for people but is a way in which the Opposition hopes to obtain reform of the defamation laws. That is about the only worth that one can see in this proposal.
We have had a constant pattern by the Opposition in regard to this question of the security frauds. The Opposition keeps raising this matter. There is humbug and there is hypocrisy in saying today how terrible it is that the media has played up these matters, when the Opposition is actually playing them up itself by the reference to the putting of the word ‘Greek’ or ‘Greece’ in front of someone. That action was castigated by the Minister and rejected by the Government as something which should not be allowed to happen again.
– And it was denied that it had happened.
– The honourable senator knows as well as I do that, firstly, it was said that the word ‘Greek’ was not used. The word turned out to be Greece. That was not, I think, a frank answer to a question. No doubt it has been dealt with in the proper place. It should be dealt with through ministerial responsibility, through to the officers who may make such mistakes.
– Have you any guarantee of that?
– I have no guarantee, sir. No doubt the honourable senator will find out whether action has been taken. In this Parliament, as the honourable senator well knows, the Minister is subject to questioning. In her honest answers to questions the Minister has made very clear that the Government will not tolerate this type of conduct and that it should not be repeated. Yet today Opposition speakers have sought to drag forward this most unfortunate example of the misuse of a person’s race or description. Opposition senators seek to bring it up. They ought not to blame just the media. Their own actions thereby inflame parts of the media into thinking that there is something important in what they are saying. As members of the Opposition, they are deemed to have a certain degree of responsibility. Opposition members have followed a constant pattern of raising this subject. To do so does not help those who have to stand trial, which they are entitled to do with some degree of freedom.
In addition, we have had an interesting example of the workings of the Westminster system of government. One of the interesting things that was said by Senator Gietzelt- although I am amazed that, in view of what happened today, he had the audacity to talk about it- was that what was involved here was a fundamental question of ministerial responsibility. He went on to speak about the Minister being a very nice person, which, of course, we all know. We are told: What is involved is ministerial responsibility. That is what happens in this Parliament’. It is for the Minister to accept responsibility for the actions of officials and to take necessary action, which she does if those actions are not justified.
The proper course is not to appoint an independent inquiry into the conduct of officials which would decide that something should be done. To suggest at this stage that such an inquiry would be desirable is, of course, ridiculous. As has already been said, it is a matter which would conflict fundamentally with the fact that, at the present moment, matters are before courts; people are to be tried. I have no doubt that, in the course of those trials, the conduct of officials and whether there has been maladministration of any sort will be examined by persons competent to defend those who are on trial before a judge or whoever will hear their cases. Therefore, what the Opposition has done today conflicts with the principle of ministerial responsibility- I repeat, it is the responsibility of the Minister to deal with officials- and is an insult to the courts that are proceeding to hear these cases.
– Therefore you should do nothing?
– No, I do not suggest that Senator Grimes do nothing; I suggest that he improve his performance in future. Let me talk about his performance in this case. Yesterday he had the great misfortune to fall so flat on his face that he has not yet come up for air. In the course of the questioning which Senator Grimes started he endeavoured to suggest that the DirectorGeneral of Social Security, Mr Lanigan, who was present at the Commonwealth Police headquarters on 2 April 1978, was engaged in an operation dealing with alleged social security frauds.
– His telex supported it.
– The honourable senator should wait until I come to deal with him and not jump in ahead of his turn. I thought that today Senator Cavanagh asked a fair and honest question and got a fair and honest answer.
– I got it today.
– Yes, so the honourable senator should be happy. He did not indulge in the same dishonest argument that some of his colleagues engaged in yesterday.
– No, but I have proved the dishonest argument correct.
-AU right, senator, I will not praise you any more. I will not take up any more of the time of the Senate. I have said that Senator Cavanagh did a good job. Senator Grimes tried to suggest the involvement of the Minister’s officers in the Commonwealth Police investigation. Honourable senators should note the deceitful word ‘involvement’. What does ‘involvement’ mean? Its meaning is vague but Senator Grimes hoped to get something more from it. He knew what question he had previously asked and he knew what answer he had received but, nonetheless, continued to use that expression. Yesterday there was a series of questions which were intended to discover something very ‘wicked ‘ on the part of Mr Lanigan but this attempt failed. Senator Evans then followed on from Senator Grimes’s original question about involvement.
– Was he honest.
- Senator Evans did not do any better or cover himself in any more glory. He wanted to know whether there had been any officer involved but, unfortunately for the Opposition, he received an answer which ruined the whole episode because the Minister -
– He did not do very well either.
– He did not do very well at all because he then discovered that the original question which Senator Grimes had asked was in the following terms:
Did any senior officer or officers of her Depanment accompany the Police Force on these raids?
– That was not the issue.
-That was the question which Senator Grimes tried to distort. The Minister replied to it.
– Read the Minister’s letter.
– The letter which she wrote put the record straight, that is, that nobody accompanied the Commonwealth Police in the operations in which 175 people were arrested and subsequently charged with conspiracy.
– Read on.
– I will read the next sentence. Do have patience. It reads:
Both the Director-General of my department and the Commissioner of Commonwealth Police, Mr Davis, have advised me that no officer of the department was involved in these activities.
– Read the next paragraph.
– No, I will not read any more. The Minister was so kind as to read the next paragraph yesterday. It has no relevance but it is recorded in Hansard. It is clear that Senator Grimes endeavoured to entrap the Minister into suggesting that her officers were involved in raids. It is clear that that did not happen and it was made clearer when the Minister today answered Senator Cavanagh’s question. It is also clear that this is not the same matter on which Senator Grimes received an answer some months ago. Consequently, the Opposition attempted yesterday to put over this petty fraud and create what Senator Gietzelt described today as one of the great scandals of government since 1975. I must admit that we have been pretty short of scandals since 1975. We have to go back beyond 1975 to find any real scandals. The Opposition cannot concoct something out of this incident. Although its demonstration yesterday was useless and futile, today honourable senators opposite came back for more medicine.
If there has been any maladministration there is an Ombudsman in this country whose job it is to investigate such matters. People have made complaints arising out of these incidents to the Ombudsman who has the power to deal and will deal quickly with such matters. It is to the Ombudsman that people should take their complaints. They should not be taken to an independent inquiry which the Opposition wants to set up, an inquiry which will obstruct the course of justice in this country and interfere with matters which are being litigated. I remind honourable senators of the statement made recently by the Minister for Social Security and Archbishop Stylanos. In that statement they said:
The Greek community had made an important contribution to Australia. The good name of the community should not in any way be affected by charges which had been made against a relatively small number of people. The Senator and His Eminence deplored the sensationalising of the matter in some of the media.
The Archbishop in stressing the moral aspect of the matter expressed his vivid interest in seeing truth and justice dominate the whole procedure.
That ought to be the purpose of this House. It should not be for us to interfere with the rights of the community or to sit in pre-judgment of matters which are before courts and will there be considered. We should be satisfied that justice is done and that matters which are the responsibility of the Minister are dealt with in this chamber by way of questions which the Minister will answer fairly. There is nothing in the allegations that have been made today and I believe that it would be disgraceful and disastrous to have an independent inquiry at this stage. There is not the slightest justification for Opposition senators bringing forward this proposal and the best thing to do is to relieve their party of the embarrassment which they have caused it. Therefore, I move:
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke )
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the motion (Senator Grimes’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– For the information of honourable senators, I present the report of the Australian Research Grants Committee for 1978. I seek leave to make a brief statement about this report.
-The report documents the research projects which have been financially supported in 1976, 1977 and 1978 under the scheme first established in 1965 to stimulate high-quality research in non-governmental institutions. While there is no legal obligation to table ARGC reports, I wish to advise that I have asked the Committee to provide annual reports for the information of the Parliament. In addition to listing the grants approved, the report sets out the history, membership and the policy of the Research Grants Committee. Statistical tables analyse the distribution of grants among universities and other tertiary institutions throughout Australia, and between the various academic disciplines of the physical, biological, social and applied sciences and the humanities.
The grants scheme is now funded on an annual basis. In 1978 a record number of 1,312 research projects was supported with the funding allocation of $ 11.031m. Of these 65 per cent were continuations of projects began in 1977 or previous years. The Committee comprises 18 of Australia’s leading scientists and academics drawn from universities, government and industry. By supporting individual projects selected on merit, the ARGC builds on the existing resources of tertiary institutions and thereby sustains a wide diversity of research which is not mission oriented. The listing in the report of projects supported in the last three years indicates a significant contribution to Australia’s research resources and to the vital task of keeping abreast of advances throughout the world in science and technology.
– On behalf of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory I present a report on Ginninderra Creek and Lake Ginninderra, and proposals to vary the plan of lay out of the city of Canberra and its environs, series 66A, together with extracts from the transcript of evidence.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– I seek leave to make a statement relating to the report.
-On behalf of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, I present the report of the Committee on Ginninderra Creek and Lake Ginninderra which incorporates series 66A of variations to the plan of Canberra. Dissents have been recorded on two aspects of the Committee’s recommendations.
Because of the unique system of government in the ACT, this Committee often becomes an important avenue of appeal for citizens interested in or concerned about developments or proposals for development in the national capital. The Committee has in the past been involved in many issues of concern to residents of the Territory. The Committee ‘s first report which was presented in 1 957 dealt with trading hours in Canberra. The Committee has also been involved in inquiries into the local milk industry, Sunday observance, employment opportunities, breathalyser tests, waste disposal and a range of others.
Again, because of the system of government in the Territory, the ACT Assembly was able to express its opinion to the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Ellicott) on the proposed developments relating to Ginninderra Creek and Lake Ginninderra. This Committee, however, was able to call representatives from both the Department of the Capital Territory and the National Capital Development Commission to appear before it and question them on the issues involved. We are also able to present this report to the national Parliament as a basis for the Federal Government’s and its agencies’ future planning for these areas. The Committee in recent years has also endeavoured to allow for greater public participation in the planning and development process in Canberra to the extent possible through the Committee’s activities and within its terms of reference.
This inquiry in the Committee’s view has been an especially important one. It has allowed the public to have a say on an issue that aroused interest among a large number of people in the Belconnen area in particular. But there is also now wide acceptance that authorities involved in urban planning and development have a responsibility to preserve important elements of the natural environment not only for their own sake but also as an essential element in the future urban environment for a variety of recreational and educational purposes. Canberra is a rapidly growing urban area although there has been a slow-down in the growth rate from the very high levels of the recent past. With rapid growth it is more difficult to sustain a long-term perspective on the future needs of the community, particularly such amenities as open or green spaces. It is essential that the future needs of a highly urbanised society for open or green spaces should be taken into account to the maximum practical extent in urban planning. This is an issue of considerable significance to all those associated with, but particularly those living in, the national capital.
In this report the Committee has set down its views on how it believes development along Ginninderra Creek and around Lake Ginninderra should proceed. It recognises that it does not have the specialised expertise to be dogmatic about all future planning needs and priorities. It has framed its recommendations in the context of the views expressed to it in submissions and by members of the community who have an interest in the issues. We have sought to reach reasonable and practical conclusions taking into account, to the extent we can, the future needs of the community.
The main issue in this inquiry was the importance of recreation space in the urban environment in one of the Territory’s newest and fastest growing areas. Belconnen has grown from a population of just over 15,000 in 1970 to about 70,000 in 1979. It is not only the amount of open or green space provided for recreation which has to be considered but also the quality of that space. The ACT is a dry inland area particularly subject to the vagaries of the elements as dramatically emphasised by the recent bushfires. In this report the Committee has referred to another report by professor George Seddon entitled ‘an open space system for Canberra’. In that report Professor Seddon noted inequities in the distribution of natural resources for recreation within the ACT and made particular reference to the lack of recreation areas in Belconnen. Lake Ginninderra and Ginninderra Creek provide the opportunity for the development of recreation areas in Belconnen which could make a significant difference to that situation.
Before moving to the Committee’s findings and recommendations, I must refer to some reservations which the Committee had about the submissions made to it by the Department of the Capital Territory and the National Capital Development Commission. The Department made a seven page submission which the Committee found inadequate in detail and in its treatment of the issues involved in the inquiry. It can perhaps be best described as a scrappy effort. The National Capital Development Commission provided a submission which dealt mainly with Ginninderra Creek and gave only limited attention to Lake Ginninderra. It was in fact a booklet produced in October 1978 for other purposes and which had been distributed before this inquiry began. NCDC did provide further information at the Committee’s request. For example, estimates were provided of costs involved in proposed future development or its curtailment around the lake though the Committee did not find these entirely satisfactory.
In contrast, the Ginninderra Community Council provided a comprehensive submission to the Committee. The Council, in putting forward its submission, was supported by a petition from over 1,600 residents of the area. The Committee compliments the Council on its submission and, despite relatively limited resources, its efforts to make it comprehensive and detailed and to involve a substantial number of people from the community in its work.
In this report which I now table, the Committee has approved the variations along Ginninderra Creek proposed by NCDC. In addition it has suggested the deletion of a further 19 housing blocks in Evatt in an effort to extend slightly the area of open space along the creek. This should ensure there is no undue intrusion of housing development on the natural areas of the creek in this area. The Committee has also recommended that the proposed extension of Conley Drive to Copland Drive not proceed until there is a clear demand and need for that extension.
The Committee was particularly concerned to ensure that Lake Ginninderra be effectively developed as a major recreational asset in the northern area of the Territory. The Committee has sought not to be over-prescriptive in its recommendations for the lake but has aimed at preserving reasonable areas of open space around the lake. It has not tried to usurp the role of the planners but rather to set before them clear guidelines within which they should operate in planning for the development of the lake and its immediate environs.
The Committee has found that housing development on the Lake Ginninderra peninsula would be inappropriate and that any future development on the peninsula should be limited to recreational purposes. It has recommended that NCDC provide a range of options for the peninsula and for the community to be consulted before final decisions are made. In relation to the western side of the lake, the Committee has suggested that some of the land proposed for housing be retained as parkland with further provision for recreational facilities. The Committee is also concerned about development occurring close to the foreshores in certain areas. However, the Committee does not propose what Professor Seddon referred to as ‘the cordon sanitaire’. There is scope for what is referred to as ‘hard edge’ development at certain points around the lake.
A further recommendation proposes an investigation into the establishment of a wildlife refuge, preferably in the north eastern shallows. The Committee has also recommended that the former hospital site be retained for recreational or institutional purposes.
One dissent by four members of the Committee relates to development along Ginninderra Creek in Latham. The Joint Committee had previously approved the development of sections 102, 103 and 104 in Latham. The Committee has now recommended that the gazettal of sections 102, 103 and 104 stand. However, the dissenting report recommends that the development of those sections for medium-density housing should not proceed. The other dissent concerns the peninsula of Lake Ginninderra. Two members have recommended that more information be provided on a wider range of possible uses for the development of the peninsula.
In its report the Committee has tried to adopt a reasonable and balanced approach to the development of residential accommodation and the provision of recreational areas and facilities for the residents of Belconnen and the Territory. It is recognised that the community’s needs and wishes even in the near future may differ from those of today. The Committee is conscious of the lack of natural recreational areas in Belconnen when compared with other parts of Canberra, and its recommendations are intended to assist in overcoming this imbalance. Ginninderra Creek and Lake Ginninderra should be a valuable recreational, educational, social and historical resource for the residents of that area, but also for residents of the whole Territory. The Committee considers that its recommendations make suitable provision for the recreational requirements of residents now and, we hope, in the future.
-I seek leave to make a short statement on behalf of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources.
– On 23 November 1 978 the Senate referred the following matter to the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources for investigation and report:
The replacement of petroleum-based fuels by alternative sources of energy, with regard to:
research into alternative fuels;
development and demonstration of practical alternatives; and
fiscal and other measures to encourage their adoption.
I wish to advise the Senate that on 2 1 February 1 979 the Committee advertised the inquiry in the national Press inviting submissions by 31 July 1979. As well as the Press advertisement the Committee is also making direct contact with individuals, firms and organisations known to have a particular interest in the subject of the inquiry.
The Committee’s current inquiry into the ‘adequacy of quarantine and other control measures to protect Australia ‘s pastoral industries from the introduction and spread of exotic livestock and plant diseases’ is now in its final stages. Following presentation of its report to the Senate early in the Budget Session the Committee will commence a program of public hearings in respect of the energy reference.
Sitting suspended from 5.59 to 8 p.m.
– by leave- In May 1978 honourable senators were informed that when a formal United States proposal was placed before the Government to install a replacement satellite ground terminal at the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station, it would be considered on its merits. A formal United States proposal was received on 17 February 1979. It has been considered by the Government.
The Government has concluded that the installation of a GSC-39V(1) satellite ground terminal- formerly designated AN/MSC-61- to replace the existing AN/TSC-54 satellite ground terminal would depart in no way from the agreed purposes of defence communication for which the station was established. The Government accepts that a need exists for the communication equipment at Harold E. Holt to be sustained at levels of technical performance fully compatible with the United States Defense Communication System of which it forms an integral element. It supports the installation that has been proposed.
On 25 May last year the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) stated in respect of the replacement terminal then envisaged that it:
I confirm now to honourable senators that those assurances apply equally to the replacement terminal now formally proposed for installation. I present the following paper:
Replacement Satellite Ground Terminal proposed for Harold E. Holt Naval Communications Station- Ministerial Statement, 21 March 1979. and move:
That the Senate take note of the statement.
– Before I call on you, Senator Wriedt, it being more than two hours after the meeting of the Senate, in accordance with Standing Order 127 this debate must be interrupted.
Motion (by Senator Carrick) agreed to:
That Standing Order 127 be suspended for this day.
-Leader of the Opposition)- The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick) has just put down a statement on behalf of the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) dealing with the installation of a replacement satellite ground terminal at the Harold E. Holt Naval Communication Station at North West Cape in Western Australia. The statement totally overlooks the background to the installation of this terminal which included the embarrassing disclosures that the Australian Government was not being informed about what was going on at North West Cape and that the Defence Department was concealing information from the Minister.
The Senate will recall that on 8 May last year, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Senator Button, asked the first of a series of questions dealing with the installation of this terminal. Based on thoroughly incorrect briefs, Senator Withers, who was then acting on behalf of the Minister for Defence, provided a series of answers all of which proved to be incorrect. Day after day we had this farce of Senator Button seeking information, getting the wrong answer and then correcting the Government the following day. Initially Senator Withers, based on the advice he had received, told the Senate that the issue concerned a new satellite observatory. On the following day he said that the satellite terminal had been installed in 1977. On the third day he said that there was a proposal to install a terminal in 1980-81. Yet the fact of the matter was that the United States had decided to install the terminal and had called for contracts for its installation. None of this apparently was known to the Australian Government. Naturally, the Defence Minister decided in a rather embarrassing position for him to bluster his way through.
On Sunday 14 May, the Minister rejected ‘out of hand’ suggestions that the Australian Government had been ignored. However, on the following day he stated through a television interview that Australia had not been treated with the proper courtesy. By Tuesday, the matter had turned into a major issue. Cabinet directed the Foreign Affairs Minister to express its concern to the United States Ambassador and complaints were made at an official level. The issue is one of major embarrassment because of the obligation of the American Government to consult with the Australian Government with respect to new construction at North West Cape. This agreement had been re-negotiated by the Labor Government to achieve joint control of the base.
At that time, the then Minister for Defence, Mr Barnard, and the United States Defence Secretary Schlesinger, stated that the Australian Government would have full and timely information about strategic and operational developments relevant to the station. Clearly, something had gone wrong. The Australian Government was uninformed about what was going on at North West Cape and it had taken Opposition questioning and a week of articles in the Press mainly in the Australian Financial Review to convince the Government that it had created a problem for itself. The next issue was who to blame.
The Americans claimed that Australian defence experts had been informed that the new terminal would be installed. This information had not been passed on to the Government and the Government was in a quandary as to whether to blame the Americans or its own Department. The whole incident highlights just how little control this Government is exerting over bases on our own soil it was a striking example thai this country could be put in jeopardy for purposes about which we know very little. Apparently the whole spirit of the new agreement which was negotiated by the previous government had been allowed to lapse either through lack of interest, lack of commitment or even perhaps laziness on the part of the present Administration. The statement suggests that the equipment being installed at North West Cape is merely an upgrading of existing facilities but that is not the only version that has currency at present. At the time the issue was being debated a series of Press reports indicated that the new system being constructed at North West Cape will substantially upgrade the United States defence satellite communications system. If this is so, the strategic importance of the North West Cape will have been substantially increased. This base is already a target in any nuclear war because of its existing function of communicating with Polaris submarines in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The information contained in the statement was first presented to the Parliament on 26 May 1978. The Minister for Defence insists that his original information is correct. At this point we have to accept what he says because we have no conclusive information to the contrary. However, the Opposition makes it clear that it has little confidence in the Minister’s assertion about the role of the new terminal.
Although the Minister for Defence believes that the changes to the base are merely technical upgradings, that view was not shared by Lieutenant-General Lee Paschall, Director of the Defense Communications Agency, in giving testimony to the American Senate Armed Services Committee in 1977. His testimony indicated that the North West communications base will form part of a satellite system which faces far greater risk of involvement in military conflict when the new phase of development is completed. It may be that Mr Killen ‘s assertion that it is purely a technical upgrading is technically correct. However, we must remember that the Government’s record of understanding of what is going on at North West Cape is not good.
We must assume that the Minister is being given information only on a need-to-know basis. The history of this matter would indicate that he has very little idea of the overall plans of the United States of America for the base. It is a further example of how little we can rely on much of the information that has been provided to this Parliament. We in the Opposition do not oppose the installation of the base. But, as I have indicated, we stated cur position quite clearly during our period of office. In fact, we successfully negotiated a different agreement with the Americans which ensured that Australia’s rights were safeguarded and, above all, that any intentions on the part of the United States Government to alter that base would be conveyed to the Australian Government before action was taken. That has not been done in this case and for that reason we remain very dubious about the quality of the information that we are receiving in this statement.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Debate resumed from 8 March, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Opposition does not wish to delay the passage of this legislation. As was the case in another place, I move the following amendment to the question that the Bill be now read a second time’.
Leave out all words after ‘That ‘, insert the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide (a) that in assessment cases, the Repatriation Review Tribunal shall have power to receive, and to make determinations upon, any new evidence placed before it, and (b) for the reintroduction of the six-monthly indexation of pensions’.
Before talking to the substance of the Bill, I point out that there seems to have been some sort of a breakdown in the consultative processes between the Government and the ex-servicemen’s organisations involved in and concerned about this sort of legislation. Sir Mervyn Brogan of the Australian Veterans’ and Defence Services Council sent a telegram to the Government requesting that it defer for one month parliamentary consideration of what he calls a complex repatriation amendment Bill pending further representations. I must say that we on the Opposition side were surprised that Sir Mervyn should feel it necessary to send such a telegram and to make such representations as we have already spoken to representatives of the Returned Services League who had considered the legislation. It seems to me that perhaps the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann) and his Department should look to wider communication with the Returned Services League. I do not agree with Sir Mervyn Brogan that there is any necessity to delay this Bill, nor do I believe that it is as complex a piece of legislation as he thinks it is, although admittedly there are many clauses in it.
The first part of our amendment refers to the substance of the Bill and the second part refers to the Government’s broken promises to exservicemen and other pensioners of this country concerning the indexation of pensions. We have taken this opportunity to remind the Government of those broken promises. The Bill establishes a Repatriation Review Tribunal which will replace the present system of War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunals and the Assessment Appeal Tribunals. This is in keeping with the recommendations of Mr Justice Toose in his report on the repatriation system. We have no objection to the substance of this change. This Repatriation Review Tribunal will be the final body to review decisions of entitlement and assessment problems under the repatriation system.
There is provision in the legislation for access to the Federal Court of Australia on matters of law on the motion of the appellant, on the motion of the Repatriation Commission or on the motion of the Tribunal itself. It is also provided in the legislation that matters of principle and of general application under the present Act can be referred to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. We are in agreement with this sort of change. The bringing together of the appeal tribunals into one Review Tribunal we hope will have the effect of bringing a degree of consistency to the treatment of individual cases which in the past some of us on both sides of the Senate have commented has been lacking. At present there are 8 tribunals, four to deal with entitlement appeals and four to deal with assessment appeals. The lack of consistency of decision-making by these tribunals and the lack of satisfaction with this set-up by ex-servicemen and particularly by their organisations and representatives was well known to all of us who have had dealings with repatriation cases in the past. So we hope that the new changes will be an improvement.
The appointment of a lawyer-president overseeing the administration and the efficient operation of the Tribunal should streamline the whole set-up and, we hope, satisfy the appellants and their representatives.
– Hear, hear!
-But, not having the faith of my colleague, Senator Button, in the omnipotence and omniscience of lawyers, we will wait to see just what happens in that regard. The retention of informality and the absence of a judicial type hearing, we hope will assist those people who in their appeals should not be overawed by too many legalistic obstructions and restrictions which lawyers seem to bring into activities of this type.
– Not good lawyers, senator; just bad ones.
– Sometimes it is very hard for those of us who are laymen to make that distinction. I suggest to the honourable senator that the members of the general public rarely make that distinction. Unlike many people I am not unduly worried by the lack of insistence that the medical representative on the Tribunal be a specialist. From experience, I do not believe that the presence or absence of specialist qualifications makes one a better or worse judge of the disability or the entitlement in cases heard under the Repatriation Act and, in any case -
– You are not trying to get at Senator Baume, are you?
- Senator Baume is not present in the chamber; so I am not really offending him. I suggest that the rarified atmosphere in which some specialists work makes them entirely unsuitable to sit on repatriation tribunals. I know that Sir Mervyn Brogan disagrees with me but that disagreement will have to remain. The concern of the Opposition is not with the principles involved in the re-organisation of the tribunals but with the question of assessment appeals and the means whereby new evidence can be introduced before these tribunals. It seems likely to us that the changes will assist the Repatriation Commission more than the ex-servicemen. I hope that I am not being unkind to the Commission in this regard. This is the basis on which I have moved the amendment on behalf of the Opposition. In the past, an ex-serviceman who has been dissatisfied with the level of a pension or the lack of a pension was entitled to appeal to an assessment appeal tribunal consisting of an independent chairman and two specialist medical practitioners who had knowledge of the condition or conditions from which he was suffering. The ex-serviceman, usually with an advocate, presented a case to this tribunal in reply to the reasons given for his rejection. The appeal was heard and was examined by the independent specialist. Evidence from his own doctors and other relevant persons may have been produced and the decision was made. The important point is that in some 40 per cent of cases I am told this appeal has been upheld. The figures cited by our shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in the other place show that some 2,500 out of 6,000 ex-servicemen were successful under this appeal system. The legislation before us seeks to change this system. The appellant will not be examined by the Tribunal. If new evidence is produced it will have to be referred back to the original decision-making body. The appeal will be heard only on the basis of the information originally available. The new evidence will be part of a new process of application- a procedure, I suggest, which will add time, expense and inconvenience to the system. The absence of independent doctors who examine the ex-servicemen and the inability to introduce new evidence will mean that the appellant will have a more difficult time with his appeal. Just as important to appellants, the psychological effect will be to adopt the view that the dice are loaded against them. Dissatisfaction with the system may creep in. In fact, we are sure that it will creep in. Certainly, on my reading of the legislation, the Tribunal can seek specialist advice. But as I read it that advice cannot be sought on evidence which was not previously submitted to the Repatriation Board or to the Commission. Frequently, those of us who have become involved with repatriation cases at a later stage than the original application find that the appellant, or the appellant’s advocate or his representative has been unaware of the significance of certain symptomatology or other medical conditions until the views of the Board and the findings of the Commission’s representatives are made available. He then is able to produce new evidence which perhaps previously he did not think was relevant. If he is unable to produce new evidence from his local medical officer, as our reading of the Bill suggests- his local medical officer I point out who knows him best- or if he is unable to produce new evidence from others but has to go back to taws, the procedure may become very cumbersome. Forty per cent is quite a high success rate, I suggest, in an appeal system. If new evidence must go back through the system, it may be that the success rate will be the same but the time and the inconvenience involved will not enhance the reputation of the system. The aim of the exercise is likely to be to attempt to discourage appeals and, hence, to reduce the number of successful appeals.
The second part of the amendment refers to the Government’s infamous decision to renege on its promises of two elections and to abolish twice yearly indexation of pensions and benefits. In the past the concern for the greater numbers of civil pensioners and their beneficiaries has clouded the fact that the veterans also were involved and also will fail to get economic justice as a result of this Budget decision. The widows and children of ex-servicemen are equally affected. It is for this reason that the second part of the amendment is introduced. I, therefore, commend the whole amendment to the Senate. We do not intend to divide on this amendment.
We have no wish to delay this legislation any further. We have made our protests in the other place and in this place. We have made our suggestions. With the numbers being what they are, our endeavours have been in vain.
– I second the amendment.
– I thank the Opposition for its consideration of the Bill and for the points which Senator Grimes indicated he thought were matters which needed attention. Senator Grimes did go on to express some doubts about the effectiveness of the legislation and the difficulties which he thought might arise under it. He mentioned the difficulty which could arise when people wish to bring fresh evidence before the Repatriation Review Tribunal as they could under the existing system. I point out to the Senate that in assessment cases, although it is true there will be no medical examination as part of an assessment, it will be open to the Tribunal to require medical examination and the submitting of reports- the result of that examination. So, if in the view of the Tribunal some additional medical evidence is required, that can be brought forward without the matter going back for rehearing. The amendment, in the view of the Government, will provide a more satisfactory system of appeals but I should say that it is the Minister’s intention to keep the legislation under review in the light of experience in its operation. If any changes, procedural or otherwise, are indicated in that review, the Government will be prepared to give consideration to them at the appropriate time.
Senator Grimes also queried the amount of consultations that have been made with veterans organisations. I understand that, in fact, there have been consultations going back to last October. The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann) has specifically asked me to say that after considering representations from Sir Mervyn Brogan, the Chairman of the Australian Veterans and Defence Services Council, he accepts the view that, wherever appropriate and practicable, the medical member of the Repatriation Review Tribunal in proceedings on assessment decisions should have specialist qualifications relevant to the incapacity of the applicant. This principle will therefore be applied in the appointment of medical practitioners to the Tribunal. The Government, as was implicit in Senator Grimes’ remarks, does not accept the proposed amendment, and I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I wish to make two comments. I hope that the decision of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Mr Adermann) announced tonight that the qualifications necessary to appear on this Repatriation Review Tribunal will be, it appears to me, always those of a specialist and will not lead to the types of rare difficulties to which I referred in my second reading speech. I remain convinced, in fact, that a general practitioner or a specialist physician- I do not wish to praise Senator Peter Baume’s particular speciality- or, may I say, a generalist of some kind would be much better on this Tribunal than some specialist in some very narrow field of medicine.
The second point is that I gained the impression from Senator Chaney’s remarks that it may be possible to have new medical evidence introduced at the stage of the Tribunal hearings. That is not the impression I or my colleagues get from the legislation. It is certainly not the impression that the Returned Services League had when we consulted with it. It certainly is not the impression one gets when reading the debate in another place. I think that matter should be clarified because I do not think we should let the ex-servicemen, the veterans of this country, believe that they will be able to do as they could before, that is, introduce new evidence of this kind when in fact they cannot.
– In response to Senator Grimes’ second point, I refer the Senate to the proposed section 107VZ. Honourable senators will find in that section the provision:
1 ) The presiding member in relation to a proceeding before the Tribunal may, at any time, request the Secretary-
So it is not a general provision permitting fresh evidence, but where the presiding member wishes to get further evidence, he can do so under that section.
– I thank the Minister because I did get the impression- I would not like potential appellants to get that impression- that in fact they can, by their decision, introduce new evidence. I will leave the matter at that.
- Senator Grimes is correct in those remarks.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Chaney) read a third time.
Motion (by Senator Hamer)- by leaveproposed:
That General Business Order of the Day No. 209 standing in my name relating to Senate Ministers and standing committee chairmen be discharged from the Notice Paper.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 8 March, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bills be now read a second time.
-The Senate is debating what might be described, on the titles of the various Bills that have just been read out by the Clerk, as a package of legislation. That package has been characterised as the
ASIOlegislationandinfactconsistsoffourBills dealing with a number of important matters. In essence I suppose that the matters with which this legislation deals can be summarised as follows: First of all, the Bills set up the organisation and structure of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, commonly known as ASIO. Secondly, they set out powers and functions of ASIO. Thirdly, they provide the circumstances in which telephones and similar communications may be intercepted by the Director-General of Security who is the head of ASIO and by the Comptroller-General of Customs. Fourthly, they provide circumstances in which mail and similar communications may be intercepted and opened by officers of ASIO and others. Fifthly, they provide circumstances in which premises may be entered in pursuit of the functions of ASIO and the functions of the Comptroller-General.
One must have grave doubts- I speak as an individual- about the powers given to the Comptroller-General of Customs. But I do not intend to deal with these matters at any length in my remarks because I believe that other honourable senators will do so and we will have a further opportunity to do so in the Committee stage of these various Bills.
There are always difficulties and there are always differences of opinion in a democratic society about the role and function of security organisations. The essential question involves the extent to which the State can interfere legitimately with the fundamental freedoms and liberties of the subjects. In essence, any discussion of this legislation or legislation of this kind becomes a debate, to some extent at least, about civil liberties- a debate which should properly be conducted not only according to principles but also in the context of experience. The experience of Western democratic societies in relation to security organisations has not been good. It has not been good in Germany and it was not good in the past in the United States, with an organisation such as the Central Intelligence Agency, certainly until the procedures for the control and review of that agency were overhauled. The experience has not been good in Australia either. In fact Mr Justice Hope, in his royal commission report, found a number of illegalities, so-called, in relation to the conduct of members of ASIO. He referred to the fact that some of that conduct left much to be desired.
Might I refer specifically to what His Honour said in the report. I refer to paragraph 1 1 6 wherein first of all he discussed some general precepts, as he called them, which ought to apply in relation to propriety and legality in relation to
Material before me establishes that there have at times been departures by ASIO from these principles. The departures have been of varying significance. Their justification has also varied in weight.
Later he said:
The first and fundamental principle is that ASIO must operate within the terms of its statute, and be concerned only with matters which are relevant to security.
One should qualify that statement by pointing out that the 1956 statute was a very flimsy document indeed, and I want to say something about that in the context of considering the present legislation. The point I want to make there is that Mr Justice Hope found a number of disquieting aspects of the operation of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in the context of the inquiry that he conducted.
The second point I want to make is that the question of powers to be given to an agency like ASIO or to bureaucrats in another department or agency is a very delicate and important question in a society which is concerned continually, and properly concerned, about invasions of privacy, the social and political implication of technological advances in communications and in interception of communications which make possible increased invasions of privacy and so on. So first of all I would say that society is properly and legitimately concerned about these things. Secondly, consideration of legislation of this kind and the sort of organisation which ASIO is, is inevitably accompanied by a degree of melodrama and by a great deal of interest by all sorts of people who may not normally be interested in the contents of legislation. Spying, one might say, has become a fashionable industry. It seems very hard work when one considers that in many countries the penalty for spying is still death. Spies have to go through all that in order to provide excitement for a vast range of people, from readers of Len Deighton to viewers of Washington Behind Closed Doors. I think it is important tha’ any consideration that this Parliament makes of the legislation should be made without any degree of melodrama of that kind.
I think it is important though that we look at the legislation in the context of concern about privacy and civil liberties. There is a very nice sentence in the report of the Law Reform Commission on Criminal Investigation which in essence encapsulates the matters about which we should be concerned. In that report the Law Reform Commission said:
The insecurity of a society devoid of the opportunity of private communication has only to be stated to be guarded against.
I think that is the essence of what we must be concerned about. Of course, as an individual and as a senator I do not like provision being made for phone tapping or for the interception of mail. I am not satisfied as to the necessity for some of those provisions. The Opposition’s attitude as to the details will be spelt out in the committee stages.
However, let me quote from a letter written by the Secretary of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties to the Attorney-General on 17 February. In it he asked a number of points about this legislation, particularly as it affects the Comptroller-General of Customs’ powers. The letter reads:
The VCCL believes phone tapping should continue to be confined to cases of national security. If it is extended to drug detection, it is likely to get out of hand, lead to abuses of power along the lines experienced in America, have little, if any effect on crime detection, inhibit freedom of communication by law abiding citizens and be gradually extended to areas of crime detection.
The writer then asked the Attorney-General a number of questions about the rationale and justification for introducing these procedures, particularly as regards breaches of legislation relating to narcotics. They are important questions and the letter reflects the degree of concern that is felt by a generally responsible body and also the degree of concern which has been expressed publicly since this legislation was brought down in many newspaper articles, in editorials and elsewhere.
The legislation before the Senate is important. Because it is important, and because it deals with matters which concern society as a whole, it is vital that abuses or potential abuses should be guarded against. It may be said that ASIO, or any security organisation should desirably, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion. It is very difficult in the climate in which security organisations operate to put that sort of criterion upon it, but it would, of course, be most desirable.
The Opposition regards it as important that there should be legislation with regard to ASIO. As I said earlier, if one considers the legislation of 1 956 one finds that it is very skeletal. It is distinctly different from this legislation in that we have here an attempt to spell out a detailed charter for ASIO, an attempt to outline its powers and responsibilities. The Opposition happens to disagree with some of the ways in which that is done, but at least an attempt is made to do it. The legislation is also important because the Hope Royal Commission, which was appointed by a Labor government, made a number of recommendations, many of which are embodied in this Bill. I would say, in all fairness, that some of the other recommendations which Mr Justice Hope made, and which did not require legislation, have already been implemented by the Government. The Opposition does not know how effectively those provisions are working. We are not told, but it would be interesting for this Parliament to know.
– We did not get those other reports; the Government has them on trust.
– That may be so, senator, but in fact we have not been told, and one hopes that the recommendations of Mr Justice Hope that have been implemented are operating effectively. They were certainly dealt with at some length by the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) of 5 May 1 977.
Another very important and positive point about the legislation, one which we applaud, is that it has introduced a Security Appeals Tribunal. This is very important. We regard the provision in the legislation as inadequate and very much regret that the tribunal is not to give effect to that element of retrospectivity which Mr Justice Hope suggested. In paragraphs 141 and 142 of his report he made the point that incorrect security assessments may remain, to persons who were adversely affected, a potential source of injustice for the rest of their careers. It is a matter of regret that that aspect of the royal commissioner’s report has not been taken up.
First, we regard the Bill as important for several positive reasons. Also, because the legislation is so important and needs to work effectively and enjoy the confidence of the majority of Australians, it should be the best possible legislation that this Parliament can provide. We believe that, having regard to the need to balance the interests of the State with the liberty of the individual, the Senate should deal with the legislation in a calm and deliberate way, and that the Government should be responsive to any suggestions which may improve it. We would submit that both in the Press and in public comment there is a consensus which is marked by a degree of disquiet about certain aspects of the Bills as they are before the Senate. Regrettably, the legislation does not fall into the category of the best kind that this Parliament can produce. At that point we part company with the Government.
Next, we feel very strongly that the legislation should be the result of a bipartisan effort. The rhetoric of civil liberties in this country is bipartisan. The Governor-General’s Speech after the last election referred to the Government’s carrying out a continuing program of law reform -
We do not think this legislation meets the test that was then laid down by the Prime Minister by way of that speech. We believe that although the rhetoric of civil liberties might be bipartisan the reality, in terms of some of the provisions of these Bills, is not. We say that again because, if the system is to enjoy the confidence and respect of the mass of the Australian people it should be in a very real sense bipartisan. The only concession made to bipartisanship in the legislation relates to what is very much a matter of historical reality. I refer to the appointment of the present Director-General, who was appointed by a Labor government and reappointed by a Liberal government.
Also, it is important to consider the circumstances in which a government withholds information from the Parliament and the people. The circumstances in which a government does that should be as limited as possible. I have been discussing in this Senate the freedom of information legislation, and the varying degrees of concern and rhetorical commitment to that concept, but in essence we are concerned here with the same sort of debate in relation to the degree of information that is withheld.
Hugh Gaitskell, the Leader of the British Labour Party in 1956, declared in the House of Commons that the Government had the right to withhold information on security grounds only for so long as four assumptions prevailed. The first was that secret operations were ultimately and effectively controlled by Ministers. The second was that such operations remained secret, that is to say, were not bandied about by Ministers who were the recipients of the information. The third was that they not embarrass us in our international relations, and the fourth was that there be a general community feeling that the secret services were competent and efficient.
– No Bay of Pigs episodes.
-That there should be, as Senator Mulvihill has said, no Bay of Pigs episode. When one talks about the Bay of Pigssince the honourable senator prompts me to digress- it is important to remember that of all the criticisms that were made of the Central Intelligence Agency about that incident and its assessment in relation to China’s involvement in Vietnam, were throughout correct- much more correct than were the assessments made by this Government or its predecessors. It is very important to have proper evaluative procedures when considering the findings of intelligence agencies on various matters. I have been making general observations to indicate the approach which we adopt to this legislation. Because we think that it should be approached in this way and because this is the only opportunity that we will have to debate in this Parliament a Bill which is in some respects inadequate and in others dangerous, I move, in relation to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill 1979:
Leave out all words after ‘That’, insert ‘the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide:
that Annual Reports be presented to Parliament on the general operation of the Act and in particular the exercise of Special Powers under Part III, Division 2 of the Bill;
that regular periodic judicial audit be conducted into the Australian Security Intelligence Organization to ensure:
that it complies with its charter and the law;
that it does not unjustifiably infringe civil liberties; and
that it operates effectively and efficiently;
that the responsible Minister be fully informed by the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization with respect to any matter, other than the contents of files relating to particular individuals, on which he has sought information and advice;
) that the Leader of the Opposition be fully and regularly briefed on all aspects of the operation of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, including the exercise of its Special Powers under Part III, Division 2 of the Bill;
the proper financial accountability of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, including the auditing of its accounts by the Auditor-General, as recommended by the Hope Report;
the redefinition of the concept of ‘security’, and in particular the element of ‘subversion’, in order to narrow its scope and limit the possibility of its mis-application;
the restriction of the circumstances in which, and the times for which, warrants may be issued under Part III, Division 2 of the Bill;
that communication by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization to State authorities of security assessment information in relation to individuals be made only upon condition of adoption by such State of a Security Appeals system similar to that created by Part IV of the present Bill;
that the Security Appeals system be given retrospective operation as recommended in the Hope Report;
that no person be denied notification of the existence of an adverse Security assessment made about that person; and
k ) that the communication of information purporting to identify an Australian Security Intelligence Organization employee or agent be penalised only when such information would endanger the safety of such person or itself be seriously prejudicial to security. ‘
I intend to refer to the amendment in some detail because in essence it encapsulates the implicit and explicit criticisms which we have of this legislation. The amendment suggests that the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide:
Those are the special powers which ASIO has in relation to its investigations and collection of intelligence material. The amendment then provides:
There are a number of matters then listed and I will refer to those in a minute. The amendment further provides:
That is the principle of ministerial control and responsibility to which I have referred and to which Mr Justice Hope referred. Then there is a paragraph dealing with the restriction of the circumstances in which warrants may be issued in order to search premises, open mail or intercept telephone conversations.
The points which we make in the amendment go to the heart of the criticism of the legislation insofar as that criticism relates to the desirability of balancing the needs of the State against the needs of individual citizens. We think that many of the provisions in the amendment properly reflect concern which has been expressed publicly by a great variety of organisations and in the Press. Many of my colleagues will deal in detail with some of these provisions but I wanted to deal with them with that degree of generality to indicate right at the beginning our concern about them.
In this legislation the specification of ASIO’s powers does not guarantee that they will not be abused. The Act states that the Director-General is subject to the general directions of the Minister but the Minister is not empowered to override the opinion of the Director-General in a number of instances. In his third report Mr Justice Hope specifically criticised that sort of concept and made an important historical comment- I have said that we have to see this in the context of experience- when he said:
There has been a tendency over the years for ministers to take the intelligence/security business for granted or to leave it to go its own way. This attitude may no longer suffice. Ministers are, in the final analysis, the ones for whom intelligence advice is produced.
He goes on to make similar comments in that section of the report. The first paragraph of the amendment which I have moved relates to the special powers of ASIO contained in Part III Division 2 of the Bill. It brings into question the true accountability of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation under this legislation. In our view the Director-General’s powers have been increased at the expense of the powers of the Attorney-General. In his second reading speech the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) gave high praise to Mr Justice Woodward, the present Director-General of ASIO, and we make no criticism of and no hostile comment about those remarks of the Attorney-General. However, as the Financial Review pointed out, there are very great dangers in framing legislation around the particular incumbent of any job, however admirable he might be, since his term of office is inevitably limited. We all hope that Mr Justice Woodward has found the secret of eternal life as Director-General of ASIO and that that observation may not be true but, of course, it is true, and experience shows us that organisations such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the American Government have made very drastic mistakes by tending to leave matters of this kind, which are properly the subject matter of very clear legislation, to the whims of a particular director.
Here in the Senate we deal with legislation and, with the greatest respect to the AttorneyGeneral, it is not good enough to say as he has said in many debates in this place that AttorneysGeneral and Directors-General of ASIO are reasonable men and we need not worry. The reasonable man in British common law is the man on the Clapham bus and he does not often get to be the Director-General of ASIO or the Attorney-General in the Australian Government. As Senator Durack has also said in the Senate, there have been previous Attorneys-General, and perhaps previous Directors-General of ASIO, whom he would not have regarded as entirely reasonable. A future incumbent of the position of Director-General might believe, as did the former South Australian police commissioner 18 months ago, that his primary loyalty was to the security agency, or even to the British or American intelligence network, rather than to the government of the day. In this case it would be very dangerous for the incumbent to have wide discretionary powers. All we say is that experience should tell us this and that it should be reflected in the legislation which the Senate is now debating.
In relation to the first point of the amendment, the annual report to the Attorney-General from the Director-General would not have to contain information about the number of warrants applied for and granted, for example, in relation to telephone tapping or the use of listening devices. In New Zealand these figures are supplied to the New Zealand Parliament and to the New
Zealand Attorney-General. They were supplied by former Senator Murphy as Attorney-General in this Senate in answer to a question when he indicated quite clearly how many authorised phone tappings or interceptions of communication there had been in certain years. When one asks the present Attorney-General questions about security matters he tends, if I can put it at its most reasonable level, to behave with a high degree of circumspection as if he has been found coming out of the wrong toilet. There is a great deal of hesitation in answering these questions. It may be that that is because there are insufficient guidelines and insufficient clarity about what the Director-General’s report should be and what the proper role of an Attorney-General should be in this area.
The second point to which I referred in the amendment relates to a judicial audit. The expression ‘judicial audit’ in a sense speaks for itself. What we are saying is that every three years all the records of an organisation such as ASIO should be made available to an appointed judge who would determine whether ASIO had complied with its charter, and the law, whether it had unjustifiably infringed civil liberties and whether it had operated efficiently and effectively during the period in question. We are simply saying that time should not be allowed to run as it was with the Central Intelligence Agency and as it was with ASIO in the past. Such an organisation should not be allowed to fall into disrespect because the legislation is inadequate and no such proper public inquiries- public in the sense of being conducted in an independent sense- are made in relation to the organisation. The second point in the amendment flows from another lesson of experience.
Thirdly, we think that the relevant Minister should be fully informed by the DirectorGeneral of ASIO with respect to any matter other than the contents of files on particular individuals. That again is a self-explanatory point. Even the limitation on the Minister’s power is self-explanatory. It is a safeguard against political abuse. We feel very strongly that the Leader of the Opposition should also be informed if he asks about any one file. Mr Justice Hope was pretty strong on a bipartisan approach te legislation of this kind. As I said, the rhetoric of the Government is strong; the realities of the Bill are very weak. Other Opposition senators will take up further points with which I do not have time to deal.
I conclude on the question of a bipartisan approach. His Honour Mr Justice Hope in his fourth report said:
If there is to be a bipartisan approach it is necessary that the Opposition party or parties should be informed about security matters . . .
He went on to say how this should be done. He continued:
This practice is regarded as basic in various parts of the democratic world and should be regarded as basic in Australia.
It is not basic in the legislation now before the Senate. Lip service only is given to that concept which we believe to be a very important one if the legislation and the organisation which it creates are to have the respect and confidence of the Australian community which they ought to have. We deal with a number of other matters in the various paragraphs of our amendment, many of which will be discussed in detail in other contributions to this debate and in the Committee stage of this legislation. We are concerned that it be the best possible legislation which this Parliament can produce. We do not think that it is at the moment.
– I support the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill and the associated measures. I will confine my remarks this evening to general observations about the nature of a security service in a democratic system of government and reserve my comments on specific sections of the Bill until the Committee stage.
I think it has always been understood that in any political system, including all the democracies, some sort of security system has been necessary. The maxim laid down by Cicero, ‘Salus populi suprema lex’ is perhaps the guiding attitude behind the development of security services in a democracy. It has been adequately expressed by Lord Denning in his 1963 report into the Profumo scandal. In that report Lord Denning wrote:
No one can understand the role of the Security Service in the Profumo affair unless he realises the cardinal principle that their operations are to be used for one purpose, and one purpose only, the Defence of the Realm. They are not to be used so as to pry into any man ‘s private conduct or business affairs: or even into his political opinions, except in so far as they are subversive, that is, they would contemplate the overthrow of the Government by unlawful means.
That test, the defence of the realm, is one that stands the test of time. I know that Clarendon spoke at the time of the Restoration about what he called that ‘fathomless abyss, reasons of state’. But there are reasons of state. There are matters of defence of the realm. They are relevant for a security service within a democratic framework of government.
Obviously, some limitations are needed within any such framework to balance out the equally valid and important need to protect civil liberties and the rights of individuals. Speaking in the House of Lords in 1975, Lord Chalfont, a very distinguished British politician, was at some pains to indicate the extent to which security services were necessary and the extent to which their operations should be tolerated. In his speech, in part, he said:
For the purpose of this analysis it might be useful to take as a point of departure the familiar proposition that the distinction between dissent and subversion lies in the dividing line between the use and the abuse of the instruments of democracy. In many cases, of course, the question of use or abuse will be largely subjective and will depend on the political viewpoint of the individual. But there is one factor in this argument which seems to me to be unmistakable and to carry a special significance; that is the factor of violence.
I think that the definitions proposed within the ASIO Bill, drawn as they are from the extensive research and work done by Mr Justice Hope in his review of Australia’s security services, indicate that we have attempted to grapple in a fair and reasonable way with those definitions. I do not think that anybody would dispute- certainly Mr Justice Hope has not at any stage sought to dispute- the need for some sort of security service in Australia.
From paragraph 1 1 onwards in the second report of the Royal Commission, Mr Justice Hope deals with this particular problem. In paragraph 13 he concluded from his discussion:
It follows that ASIO or some other organization will have to continue to perform ASIO’s present functions in relation to espionage.
In paragraph 19 he said:
I am satisfied that a security intelligence service should exist and continue as an important part of the measures taken by government for the defence and security of Australia, and that in performing its functions, it should provide the Australian Government in appropriate cases, with its security assessment about certain people. I am satisfied that ASIO is the appropriate body to make the investigations and assessments which such a system involves.
It is certainly true that there have been investigations into special branches and police forces in other States. They have been useful in revealing the extent to which an uncontrolled or uncontrollable security service can develop even within the framework of the Australian democratic system. But even after his exhaustive review in South Australia, Mr Acting Justice White was moved to comment on page 25 of his report in these terms:
There is no difficulty about the main purpose of a security force- defence of the nation against its non-military enemies.
That, I believe, is a reasonable statement, embodied by and large in the attempt of this Bill to grapple with extremely difficult concepts. It is certainly true that our approach to the ASIO Bill has to be, as far as possible, a bipartisan effort. I am reminded that in this regard the Australian Labor Party has come a long way since its Launceston conference in 1971 where it voted 22 to 22 on a motion proposed by a certain Mr Robert Gould of New South Wales to abolish ASIO altogether. That motion was lost because of the equality of votes and, let it be clearly said, because of the vigorous opposition to it that the then Senator Lionel Murphy led at that conference.
I think it is important and useful to record that the debate on security legislation in Australia has now come back to a stage at which there is an attempt to find a measure of common ground and co-operation between both sides of the chamber in terms of producing a Bill that satisfies apparent national needs. Of course, part of the crucial element in this legislation is the definition provided for terms such as ‘subversion ‘. These definitions which are to be found not only in the ordinary definitional part of the Bill but also in particular in clause 5 of the Bill which defines the meaning of subversion when not of foreign origin, are matters that have to be given very careful consideration, particularly in the Committee stage. I believe that Mr Justice Hope has considered in detail the nature and definition of terms such as ‘ terrorism ‘ and ‘ security ‘. He has been at pains to discuss concepts such as activities prejudicial to security, active measures of foreign intervention and the legislation- it has substantially followed his comments- provides a particularly important starting point from which legislation of this nature can proceed.
I think it is important to understand that there will be a genuine public debate on what constitutes subversion and acts of terrorism short of the overt use of violence, activities prejudicial to security or active measures of foreign intervention. This is a healthy sign and part of the process by which the Parliament asserts, as I believe this legislation in the ultimate asserts, its control over the security services of this country. I know that there have been many attempts to limit the role and the operation of security services overseas. I am particularly mindful of the submissions made by a former Attorney-General of the United States of America, Mr Levi. In his submissions to the United States investigation of the activities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation he indicated that FBI investigations should be authorised only on the basis of information or allegation that an individual or individuals acting in concert may be engaged in: activities which involve or will involve the use of force or violence and the violation of federal law for one of five designated (criminal) purposes. Those . . . purposes are:-
impairing for the purpose of influencing US government policies or decisions:
Running through that very eminent submission, in exactly the same way as it runs through the legislation we are considering at the moment, is the question of the unlawful use of force. I certainly have some queries about the specific nature of some areas of these Bills. I am prepared to say that I am somewhat troubled about the way in which we would respond to activities which I suppose come under the category of active measures of foreign intervention which are defined as meaning clandestine or deceptive action taken by or on behalf of a foreign power to promote the interests of that power. It will be a matter of very fine judgment to decide, for instance, the extent to which people who. are supporters of the activities of a foreign power, people who favour particular policies supported by a foreign power, are entitled to use the legitimate means of propaganda and information within Australia to have that point actively debated. This clause- as will nearly all the clauses- will require some considerable degree of finesse and discretion on the part of the Director-General of Security and the Attorney-General.
I know that John Barron in his oft-quoted - book KGB: The Secret Works of Soviet Agents wrote a whole chapter entitled ‘Disinformation: Poisoning public opinion’. The practices of disinformation and the practices engaged in by the Soviet Union and by any other number of countries involved in the question of disinformation have to be kept actively under consideration. But equally there is no way possible within the democratic framework to stop even false or pernicious opinions being put in front of the public. The best way to counter those is neither by suppressing them nor by censoring them but by showing them to be false or pernicious. That will be one of the tests of the way in which we approach the administration of this legislation.
I believe that a central point of this legislation, and indeed any legislation dealing with security, will be the establishment of the relationship between the security service, its director-general or permanent head, whatever title he may have at the time, and the elected government of the day. I do not believe, as some people have said, that it is possible for a security service to reveal all by comprehensive annual reports to the Parliament. But there must be a stage at which the people of this nation and every member of this Parliament must be satisfied that in the last resort the decisions can be made by, and the activities held as the responsibility of, a Minister of the Crown accountable in the first place to the Parliament and in the ultimate to the electorate.
The main Bill represents in that respect a substantial improvement upon legislation in the past. Section 5 ( 1 ) of the old Australian Security Intelligence Organization Act, Act No. 113 of 1956, states that the functions of the Organisation are:
This Bill in its much-criticised- I think unjustly criticised- clause 8 goes a long way to improving and rectifying that somewhat unsatisfactory situation. The ASIO legislation is not in any way unique as far as the relationship between the Minister and the head of the security service is concerned. I turn again to the report of Lord Denning. Lord Denning quoted at length a directive issued on 24 September 1952 by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, then Home Secretary in Great Britain, to the Director-General of the Security Service. This directive remains the governing instrument of the British Security Service. I shall read part of the terms of reference. They are as follows:
The Security Service is part of the Defence Forces of the country. Its task is the Defence of the Realm as a whole, from external and internal dangers arising from attempts at espionage and sabotage or from actions of persons and organisations whether directed from within or without the country, which may be judged to be subversive of the State.
You will take special care to see that the work of the Security Service is strictly limited to what is necessary for the purposes of this task.
No inquiry is to be carried out on behalf of any Government Department unless you are satisfied that an important public interest bearing on the Defence of the Realm, as defined in paragraph 2, is at stake.
You and your staff will maintain the well-established convention whereby Ministers do not concern themselves with the detailed information which may be obtained by the Security Service in particular cases, but are furnished with such information only as may be necessary for the determination of any issue on which guidance is sought.
They are the principles embodied in the legislation. The responsibility of a security chieftain or of a security service must be clearly to the elected government. Justice Mitchell in her royal commission report on the dismissal of Harold Hubert Salisbury observed the way in which Commissioner Salisbury regarded his relationship with the Government. I think it is important to understand this. The report states:
In his interview with the Premier on 13 January 1978 Mr Salisbury said that special branches of Police Forces had duties which he considered to be to the Crown, to the law and not to any political party or elected Government. In giving evidence he again affirmed that that was his belief and he said: ‘As I see it the duty of the police is solely to the law. It is to the Crown and not to any politically elected Government or to any politician or to anyone else for that matter’.
She goes on to say:
That statement, insofar as it seems to divorce a duty to the Crown from a duty to the politically elected Government, suggests an absence of understanding of the constitutional system of South Australia or, for that matter, of the United Kingdom.
I believe that the principle which she laid down about the accountability in this matter is one that we need to bear in mind. It has certainly been true that there has been an accumulation of dossier material all over the place. One knows from the report of Mr Acting Justice White about the arms full of material kept in South Australia’s Special Branch- much of it exchanged with ASIO and much of it, in his words, ‘scandalously inaccurate’. We know from the report of the New South Wales Privacy Committee entitled The Special Branch: Criminal Records in NSW’ that the Special Branch in New South Wales, prior to a culling process which was the result of the Privacy Committee’s investigation, had at that stage 20,000 current cards, more than 50,000 non-active cards, and 3,500 dossiers in active use. It is quite clear that there has been proliferation of this sort of material, the worst aspect of it being, I suppose, not that there has been so much of it but that there has been so much trivial rubbish kept on the files of police and security organisations.
Of equal significance is that part of this Bill which deals with the question of the way in which information shall be communicated and particularly the way in which information shall be communicated between ASIO on the one hand and State special branches on the other hand. During the Committee stage I want to elaborate somewhat on that point. I am delighted to see in a piece of legislation a clause such as clause 20 (b) and the latter pan of clause 25 which make it quite clear that the legislation realises that there has in the past been activity on the part of the Security Service which should not have been tolerated- the matters referred to in paragraph 1 16 or 1 17 of the Hope report. These two clauses of this Bill make it quite clear that the guidelines and limitations laid down in this legislation are to be observed and that the DirectorGeneral has a particular responsibility to see that they are observed. It is certainly true that in the United States the point of almost no return was faced as far as the Central Investigation Agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation were concerned. I want to deal for a moment with some comments on the role of the FBI which appear in an article in the magazine New Yorker of 8 August 1977. It reads:
Investigations by Congress and the press in the past couple of years have revealed that members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have committed many crimes in the line of duty over a long period. Without any legal authorisation, they have tapped telephones, they have opened and read private mail, they have planted electronic bugs in offices and bedrooms, they have written anonymous and false letters to the spouses and associates and employers of people they wanted to harm, they have committed burglaries and other break-ins, they have paid informants who later lied under oath, they have furnished funds and arms to paramilitary right-wing groups that have burned and bombed offices of left-wing groups and carried out assassination plots against left-wing leaders, they have used agents provocateurs to entrap others by planning and encouraging criminal conspiracies, they have incited police violence, they have blackmailed and slandered critics, and they have driven opposing radical militants to atack one another. These were not the isolated acts of individual agents operating independently but were carried out under dictates of high-level policy in the Bureau.
The article continues:
Although the FBI’s crimes may have threatened our democracy even more than the Watergate crimes didbecause the FBI’s lawlessness has been going on for such a long time on such a broad and pervasive scale, and because it has had such a chilling effect on freedom of expression and assembly- it seemed that the government wasn’t going to do anything about these abuses of the law after their disclosure.
I believe that there is a tendency in almost any security service for this sort of behaviour to occur if Directors-General and Attorneys-General are not particularly vigilant. Let me quote from what Justice Louis Brandeis had to say in talking about the activities of law enforcement and intelligence gathering. He said:
In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperilled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously,’ . . . ‘Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means- to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal- would bring terrible retribution. ‘
One is almost tempted to suggest that it is a pity the Premier of Queensland has not read that comment. It is equally important to understand that this legislation deals also with the relationship between ASIO and foreign security services. I am loath to give this quotation but I suppose that the devil can quote scripture for his own purpose. In Richard Hall’s book The Secret State on Australia’s spy industry there is considerable discussion on the nature of the relationship between ASIO and the United States authorities. There is a quotation from Henry Albinski’s book Australian External Policy under Labor. Albinski wrote:
The United States did take seriously Australian security lapses.
I think it is important to understand that although relationships with Great Britain or the United States might be an important and significant part of the work of ASIO they are in fact subsidiary to the protection of Australian interests and the extent to which one gets information from overseas or the extent to which one provides information to people overseas can be judged only by the criteria of what is necessary in the defence of Australia and in the defence of Australian citizens. I believe that the reporting procedures and the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) announced in the House of Representatives on 5 May 1977 the establishment of a special committee of Ministers comprising the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Leader of the House, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Defence and the Attorney-General to set overall policy and oversee the work of the intelligence community is yet another important step in reinforcing the concept of ministerial responsibility and accountability for security matters. We know from the writings of Marchetti and Agee and those in any number of other American publications in recent years that unless one has a situation in which ultimately the Government, the Parliament and the Minister are held accountable and responsible we put a good deal at risk. Marchetti in his book The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence wrote:
The Congress, which has the constitutional power and, indeed, the responsibility to monitor the CIA and US intelligence, has almost totally failed to exercise meaningful control. Intelligence has always been the sacred shibboleth which could not be disturbed without damaging the national security’, and, despite loud protests from a few outspoken critics, neither legislative house has been willing to question seriously the scope or the size of intelligence activities. Yet, if there is to be any real, meaningful change in the intelligence community, it must come from Congress, and, judging from past experience, Congress will act only if prodded by public opinion.
There is very little public opinion I believe in an informed and intelligible sense on this piece of legislation, and in the Committee stage I hope to be able to direct my remarks to some of the misinformation which has occurred in the Press, some of the wrongful statements made by editorial writers and commentators and in fact some of the quite scandalous misrepresentation of what this legislation says and is all about. I think that to that extent the responsibility lies even more heavily upon us as a House of review and indeed the Parliament as a whole to maintain a watching brief as far as possible over all activities which impinge in any way upon the security or the liberty of the individual citizen.
Security services have come a long way. Sir Francis Walsingham who established perhaps one of the best security services in the world to protect his mistress Queen Elizabeth I would certainly not have recognised ASIO in its present form although he would have recognised a large number of the things that security services have to undertake, such as the opening of private mail and from time to time, as in Babbington’s plot, the adding of a little bit to the end of it in order to produce the conviction that was required. I doubt that John Milton, who after all spent most of his life in security services- he was paid for most of his active working life as the secretary to the Council of State during Cromwell ‘s Protectorate and his immediate superior, John Thurloe, was the chief spymaster of the Commonwealthwould have recognised the organisation in its present form but he would have recognised, and indeed all people engaged in security operations would recognise, the continuing central point for which a security system ought to exist: The defence of the realm. It is impossible within a democratic framework of government to protect those liberties and rights which are essential to our continued survival without some vigilance and some care directed to informing ourselves about the activities of those who would, by illegal or illicit and violent means subvert those liberties and overthrow those freedoms. To the extent to which this new piece of legislation seeks not only to do that but to do it within the framework of responsible ministerial government, I am very pleased to give it my wholehearted support.
-The Opposition does not oppose the existence of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. We did not as a responsible Government and we do not now as a responsible Opposition. Whether we like it or not, whether we have reservations or not- and many of us do- we have to recognise that the existence of an effective, national security organisation is a necessary evil. Nor do we oppose any genuine attempt to put the Organisation’s structure, functions and powers on a proper statutory basis. We recognise that the present Act is hopelessly inadequate for this purpose. The Opposition when in government set in train the Hope Royal Commission in 1974 for the purpose, among others, of rewriting it. The findings of the Hope Commission- not that all of them have been officially made publicconfirmed our worst fears about the disreputable mess that the Organisation had got itself into by the early 1970s.
The Hope report revealed a record of incompetence, of maladministration, of lack of professionalism, of erratic political bias and of systematic illegality in the use of surveillance techniques which were not specifically authorised by law. It was a record which demanded drastic action if ASIO’s continued existence was to be capable of justification in any kind of democratic society. We have been told that remedial action has been set in train at the executive level; that there has been a substantial turnover in the composition of the Organisation, in the recruitment of many new staff, of a much higher level of qualification and professional competence. In particular, we have now seen the appointment of Mr Justice Woodward as the Director-General, a man of whose personal competence and integrity we are in no doubt. We have no doubt either that there has been a clean-up going on of quite massive proportions within the Organisation although we have been told very little about its details. This is the development which we applaud.
Now we have before us a new ASIO Bill which is intended to be the cap stone of this whole process of renewal and reform, intended to be a detailed statutory statement of the structure and ground rules on which ASIO is to operate into the foreseeable future. Regrettably, however, the Bill that is now before us is not a development that we can applaud. As Senator Button and Senator Puplick said, it would be highly desirable if we could develop a bipartisan approach to these issues. We would like to but we cannot because the Bill is a spectacular disappointment. It is riddled with all the flaws and inadequacies that we have come to expect in government legislation on just about any topic- flaws and inadequacies that make its acceptance in its present form absolutely out of the question.
There are of course some good things in the Bill. Senator Button identified them. In particular there is the long overdue establishment of the security appeals system. But, like the curate’s egg, it is just not good enough for a Bill to be good in parts. The rotten parts are such as to make the whole of the Bill inedible and we cannot and will not accept it as it stands. Nor would I have thought that Senator Puplick would have been prepared to accept it as it stands given the variety and range of qualifications that he expressed of particular aspects.
The amendment moved by the Opposition explains in detail just why it is that we do regard the ASIO Bill before the chamber now as unpalatable and unacceptable in its present form and why we demand that it should be withdrawn and redrafted. I take the Senate through the grounds of objection to the Bill which are set out in our amendment, foreshadowing in the process, albeit only in outline at this stage, the kind of detailed amendment that we will be seeking to make at the Committee stage if indeed the Bill survives that far and is read a second time.
The first five of the matters to which we draw attention in our amendment all amount to a series of accountability measures which we believe should be incorporated in the Bill. They represent a set of additional institutional checks and balances which we believe are crucially necessary if ASIO is to be able to command any kind of confidence that it is not misusing its powers. The present Bill proceeds on the assumption that all we have to do is swallow our reservations and doubts and just have complete confidence in the personal good faith and integrity of two men- the Director-General of ASIO and the Attorney-General. The Bill makes no provision for any kind of accountability of, the reporting to or the involvement of any other person or body, be it the Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition on any scale, the AuditorGeneral, the judiciary or whoever else. It is true that it may be just possible to accept that state of affairs if matters go no further than the present incumbents of those particular offices.
I have already said about Mr Justice Woodward that the Opposition does have complete confidence in his competence and integrity. So long as he remains in office we have no great cause for alarm in that particular respect. So far as the present Attorney-General (Senator Durack) is concerned, I also feel obliged to concede that the Opposition does not feel especially threatened by him. Indeed, the greatest single threat most of us feel when Senator Durack is on his feet is that we will fall asleep before he finishes his sentence. In the present Government beastiary- if I can describe it as such- I would be obliged to concede that Senator Durack would not be at the lion or hyena end of the scale but rather what I may describe as the dormouse end of that particular scale. The problem with Senator Durack is not so much getting him to stop doing anything awful; rather it is to get him to start doing anything.
The difficulty is that whilst we may be able to tolerate a state of affairs involving the two present incumbents we cannot be guaranteed that in the future ASIO will go on being governed by a civilised judge or a mild mannered and relatively indolent Attorney. We have to build a system which is proof, so far as it is possible to devise, against its incumbents, proof against the resurrection of a Spry or a Barbour as Director-General, and proof against the resurrection of someone with the kind of robust attitudes to his job that were so amply demonstrated publicly by the late Senator Greenwood. Accordingly, we propose a fivefold system of additional checks and balances which would embody a greater degree of accountability than is involved at the moment.
The first such element- paragraph (a) of our amendment- would be to have a requirement of annual reports to Parliament. I agree with what Senator Puplick says; it is unreasonable to anticipate that any such reporting to Parliament could be anything more than fairly general in its terms but we would hope nonetheless that the general operations of ASIO could be described in this public forum. We also hope that an annual report to Parliament would provide and put on the public record quite specific details about the exercise of this extraordinary array of special powers which is now to be provided both in this Bill and reinforced in the Telecommunications (Interception) Bill which is also before the Senate. A precedent was set for disclosure of this kind of information by former Senator Murphy who, as Attorney-General in 1 973, disclosed that over the course of the previous 10 years there had been an average of 100 or so telephone taps- he gave the precise figures- authorised for security purposes under the then existing legislation. Although there were all sorts of dire prognostications to the contrary, the sky did not fall in when that revleation was made. We also believe that the sky would not fall in if detailed information as to the number and kind of warrants issued under this part of the Telecommunications (Interception) Bill 1979 relating to telephone taps and, in the case of this Bill, as to listening devices, mail interceptions, telegram interceptions and physical search warrants was revealed. Indeed, some indication could also be given of the categories of security pursuant to which and in the course of action against which those warrants were issued. We ask for a reporting requirement to Parliament.
Secondly, we ask for a periodic judicial audit. This is dealt with in paragraph (b) of our amendment. The investigation by Mr Justice Hope, although we by no means agree with all of his recommendations, was itself an indication of the value of this kind of independent judicial scrutiny of and report on a security agency. So, too, in our opinion, although there might be contrary views about this from some sources, was the action of Mr Justice White in relation to cleaning up the extraordinary mess that the South Australian Special Branch had got itself into, as revealed in the course of the Salisbury affair. We want to embody in the legislation provision for a regular periodic independent judicial audit of that kind allowing the judge in question to have detailed access to and scrutiny of all the individual files as well as the general operations of the agency in question.
It may not be much to the taste of the existing Director-General to contemplate having a brother judge second guessing him and looking over his shoulder in this kind of exercise. However, it is not a matter involving his personal integrity. Rather, it is a matter of guaranteeing the integrity of the system. In this proposed Act we may be designing a system which will outlive us all.
The third matter relating to accountability, as set out in paragraph (c) of our amendment, deals with a restatement of the responsibility of the Minister himself. As Senator Puplick has stated, clause 8 of the present Bill confers upon the Minister of the day general powers to give directions to the Director-General. But it limits his specific powers to give directions in a number of specified ways, some of which we believe are unacceptable. We believe that the approach to the exercise of ministerial control and responsibility should be one of absolutely maximising so far as possible the power of the Minister vis-a-vis the Director-General because only the Minister is politically accountable to Parliament and the people in any sense at all. We believe that any restrictions on that power vested in the Minister should be as narrowly defined as possible.
The only really legitimate or acceptable limitation we see as appropriate on the power of the Minister in this respect- in the Committee stage we will be attempting to amend the Bill accordingly- would be to limit his power of access to the detailed content of individual files or individual papers containing security assessments of particular individuals. Certainly, the
Minister should know of the existence of such individual files or records, but not their actual content. The Opposition takes the view that in this area, and in this area alone, the dangers of political abuse by the Minister of the day, or legitimate community concerns about the possibility of that abuse, outweigh in this instance, and this instance alone, the concept of total control by total accountability in the Minister himself.
Fourthly, we seek in paragraph (d) of our amendment to give the Leader of the Opposition a greater formal power and access to the system. We have been told that the Government’s intention is to give the Leader of the Opposition a significant role. The bipartisan aspect of the new security arrangements was emphasised a very great deal by Mr Justice Hope. The difficulty about all of this is that the Bill, as it is presently drafted, does not convey or contain any such undertaking. It states only that the Leader of the Opposition shall be consulted before a new Director-General is appointed. He is not consulted before an acting Director-General is appointed. He does not get formal access to the annual report submitted to the Minister. He does not get told about the granting or the authorisation of special power warrants. We believe that in all these respects and others as well there should be a formal statutory authority and access to the system vested in the Leader of the Opposition, thus amounting to a quite significant deterrent to what might otherwise be the temptationS to abuse engaged in by the Director-General and more particularly the Minister of the day. It would not then be a matter of the only sanction being a possible change of government. The sanction would be the knowledge of the then immediately existing Leader of the Opposition that something was going wrong.
I turn finally in this five point accountability approach that we are insisting upon to the financial accountability. It is dealt with in paragraph (e) in our amendment. The Hope report made it perfectly clear that there should be some independent element, namely the AuditorGeneral, involved in ensuring that there is no financial mismanagement in the Organisation and that there is a proper expenditure of the appropriation made by Parliament for the annual services of the organisation. This has been a subject of quite extraordinary revelations in this Parliament in recent weeks. Hitherto, the legal situation has been that the Audit Act applied in this area and the Auditor-General has had formal responsibility. Two or three weeks ago the Audit Act was amended to remove any role of the
Auditor-General in this area and to create a system simply of ministerial certification.
Senator Webster, perhaps in his innocence, revealed to the Parliament on that occasion that all the amendment to the Audit Act was doing was formalising an illegal procedure which had been operating, God help us, for most of the last 30 years. The way the Opposition would tackle this is not to formalise an existing illegality but to rewrite the rules so as to provide a genuine independent auditing element to ensure that even if the Parliament does not get to see the details, even if it does not operate in the normal way that the Audit Act does, nonetheless the Parliament and the people could have some assurance and some credible belief at least about the level of financial control and accountability. As we all know, the lack of financial control and accountability has been enormously important in the United States of America in allowing the Central Intelligence Agency to run amok as it did for so many years. At least in that area we could be assured that the independent authority of the Auditor-General was being applied.
So much for the general network of our provisions which we think are appropriate so far as accountability is concerned. Let me turn very briefly to some of the other major concerns about the operation and drafting of this Bill which the Opposition has and which, at this stage, mean that we cannot give it our support. Reference is made in paragraph (f) of our amendment to our concern about the width of the definition of security in the Bill as it stands at the moment. After all, the definition of security is the linchpin on which the whole Bill operates. It is the basis on which the powers of the Organisation to do anything are defined. It is the starting point. Senator Puplick expressed a number of reservations about particular aspects of this definition. Let me add a couple from the Opposition’s point of view.
At present we see the definition of security, and in particular the definition of that element of security described as subversion, as wide enough to encompass certain presently quite legal forms of industrial action, namely those affecting perhaps only indirectly aspects of the operation of the defence forces. We also see the definition of subversion as wide enough to encompass, certainly on its face, forms of political activity falling far short of anything to do with promoting or engaging in violence. We believe that the concept of subversion and the definition of security as a whole, of which it is part, should be redefined, narrowed and made much more precise so that the concept of subversion would be linked quite explicitly and directly to that of violence. If it is not, we suggest, in this way the concept of subversion and with it the whole concept of security on which the Bill turns will be completely open-ended and uncontrollable.
The next matter for concern, from the Opposition ‘s point of view, is of course, the whole section of the Bill dealing with special powers and the warrants pursuant to which those powers can be exercised. It is a central feature of this Bill and the telecommunications Bills which go with it and which vest wholly new powers in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in this area. Let me try to convey to the Senate some impression of just how staggering the implications for civil liberties and, in particular, of personal privacy are if these powers are exercised on any kind of substantial or regular basis. In the 1975 Australian Law Reform Commission report on Criminal Investigation to which Senator Button has already referred, a calculation was done based on United States experience of the effect that the 107 telephone tappings that had taken place in 1973 in this country would have had so far as the number of people caught up by such telephone tappings are concerned. I am referring to the number of security taps that the former Senator Murphy announced and acknowledged to have taken place in the 12 months prior to his announcement on 12 August 1973.
The calculation that the Law Reform Commission came up with was that applying the sort of ratio of the number of conversations and the number of people overheard to each tap, based on United States experience and bearing in mind that the Act authorises and most taps stay on for periods of up to six months, that number of taps in 1973- telephone alone, nothing to do with listening devices and so on- may have resulted in as many as 12,000 different people being overheard having as many as 68,000 different conversations.
Now it is a matter of lively debate just how far one goes towards resolving the legitimate worries it is possible to have about the extent and application and operation of these powers, whether one should have only judicial warrants in this area or limit the operation of the provision in some other way. In the event, the Opposition proposes to tackle this problem by specifying that the kind of restrictions which should operate here are essentially as to time, and the duration for which these warrants can be applied should be quite substantially limited. There also should be further limitations on the circumstances in which so-called emergency warrants can, in fact, be issued.
A further point in our list of objections to this Bill, paragraph (h) in our proposed amendment, relates to the use of ASIO information by State authorities. We see the provision in clause 1 9 of the Bill providing for co-operation between ASIO and State authorities giving rise to what we cannot help but regard as the alarming prospect of federal information being supplied to the States for their own internal security purposes but without the kinds of safeguards attached to the supply of such information that are now to exist at the Federal level with the existence and creation of a security appeals system. We take the view that while there may be circumstances in which the supply of such information would be legitimate, the supply of such information ought only to be made upon condition that the States develop and have their own appeals mechanisms to ensure that if an injustice does occur in the application of this kind of assessment information there is a remedy for the person concerned. The Opposition will be moving accordingly again in Committee stage.
A further objection, paragraph (i) in our proposed amendment, goes to the question of the retrospective operation of the proposed new securities appeals system. Mr Justice Hope clearly and unequivocally recommended that the new appeals procedure be retrospective in operation so that people who have been adversely affected in the past in their career opportunities, their citizenship applications and so on, should have the opportunity to get the validity of those proceedings in the past independently assessed and reviewed. Let us be clear about the number of cases that may well have arisen under this head in the past. At the moment as the main Bill now stands, the situation will not be subject to any kind of review. Mr Justice Hope reported that in the five years before 1977 ASIO security checks were done on 344,000 different people. Extrapolating backwards, taking into account the number of Australian Government applicants because they were the prime category, of course, of security checks in those days, it has been calculated, or one can readily calculate, that there must have been something over one million security checks done on people, a million files accumulated over the first 25 years of ASIO ‘s operation.
What proportion of those checks resulted in an adverse security assessment? What proportion in turn of those adverse security assessments were, in fact, unjustifiable and would be, as it were, overturned on review, we cannot know. We do not have access to that kind of information. What is very clear is that there is a very large number of people in the community nursing grievances about real or imagined maltreatment in this respect. They ought to be given the opportunity to test them. It is a complicated matter to devise a procedure to enable this to happen, but we will tackle the task of putting the proposal in this respect to the Parliament again in the Committee stage.
Now let me turn to paragraph (j) of our proposed amendment. This is the Catch 22 provision as it has been quite accurately described in the legislation. That extraordinary provision in clause 37(2) of the Bill provides that if the Attorney-General certifies that it would be dangerous to security to do so then the notification of an adverse security assessment need not be given to the person affected, thus denying him any opportunity not only to know what has happened but in fact to bring an appeal before the Tribunal. The Opposition believes that that kind of provision is quite indefensible. There is no security situation that is likely to arise in any practical sense which could ever justify it. We shall certainly be moving for its deletion.
– You will move that in Committee?
– We can discuss the details, Senator Hamer, in the Committee stage and will be delighted to do so.
Then we come finally to paragraph (k) of the proposed amendment, the question of communication of information. The primary concern of the Opposition here- I suggest it is a concern which should be felt by the community at large and, of course, by every one in this Parliament- is that quite extraordinarily harsh penalties of $1,000 fines or one year’s gaol are being provided. I am referring primarily here to clause 90 which refers to persons who communicate information which could be regarded as identifying an ASIO employee or an ASIO agent. It could be anyone at all in the Organisation or a paid recipient of organisation benevolence other than the Director-General himself. The Opposition believes, putting it simply and shortly, that this provision is too harsh and should be substantially modified in terms of the kind of expectation that communications, the media and everyone else in the community have hitherto had about the operations of these organisations and that the modification should take the form of requiring this kind of clause apply only when the revelation of the information in question would either endanger the physical safety of the particular operative concerned or else would seriously prejudice national security.
It should be clear then that our objections to the ASIO Bill are sweeping and far ranging. The demands of security do require that there be many special provisions, I suppose, in the legislation which would not be tolerable elsewhere but which do have to be somehow swallowed because of the very specially sensitive nature of the subject matter. The Opposition is prepared to accept many of these provisions as necessary. Our attitude is not one of cantankerous root and branch hostility to this legislation and all its works. What we are not prepared to accept is this Bill which goes much further, in our suggestion, than it needs to in authorising interferences with or restrictions on personal liberty and which does not go nearly far enough in incorporating within it the kinds of checks and balances which we believe are quite indispensable if security legislation is ever to be acceptable in a democratic society.
– The Senate is debating cognately the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill 1979, the Telecommunications Amendment Bill 1979, the Customs Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1979 and the Telecommunications (Interception) Bill 1979. 1 propose to deal in general terms with the question of security intelligence services. I do not propose to go into detail on the subject matters of these Bills. If necessary, I will make my contribution in the Committee stage.
One year ago Italy’s senior statesman was kidnapped in central Rome and two months later was assassinated. Who killed Aldo Mora? The Red Brigade claimed credit for this barbarous act of terrorism. This was its proud boast and no cock robin claim. But the authorities in Italy still do not know who killed Aldo Moro. For that matter, who planted the bomb which exploded in central Sydney last year at the Hilton Hotel, the venue of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting? Thirteen months later the perpetrators of that act of terrorism are still at large. Those two examples are a commentary, both of the need for efficient security intelligence services and on their systematic demoralisation by the forces of the pro-communist left and of the flow of mindless media comment which fortunately has now been arrested.
The question arises as to whether security intelligence services are consistent with the principles of a free democratic society. The Royal Commission on Security and Intelligence, appointed by the Whitlam Government to inquire into intelligence and security matters, answered that question with a clear ‘Yes’. Mr
Justice Hope, the royal commissioner, said in his report tabled in the Parliament in October 1 977:
My basic finding is that Australia needs and should have a security intelligence service to investigate and provide intelligence about threats to the internal security of the nation.
The royal commissioner perceived the threats to internal security of the nation as including: The activities in Australia of foreign espionage agents and their attempts to obtain local agents of influence; the dissemination of disinformation; sabotage; terrorism and subversion. Mr Justice Hope made the following pointed comment:
There are many ways, short of war, in which a foreign power can weaken another, or strengthen itself vis-a-vis that other by clandestine activities in the latter’s territory. There are likewise many ways in which a country can be weakened and the overthrow of its government planned and organised by clandestine activity of a wholly or substantially domestic origin.
He concluded: ‘By its very nature, subversion is clandestine and deceptive’, against which, he said, ‘ordinary police methods’ were not sufficient. These words are the more significant in view of the fact that their author, Mr Justice Hope, is not your raving reactionary. Indeed he is the former president of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties.
Clearly there is a need in a democratic society for an intelligence organisation to obtain, to correlate and to evaluate intelligence relevant to security and to communicate and advise on such matters under proper guidelines. Of course the achievement of the desirable twin objective of political accountability and operational autonomy is always difficult, but a balance is required between the needs of the nation for a strong, reliable and highly efficient security service and the need to preserve our individual rights and freedoms. Mr Justice Hope declared in his report that a security organisation fulfilling its proper role is entitled to the confidence and respect of the nation as is the Defence Force. By inference he was referring to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.
Reference has been made to the fact that a number of Mr Justice Hope ‘s recommendations have been implemented already in the administrative field. But we must bear in mind the statement by Mr Justice Hope that such an organisation does deserve the confidence and respect of the people. In the interest of Australia’s security, let us have no more of the demoralising Murphytype raids and no more fingering of allied intelligence officers by the media mouthing the treachery of turncoats. One of them was mentioned here tonight- Philip Agee. The media took up what Agee said but failed to say that he was under deportation orders from the British Labour Government.
The nation must defend its security intelligence services when under attack from the very forces whose clandestine activities have attracted the surveillance necessary to forestall a surprise attack. The ASIO legislation and corresponding legislation now before the Parliament follows closely the findings of the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security appointed by the previous Government and therefore deserves the support of all Australians concerned with our future security.
In commencing my remarks I said that I had no intention, during this second reading debate, of going into the details of the legislation. However, I feel bound to comment on part of the second reading speech of the Attorney-General (Senator Durack). I do so in the hope that my comments will be listened to, and may be acted upon, between now and the time when the Bill is considered in Committee. In referring to the need for bipartisan support, the Minister said:
If consultation with the Leader of the Opposition is thought to be justified, in the interests of bipartisanship, in the case of the appointment of the Director-General, why is that not so in the case of the appointment of the president of the security appeals tribunal? I would have thought that it might have occurred to the Government that some people might try on, and continually try on, the appeals tribunal. The provisions of Part IV of the Bill entitle most persons who are affected by prejudicial security assessments to a right of appeal to a tribunal presided over by a judge. Of course, there will be some who, wishing to make an oblique attack on the security service itself, will be interested in trying on that organisation. Why not put the judge who is appointed president of the tribunal beyond such attempts by consulting the Leader of the Opposition prior to his appointment?
I support the second reading of this legislation. Although I support some parts of the Opposition’s amendment, most of it I do not support. Both Senator Button and Senator Evans have referred to paragraph (h) of the amendment, which provides: that communication by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to State authorities of security assessment information in relation to individuals be made only upon condition of adoption by such State of a Security Appeals system similar to that created by Part IV of the present Bill.
I may be reading the Minister’s second reading speech incorrectly, and I may also have read the Bill incorrectly, but I should have thought that such a security assessment, if it were prejudicial, would under Part IV have to be supplied to the person affected, who would then have a right of appeal to the tribunal, presided over by a judge.
Incidentally, in speaking of State authorities, I am reminded that the provision in the Bill that security communications be made to the proper State authorities is appropriate. For example, I am sure that it would be appropriate in the case of energy advisory councils. It would save embarrassment to a premier, for example, if such security assessments were provided and a person appointed was not found subsequently to be one who was prejudicial to security.
Later in his second reading speech, the Minister speaks of the relationship between the Director-General and the Government in these terms:
Clearly, the Government must, in the ultimate, bear the responsibility for the security of the nation.
That goes to the question that I have just mentioned, of the dually, desirable objectives of political accountability and organisational autonomy. The Minister said also that the Government: . . must also bear the responsibility for the general direction of the activities of the security organisation. At the same time it is proper that the Organisation should be under the control of the Director-General and that the Government should not be able to override the opinion of the DirectorGeneral on whether security requires or does not require the collection of information on an individual, whether information held concerning an individual should be communicated or on what advice should be given by the Director-General to a Minister or a department. Clause 8 of the Bill reflects these considerations.
I refer the Minister to the fourth report of the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security, Volume 1, at page 173. Presumably, clause 8 of the legislation is supposed to follow that part of the report. Paragraph 352 of the report states:
It seems to me that, in general terms, the Director-General must be subject to proper directions by the Minister, and that the Minister should be responsible, ‘in a general way’, to Parliament for the organisation and its activities.
That is almost word for word with the second reading speech of the Minister, which picks up that paragraph; but let us now look at the following paragraph, 353:
The matters in respect of which the Director-General should not be subject to ministerial direction are:
Whether any particular intelligence or matter is or might be relevant to security for the purposes of the Act.
That is not picked up specifically in either clause 8 or the Minister’s second reading speech. Both the Minister and the Act speak of an individual, but what about the need to obtain intelligence about an organisation- for example, the Ananda Marga. Is it possible that, under clause 8, the Minister could say to the Director-General: ‘No. you cannot collect information about that organisation’? He has not the right to say that ASIO cannot collect information about an individual but, by inference does have the right to say that the Director-General cannot collect information about an organisation. In the case that I mentioned of the Ananda Marga, it would be quite essential that information about that organisation should be collected. I raise that point at this stage so that it may be given consideration. Perhaps I am reading into the question something that is not there, and my query can be answered quite readily by the Minister in his reply. Most of us would wish that there were no need for a security intelligence organisation in our free and democratic society. Certainly the integrity of our social institutions in educational, union, family, business, entertainment, government, judicial, executive and other areas, is best protected by persons of goodwill acting in concert to prevent these institutions being undermined. However, we are faced with the threats to our security which were outlined in the report of His Honour Mr Justice Hope, the Royal Commissioner on Intelligence and Security. He made the recommendations upon which these Bills are broadly based. I therefore support them at the second reading stage.
-The four Bills under consideration provide the statutory framework for far-reaching reforms of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. I support them; they are important and necessary. The 1956 Act, which is a very short one, did not meet the modern security needs of our community. The reforms embodied in the Bill before us were recommended by Mr Justice Hope in the report of the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security after he had conducted a thorough and searching review of our needs for a security service. I need hardly remind the Senate that Mr Justice Hope was appointed by the Whitlam Government and it is to be hoped that in these discussions a bi-partisan attitude, which was not entirely evident when Senator Evans was speaking, will shine through. I am delighted that there is unanimous agreement on the need for such a security intelligence organisation.
It is important that the functions of this Organisation are clearly stated in the Bill and it is worth listing them as they appear in clause 17. The functions of ASIO are to obtain, correlate and evaluate intelligence relevant to security; for purposes relevant to security and not otherwise, to communicate any such intelligence; and to advise Ministers and authorities of the Commonwealth in respect of matters relating to security. Security ‘ is a word which has different meanings for many people but the meaning of ‘security’ is denned in this Bill. It is denned as the protection of the people from espionage, sabotage, subversion, active measures of foreign intervention or terrorism whether directed from or committed within Australia. In all our discussions it is important to keep this definition of ‘security’ before us.
It is important to note that although ASIO will be collecting information on these matters this does not create criminal offences. Any criminal offences involved in these matters have to be dealt with in the ordinary courts and proved in public. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation is an intelligence organisation; it is not a law enforcement agency. Another important development in this Bill which must be thoroughly discussed by the Senate is the principle, which I support entirely, that ASIO must comply with the law at all times. That was a clear recommendation by Mr Justice Hope and I do not think that any honourable senator here could possibly disagree with that recommendation. The problem is how much the law should be changed to meet the reasonable needs of ASIO for the protection and the security of this nation.
After a great deal of consideration the Government has approved additional powers for ASIO to enter premises, to search for records, to use listening devices and to open and inspect postal articles. This must be a cause of worry to anyone interested in civil liberties, and I hope that all of us are interested in civil liberties; but protections are provided and I think that in the circumstances they are appropriate protections. Before these powers can be exercised in any particular case the Director-General of ASIO has to make a formal request and the Minister must be satisfied that there is need for this action before he can grant a warrant. This is the appropriate power in what inevitably is a very difficult situation.
In the hope that these discussions might be bipartisan I believe that the 1 1 paragraphs in the amendment moved by the Opposition must be seriously dealt with. They have been put forward in good faith, although sometimes they are misguided or based on misunderstandings. They must not merely be voted down. They must be discussed in this chamber both in the second reading stage and in the Committee stage. I intend now to deal with three of them. The first paragraph I would like to deal with is paragraph (c) which reads: that the responsible Minister be fully informed by the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation with respect to any matter, other than the contents of files relating to particular individuals, on which he has sought information and advice;
There is no dispute about the undesirability of the Minister being able to obtain information on the contents of files on individuals but in general the Minister has the sort of power that is asked for in paragraph (c). The limitations on the Minister’s power are contained in clause 8 (2) of the Bill and we should look at them because they are relevant to whether that paragraph in the Opposition’s amendment is appropriate. The DirectorGeneral is subject to the general directions of the Minister, but the Minister is not empowered to override the opinion of the Director-General on the question of whether the collection of intelligence on any particular individual by the Organisation would or would not be justified by reason of its relevance to security. It would be quite inappropriate for the Minister to be involved in that area. We appoint a distinguished and responsible figure as head of ASIO and that is the sort of discretion that such a figure must be given without interference from political authorities. If we cannot trust him with that sort of discretion he should not be appointed in the first place.
A second area in which the Minister is not entitled to override the opinion of the DirectorGeneral is on the question of whether the communication of intelligence concerning a particular individual is for a purpose relevant to security. I do not feel that that is an appropriate area for ministerial interference with the discretion of the Director-General. A third area where the Minister cannot override the opinion of the Director-General is in the nature of the advice that should be given by the Organisation to a Minister, department or authority of the Commonwealth. There is some confusion about the meaning of the word ‘advice’ in these circumstances. I am advised that the meaning of the word in these circumstances is a suggestion or recommendation given to a Minister or a department. I am assured that that is its intended meaning and if that is so, rather than it meaning the passing of information, it would be quite inappropriate for the Minister to override the opinion of the Director-General in a matter which is essentially the machinery of security. For all of those reasons, and subject to a clarification of the exact meaning of the word ‘advice’ in that context, I suggest that paragraph (c) of the amendment is not necessary and that the restrictions imposed on the Minister by clause 8 of the Bill are appropriate and should be accepted by this chamber.
The second part of the Opposition’s amendment with which I would like to deal is paragraph (d) which states: that the Leader of the Opposition be fully and regularly briefed on all aspects of the operation of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, including the exercise of its Special Powers under Part III, Division 2 of the Bill . . .
Those powers include its powers of entry, its powers to use listening devices and so on. That is certainly a recommendation of the Hope report. It recommended that the Government should provide the Leader of the Opposition with a copy of the Director-General’s report, but it made the proviso that this should be provided under conditions of secrecy. It would, I think, create difficulties if this were put into formal wording in the Bill itself. I am told that the Leader of the Opposition has been shown copies of the last two reports of the Director-General of ASIO under conditions of secrecy. It is suggested- I agree with the suggestion- that it is better for this to continue as a convention rather than trying to write into the legislation the conditions of secrecy to apply to the provision of the report to the Leader of the Opposition. The purpose is being achieved at the moment. I do not think that it will be helped by attempting the very difficult task of writing into the legislation security requirements for the Leader of the Opposition.
The third part of the Opposition’s amendment with which I shall deal is paragraph (j) which states: that no person be denied notification of the existence of an adverse Security assessment made about that person . . .
That paragraph refers, of course, to clause 37 (2) (a) of the Bill which states:
The Attorney-General may, by writing under his hand delivered to the Director-General, certify that he is satisfied that-
the withholding of notice to a person of the making of a security assessment in respect of the person is essential to the security of the nation . . .
I do not think that if the Opposition thought seriously about this provision- obviously Senator Evans had not thought very seriously about it- it would suggest that such information should be released if its withholding were essential to the security of the nation. I accept the point that such occurrences would be extremely rare, but if they arose it would be absurd to give information which would do that sort of damage to the security of the nation. Therefore, I suggest that paragraph (j) of the amendment is entirely misconceived and should not be proceeded with.
While I am talking about security matters and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation I should mention one general matter about ASIO that causes me concern. It is the sort of phobia that people have about dossiers. Many people seem to regard them in much the same way as primitive tribesmen used to regard a lock of hair held by someone else. People think that in some way the existence of dossiers can do them damage. Dossiers do not do anyone damage by their existence. The newspapers have dossiers on all of us. It is not the dossier itself that we should watch, it is the use that might be made of it. We should examine very carefully this Bill to see that we are satisfied, as I am, that no improper use can be made of dossier material collected on individuals. Any security organisation would be failing in its duty if it did not collect information that came to hand about individuals whose activities could be damaging to the security of the community. Of course, much of this information will be inaccurate or irrelevant, but among the dross there may be nuggets. A pattern of behaviour or contacts may be built up.
No security service could possibly operate effectively without such squirrelling of information. The suggestion made quite often that no information should be included in a dossier unless it is known to be accurate is patently unworkable. I ask honourable senators to think about it. In practice it would mean that every rumour, no matter how unsubstantiated, about a person in a sensitive position would have to be investigated or else not be recorded although it might be of great significance if a pattern of behaviour developed. Investigating every such rumour would require a vast expansion of the security apparatus and would create a malicious informers’ paradise, while not recording such rumours would mean an ineffective security service which would be pointless. As I have said, what is the danger of a dossier? It has no danger in itself. It is only when it is improperly released that it becomes a danger. I suppose that the dangers might be firstly that a dossier might lead to an unjustified investigation of an individual by surveillance; that its contents might be improperly released, particularly to politicians; or that it might be secretly used to cause unjustified damage in areas such as promotion or appointment of public servants or the award of passports and so on.
The question of who might be a security threat is, of course, a subjective one. But it must be decided by someone. It would be intolerable if that decision were made by politicians. This Bill and the Act before it deliberately give this responsibility to an individual not to an organisation. It gives the responsibility to the Director-General of ASIO. I cannot see any practical alternative. It is a role which he must be trusted to perform. If we cannot trust him to perform it we should not appoint him. After all, under the new Bill the Leader of the Opposition is consulted before the Director-General is appointed. This is the only effective way to guard the guardian.
There have been allegations in the past- I have no idea whether they are true- that ASIO has leaked information to the Press. If that were so it was grossly improper and the Bill before us very properly provides penalties and offences for members of ASIO who take such action. The Bill before us very properly makes it an offence if any member of ASIO improperly releases information to the Press. Even more of a worry than releasing information to the Press would be its improper release to politicians. The stories of President Lyndon Johnson reading Federal Bureau of Investigation dossiers on politicians to circles of cronies are horrifying. Moreover, I think we should note that this type of sleazy behaviour puts the head of a security service in a position of potential blackmail over a government.
– What about ‘All the way with LB J’?
– I will leave that. I will tell honourable senators a story about LBJ if they want to hear one. I shall have to bowdlerise it a little for the delicate ears of the Opposition. He was once asked why he did not sack J. Edgar Hoover. He replied: ‘I could never do a thing like that. I would much rather have that man inside my tent spitting out than outside spitting in’, or words to that effect. We must never let the situation in which a person has such power develop in this country. Again, the provisions in the Bill such as consultation with the Opposition, and the limited term for the Director-General will safeguard adequately against that situation developing.
The Bill and the Act before it are deliberately designed to remove some aspects- essentially the personal files on individuals- from direct control by the Government. The Director-General of ASIO is one of the three officials who have some limits on responsibility to the Government. The other two officials of course are the AuditorGeneral and the Commissioner of Taxation. I am sure that everyone would be outraged if a Minister sent for an individual’s tax file. The Commissioner is expected to take action in accordance with the provisions of the relevant Acts and, where necessary, his actions are subject to appropriate review. So it should be and so it will be with ASIO when this Bill is passed. In my view the main outrage of Senator Murphy’s celebrated raid on ASIO is the thought of him leafing through raw dossiers on individuals, an action which Mr Justice Hope pointed out should have been resisted by ASIO.
The question must come up: What is the appropriate review mechanism? Except in the case of appointments to or promotions in the Public Service and the issue of passports and other things in that area, such as in naturalisations, security action can be taken only through the courts. But there have been fears and allegations in the past that secret security reports have been used to the disadvantage of individuals. The Hope royal commission recommended, and the Government has accepted in this Bill, that such individuals- with the one exception I have already mentioned- must be told that there is a security objection and the security objection must be examined by an independent tribunal. This seems to me to be fair. I think the provisions in the Bill before us are adequate.
One other matter I should like to deal with is the question of the relations with the State police force special branches. This raises important considerations. The Bill provides for ASIO, subject to directions of the Minister, to co-operate with departments, police forces and authorities of the States and also with overseas countries. I think it is both necessary and proper that there should be co-operation with State police. Security must be controlled by a national body because security knows no State boundaries. Security could be handled by a single body as is done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in America. There are however, obvious administrative advantages in having a central organisation- ASIO- supported by special branches of State police because such branches can make economical use of the State police infrastructure. In any case, the States are reimbursed for the cost involved. What is unacceptable is for the State governments to attempt to impose political control on the use of the special branches as agents and co-operating units with ASIO. This type of political interference in individual cases has been deliberately excluded at the Federal level. It would be absurd to permit it at the State level.
– The Townley committee was impressed with the New South Wales special branch role when it came before it.
– I think the special branches play a valuable role. There is no question that it is much more economic than to have ASIO doing everything throughout the country. Any security service, or any police force for that matter, necessarily involves a restriction on individual freedom in the interests of the community. In an ideal society we would not need either police or security services. We do not live in such a society and it would be absurd to permit individuals whose professed aim is to destroy our economic system to cripple our security service in the name of individual liberty, a concept in which they do not believe.
– I do not wish to speak at great length on the substance of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill at this stage. There will be an opportunity later when we are in Committee to deal in detail with the various matters which the Opposition will be raising. But there are some general observations which I ought to make about this Bill. The Australian Labor Party does not accept that this Bill is a satisfactory measure for controlling the security services of this country, in particular the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. I intend to confine my brief remarks to the discussion of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill and not speak to the other matters which are being dealt with concurrently this evening. We believe, as I have said, that this Bill is very unsatisfactory and that many amendments will be necessary. Whilst saying that, I appreciate that there are considerable problems in drafting any legislation which is to provide for the organisation, management and operations of a secret intelligence service, which is in fact what the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation is, at least insofar as domestic security is concerned.
There is something fundamentally undemocratic about the existence of any secret state organisation. The nature of democracy is that it is a publicly observable process, that decisions are made as a result of information made available to the public, debated by the public and dealt with ultimately by the elected representatives of the public. Whenever there is a secret organisation, whatever it may be, which has as its purpose interference with the lives of citizens, for whatever reason, insofar as this is done there is of necessity and by definition a departure from democratic practice.
Having said that, it is not the view of the Australian Labor Party that it follows that there should not be any secret intelligence organisation such as ASIO. We live in a world in which there are people who represent other countries, various political organisations either domestic or foreign, who themselves engage in secret activities dedicated to inflict violence and harm unlawfully upon other countries. It is necessary that there should be secret organisations to watch the activities of those people and to report to some responsible person about their activities. There can be no argument about that any more than there can be any argument that all policemen should wear uniforms and there should be no plain-clothes detectives. There should be. But the problem which we have to deal with and the problem which we believe has not been dealt with satisfactorily by the Bill which is before us now is the problem of securing two ends which need to be attained when there is a secret service within a democratic society.
The first of those objectives is to ensure public supervision of a secret activity. By definition again, this is an extraordinarily difficult task, that the public or the representatives of the public should be supervising the activities of people whose operations by their very nature need to be secret. The second problem is the accountability to the public of a secret arm of the state. Again, almost by definition, it seems practically impossible, and certainly extraordinarily difficult, to have any watertight, completely satisfactory arrangement whereby a secret organisation can be accountable to the public. I think I would be speaking for most members of the Australian Labor Party when I say that at least this Bill, insofar as it embodies the recommendations of Mr Justice Hope, will bring about considerable improvements on the law as it has stood up till now. We still do not believe that it goes anywhere near far enough.
Over the years the Opposition has had many criticisms to make of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Whatever criticisms may or may not be made of the actions that Senator Murphy- as he then was when he was AttorneyGeneral took with regard to ASIO, I believe that they become largely explicable and understandable when one recalls the sort of treatment which members of the Australian Labor Party and people with whom they were associated received for some 20 years from members of ASIO.
Senator Missen by way of interjection a few minutes ago referred to the fact that Mr Justice Hope himself in his report had referred to the leaking of information from ASIO to the Press. This is something that was established in Mr Justice Hope’s inquiry. It is very difficult to prove these matters and I certainly do not wish to make any allegations. But I can say that I am certainly satifed in my own mind that, in the period before 1972, information was made available by ASIO to politicians and to people engaged in political activity concerning members of the Australian Labor Party, supporters of the Australian Labor Party and opponents of the Government in order to discredit and damage them. I believe that it did happen. I certainly think that anybody who reads Mr Justice Hope’s report with any degree of intelligence will know that that suggestion is implicit in His Honour’s report.
Certainly a record such as that has been such that it has prompted many people- people who were otherwise most reasonable- to believe that ASIO itself should have been abolished and possibly a new organisation altogether should have been created, if indeed there should be any organisation at all. We are not saying that but we are saying that there ought to be as much scrutiny as there possibly can be, within the limits of the efficiency which is necessary, of such a body. We have seen recently in a number of countries the excesses- and I am talking of democratic or at least partly democratic or parliamentary countries- which a secret organisation such as ASIO, an organisation constituted for the same purposes as ASIO, can commit.
We have seen in the United States of America where all the scrutiny which is available to the members of the United States Senate, the members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States courts has been unable to prevent completely improper conduct both by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and by the Central Intelligence Agency. I am not a monomaniac or paranoid about these matters. I do not think one can blame the FBI or the CIA for everything that has happened everywhere. I certainly think that there are a number of people who have their own reasons and quite dishonest reasons for alleging that they did, but the fact remains- and it is quite evident and everybody knows it- that a large number of instances particularly during the administration of President Nixon, but not only during that administration, the FBI and the CIA were used for completely improper purposes and sometimes without the knowledge of the United States Administration.
– Much of it was exposed only by the Freedom of Information Act.
-A great deal was only exposed by the Freedom of Information Act. I agree with that statement completely. Some was exposed by other people who did not rely on the Freedom of Information Act. I do not want to go into it now but from some recent experiences I have been having, I am not entirely sure that the United States Freedom of Information Act is quite as effective as some of its enthusiastic admirers might believe, well intentioned though it is. We have also seen in South Africa just recently- and South Africa at least so far as its white population is concerned has elements of being a democratic society; it certainly has a parliament- the Bureau of State Security in that country has apparently been acting without the knowledge of at least some Ministers and apparently without the knowledge of the present Prime Minister. Large sums of money were being spent and all sorts of activities were engaged in by the South African Bureau of State Security, by General Van den Bergh and others without the authority of the Government. Clearly we have to try to prevent -
– You are not pre-judging that issue, I hope?
– I do not think that I am pre-judging the issue. I would have thought that General Van den Bergh ‘s removal from office would mean that, if I am pre-judging it, the Prime Minister of South Africa is also prejudging it. I would have thought that the Prime Minister of South Africa would have more reason for trying to defend his own security organisation- I would do anyway- than Senator Rae would. If the South African Prime Minister felt that it was necessary for the General to leave his service, I find it rather strange that Senator Rae would tell us from his knowledge that the South African Prime Minister was wrong, although I am not sure that that is what the honourable senator was suggesting.
– You are not suggesting that that could happen here in Australia, surely?
– I am suggesting it could happen here, yes, if there are not proper supervisions- yes indeed! Only if there is adequate legislation to cover this possibility will we stop such things from occurring. I am sure that there were many people in the United States of America who would have said that it would have been impossible that the CIA or the FBI would have done the things that it did. It turned out subsequently that they did do them. That is one of the reasons why the United States Congress has endeavoured through measures such as the
Freedom of Information Act to take steps to prevent such things happening again in the future.
– What are you suggesting could happen here in Australia?
– What I am suggesting is that the amendments which will be moved by the Australian Labor Party should be carried. That is what I suggest ought to be done. I think that there are three main -
– -Whare are you suggesting for Australia?
– If you will just listen, I will tell you, Senator Bonner. Do not be impatient. I know that you are anxious to know what I have to say. I will come to it in due course. You are bubbling over with enthusiasm.
– Bubbling is right.
– I will accept your correction, Senator Evans. There are three main matters which the Opposition amendments go towards correcting. The first is the removal from the minds of the Australian people of the suspicion that ASIO is acting in a partisan manner in the interests of the Government. That is certainly a suspicion- indeed more than a suspicion- that many Australians felt up to 1972. It certainly is, I believe, much more than a suspicion in my own case. There are amendments which relate to discussions between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in regard to the appointment of the DirectorGeneral of security which we in the Australian Labor Party believe are essential if we are to have a bipartisan policy on security. If there is not a bipartisan policy on security, if there is a party or a group of parties within Australia representing about half of the Australian people who believe that ASIO is not acting properly, that ASIO is a weapon that is being used against them, we will have an ineffective ASIO. We of the Labor Party wish to see an effective ASIO but we wish to see an ASIO which is effective in doing the things which it is supposed to be doing. One way in which we believe that that can be done is by having the consultation which we call for between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
The second proposition which we put forward and which I believe is a major one is that there should be security within ASIO itself. We believe that the same limitation ought to be applied to the information which ASIO divulges to State police special branches as is applied to ASIO. There is an appropriate amendment. It is no use having a tight secure ASIO if it is providing information to some other law enforcement agencies which are making available in a partisan manner or in a manner which is dangerous- and properly dangerous- to an individual, information which should not be divulged. The third amendment, which I believe again is a most important point, is the provision, which we hope to see inserted within the Bill before it becomes an Act, that the financial activities of ASIO should be subject to the scrutiny of the Auditor-General. Had that provision applied in South Africa, for example, there would not have been the possibilities for Dr Rhoodie, General Van den Bergh and various others to have done what they are alleged to have done. If there is this power for the Auditor-General, not to go through every cheque butt and every receipt but at least to have an overall supervision on the expenditure of ASIO, we believe that this in itself will be a tremendous safeguard for the security of this country.
On the whole, the Australian Labor Party welcomes, in some respects, this Bill. I do not wish to contradict myself by talking about ‘on the whole ‘ and ‘in some respects ‘, but we do not welcome it enough to support it. We welcome it insofar as it is a considerable improvement on what has gone before, but we believe it can only be satisfactory, it can only do the job which it is supposed to do, it can only act as something which benefits the people of Australia rather than dividing the people of Australia, if the amendments which we propose are adopted by this Senate.
– Order! It being 1 1 p.m., in conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– On the day we rose for a week’s recess I raised the issue of the current review of eligibility for the telephone rental concession. I do not inlend to canvass the issues I raised when I last spoke. Even though the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) was not in the chamber at the time, I am sure she has studied the Hansard record of what I said. However, I emphasise that the sudden, almost secretive, introduction of the review left many people quite confused, particularly the elderly. Even today I had a telephone call at my Brisbane office from a distressed elderly lady who was about to lose her telephone rental concesion because she has been quite ill and has been obliged to ask a working relative to come to live with her.
At this stage I wish to pose some questions to the Minister. Firstly, I hope that the Minister will comment on the confusion caused by an apparent shortage of forms in Queensland; I outlined details of this in the Senate on 8 March. My second question arises because some pensioners will lose their telephone rental concession as a result of the current review. Ms Erica Parker in her column in the Brisbane Telegraph last week reported she had been informed by the Department of Social Security that pensioners would not be required to repay any concession incorrectly received by them in the past. So that there can be no doubt on this matter I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed that no pensioner need worry about receiving a demand for a refund of the concession which he or she previously received incorrectly. Could the Minister now inform the Senate how the figure of $79.70 was arrived at when fixing the cut-off for another person who is living in the pensioner’s house? Is this amount set by the Minister’s Department or by the Australian Telecommunications Commission?
In conclusion, I reiterate that I am disappointed that the confusion which faced the pensioners of Australia did occur. Given proper planning and an humanitarian approach, a great deal of heartburn would have been prevented.
– I raise the topic of discrimination. The particular case I wish to discuss is the alleged discrimination against people of Greek origin in Darwin. I do so tonight because of its relationship to today’s urgency debate and also because of an incident which happened in Darwin last week. Last Thursday a Greek born Australian came to me in a very disturbed state and put this question: Why do Australians hate Greeks? He gave examples of discrimination which I will give later. He was very concerned about this, and fearing that violence could follow- he was that disturbed- he had taken it upon himself to go around to a number of Greek clubs in Darwin to try to defuse the issue by saying to them: ‘It is not a fact. Australians do not hate Greeks ‘.
I was particularly disturbed about his concern, sufficiently so to investigate the matter. I contacted the Greek consul and leading citizens of Greek origin, businessmen, et cetera, and put this question to them: ‘Do you see examples of discrimination against Australians of Greek origin in Darwin?’ Some of them said that they had seen examples. Others said they could not give specific examples. But the general feeling was that there was discrimination. A stronger feeling was that a good number of Greeks in Darwin felt that there was discrimination. I contacted the Office of the Commissioner for Community Relations. I was informed that some examples had been reported to that office. I was given information which I find particularly interesting, and I quote the actual comments made: ‘In our experience when people say that there is discrimination there is a 90 per cent chance that they are right’. I think this matter should be of deep concern to all in the Senate and to the rest of Australia.
Why do these people of Greek origin in Darwin think there is discrimination? I will give some examples, without any comment at all, just as they have been reported to me by a number of people. I think that the examples I give will provide a lead as to why some people believe that there is trouble. The first example is that the media discriminates against Greeks. I use the word ‘Greek’ and ask the Senate to accept that word as meaning Australians of Greek origin, rather than my using the phrase each time.
When a Greek person is in trouble with the law the media tends to report it as ‘Greek in assault case’ or ‘Greek drunken driver’, rather than simply giving the person’s name or stating a man convicted of drunken driving’. This became so apparent to members of the Greek community that a senior citizen went to the newspaper and threatened to sue it unless it stopped the practice. It has stopped the practice. But, unfortunately, I feel that a good deal of damage has been done. In Australia it is a trait that many of us prefer to think worse of minority groups. I think that the newspaper concerned has done irreparable harm in using that technique.
Another area of concern is that of the police. A man reported to me that he went to the police station simply to have a statutory declaration signed. The officer at the counter allegedly replied ‘Get one of your wog friends to sign it’ and sent him from the station. Another example involves the traffic police who, instead of requesting the production of a licence or asking the usual question ‘May I see your licence’, allegedly have said on a number of occasions ‘Another b . . . Greek’ or have asked the question Are you a Greek’.
A number of cases have been reported of Greek women being hassled in Government offices, both Territory Government and Federal
Government, basically because of their inability to speak the language, or perhaps their inability to complete the sometimes complex forms. I remember one case of only a few weeks ago when an old territorian came to me most disturbed. My office is situated two or three floors above the Medibank office. This woman complained that a Greek woman had been given very rough treatment by the Medibank office and had been reduced to tears. She was sent from the Medibank office with the officer shouting at her, not speaking to her: ‘Get out and don’t come back until you have an interpreter’.
It has been reported that the same sort of treatment has been given at the hospital. There has been a general lack of consideration for those people who are unable to speak English. Little attempt has been made to accommodate those people and little sympathy has been shown for the person with an obvious difficulty. Obviously, if women go into hospital and they do not have a facility in the English language they tend to take an interpreter with them. But emergencies do arise and this must have been one of them. I think I have given enough examples to suggest that the Greek people believe that discrimination exists. If we follow the comment made by the officer from the Office of the Commissioner for Community Relations, we ought to be concerned about this because it is possible that discrimination does exist.
Two other factors must be taken into account. The first is that there is a high level of unemployment in the Northern Territory. Because many of the Greeks are involved in the building trade, probably a good number of them are unemployed. I have spoken in this place before about the effect on the building industry of the government cutbacks. Certainly the people who work in that industry are more likely to be affected than other people. There is a reluctance on the part of Greek people to register as unemployed. I do not know whether this is a cultural factor, whether there is some loss of face or some shame, if a man or woman admits that he or she is unemployed, or whether it is because of the treatment given them at the office at which they would have to register. I hope that it is the former. But the fact is that this situation does exist.
What can be done about the situation? I believe that in this case both groups have a responsibility: The Australians of Greek origin and the other Australians who live in the Territory. I refer first to the Greek-born Australians and those people not yet naturalised. The first obvious step is that they should learn English. We would all agree that that is an obvious step. I put it to them strongly that they should do so. Plenty of facilities and courses are available. There are pan-time courses, full-time courses, tutorials, release from employment and so on. They should take full advantage of those facilities. They certainly should take interpreters with them or should carry a card stating quite clearly ‘I cannot speak English; if you cannot understand me I will arrange for an interpreter’, or something similar. Many offices have interpreters, but they are not always at the front desk, so perhaps the card should state: ‘Would you get me an interpreter?’
Thirdly, Greek born Australians should continue the work which they have started of involving other Australians in their activities. There is no doubt that much would be done to break down any feeling that might exist if we had more Australian born members of the clubs. I take one excellent example of the Stuart Park parents group where the parents of Greek origin have invited the other parents in and given them a night of Greek food, Greek dancing and good harmony. What can we, the other Australians do in this matter? Of course, I include honourable senators and the Government generally. Firstly, we must not generalise on isolated examples. There are good and bad in every community. We had an unfortunate situation after Cyclone Tracy in which a number of Greeks were taking refrigerators and other electrical equipment from Darwin and bringing it south for sale. This occasioned a good deal of reaction against Greeks. But again, I stress that very few Greek people were involved in this. The vast majority of Greeks, like the rest of us, stayed back and hopped in to get Darwin operating again.
The matter I now raise comes closer to the Minister’s responsibility. Surely we can have a mature person on the front desk of Government Offices in this face to face relationship with members of the public. It is unfortunate that so many officers will insist on putting the last appointed junior on the front desk. This person is not trained and not equipped to deal with the problems when people who do not speak the language come into the office. We must have officers there who have some understanding and some appreciation of the difficulties that will arise. If language cards are available, certain messages can be conveyed to the non-english speaking person. Not all people who do not speak English can read Greek, but at least if the cards are ready they will give them a lead. There seems to be a need for training some police officers. I am not suggesting that all officers have fallen into the practice that I described earlier, but if some have done so, let us have training for them. Let us have clear direction from the Police Commissioner himself and make sure that these Officers are trained to overcome this problem.
The comments I made about government offices apply also to hospitals. Let us have mature people at the desk and let us have some assistance in the form of language cards and the ready availability of interpreters. The Government could reconsider providing funds for the Good Neighbour Council of Australia. I spoke earlier in the Senate about the need to provide funds for the Good Neighbour Council to keep up the good work which it is doing. There is no doubt that a void has been created by the action of the Government in withdrawing funds.
I do not want to delay the Senate for long. Perhaps I can conclude my remarks by saying that the governments, both Federal and Territory, have a responsibility to investigate the situation and to defuse it before there is any further problem. I call on them to initiate some sort of inquiry in the correct channels. The Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has interpreters. Perhaps there is a need to advertise this fact and make them readily available. The Commissioner for Community Relations needs to know about the things that happen. I suggest to any person who feels that he is being discriminated against that he should report the incident concerned. Perhaps the Commissioner himself might take the initiative and investigate the situation. I am concerned that the situation is at tinder point. I do not think anything but immediate action can defuse it and I call on the Government to take this action. I think that with goodwill on both sides we can restore the harmony which has always been a hallmark of the Darwin community. Perhaps the Government departments might set the tone or give the lead in this matter. They have a responsibility to make sure that benefits or services are made available to those people who are eligible. I challenge the Public Service to do just that and to serve all members of the public. I am not claiming that there is discrimination. I simply say that I am concerned and I ask the Minister to consider the position and arrange some investigation.
- Senator Colston raised a matter tonight and I take this opportunity to apologise that I was not in the Senate on the previous occasion when it was raised by him. It relates to the telephone rental concessions which are granted to eligible pensioners by my Department, the Department of Social Security, in arrangement with Telecom Australia. The first matter raised by Senator Colston was, as he termed it, the secret introduction of the review. It was not a secret introduction. It was a necessary review because this is a concession which may be granted under the provisions of the Act. It is binding on my Department to conduct such reviews. I could draw attention to the last two annual reports of the Auditor-General in which he makes mention of the need to improve procedures designed to check eligibility for this concession. The Department is required to pay to Telecom the amount of any concession allowed, and it has a legal obligation to ensure that the concession is allowed only in the circumstances prescribed by the legislation. The circumstances that made the present survey necessary and the actions that would be taken to meet the AuditorGeneral’s requirements were set out on pages 264 and 265 of the Auditor-General’s 1977-78 report which was tabled in Parliament in September of last year.
– I did not say ‘secret’. I said almost secretive ‘. I was describing the manner in which it came about. I was not trying to imply that it was a secret review.
– I see. The only purpose of the inquiry that is currently under way is to establish that persons who are being allowed the telephone rental concession are eligible for it and to ensure that pensioners who are eligible for the concession but who have not been claiming it will be given the opportunity to have the rental reduction to which they are entitled.
Senator Colston raised some specific questions when he brought this matter to the attention of the Senate. I think his first question was concerned with how the amount of $79.70, which is the amount of the concession, was arrived at. He also asked whether the Department of Social Security determines the amount or whether it is determined by the Australian Telecommunications Commission. The amount of $79.70 is the weekly equivalent of the prevailing annual standard rate of age or invalid pension, plus another amount. The effect of these two amounts in the formula is this: The amount of $79.70 a week is equivalent to the sum of the fringe benefit income limit of $33 and $46.70 which is the amount of pension payable to a standard rate pensioner with other income equal to the fringe benefit limit. That is how the amount of $79.70 was established, and that is the explanation sought by Senator Colston.
Senator Colston also raised the matter of difficulties experienced in Queensland with regard to forms. He quoted from a newspaper article written by Erica Parker which appeared in the Brisbane Telegraph on 8 March. In her article Miss Parker intimated that there may have been a shorfall in the number of questionnaires printed and that, as a result, some pensioners were sent a sort of after-thought notice. I should explain that only two types of correspondence are being used for the current review that is being undertaken with regard to the pensioner telephone rental concession. A questionnaire is being issued to all current pensioners who are entitled to fringe benefits and who have a telephone number recorded with the Deparment. Some 62,500 of these questionnaires were issued in Queensland in the period 1 March 1979 to 7 March 1979. During that period it was necessary to supplement the stationery supplies of the Brisbane office by getting about 2,000 additional forms from Melbourne. This did not delay the printing of the questionnaires and they were issued on time and as planned to pensioners who satisfied the selection criteria I mentioned previously.
An insert was included with pension cheques for payday 15 March 1979 sent to current pensioners who are entitled to fringe benefits but who do not have a telephone number recorded with the Department. The inserts have also been forwarded to pensioners who receive payment by way of direct deposit to a bank, a building society or a credit union. There are approximately 158,000 such cases in Queensland. The forwarding of this insert was necessary to clarify entitlement, since the Telecommunications Commission’s records indicate that some of these pensioners are receiving a concession when the social services records do not record the pensioner as being in receipt of the concession. The purpose of the insert is to ensure that the concession is provided only to those pensioners who are entitled to it. The review will mean that some pensioners will retain the concession while others will have it withdrawn because they are no longer entitled to it. The insert also invites pensioners not currently receiving the concession to test their eligibility if there is an apparent entitlement. I think that clarifies the matters that were raised previously by Senator Colston.
He also expressed his concern about people who are now found to be ineligible and whether they would be required to repay the value of any concession that they had been paid in the past where their eligibility has not been sustained. I am advised that the Director-General is concerned about this issue which is currently a matter of discussion with the Auditor-General. I hope that some means may be found to avoid any retrospective repayment to the Department by people on limited means of a concession which has been granted. That is the approach that is being taken by the Department, subject to the Auditor-General’s approval of that course of action. I will advise as soon as some definite decision is given on that but the approach of the Department is that as the review had not been taken on an annual basis and the concession had been paid we are hopeful that within the terms of our accountability we are able to see that no retrospective repayment is required of the pensioners concerned. I believe that deals with the matters that were raised by Senator Colston. If there is any further information on this which he requires, I will be pleased to supply it to him.
Senator Robertson raised, in a most constructive way, problems of people in Darwin of Greek origin or with Greek background. In all he has said we would agree that it would not be in the spirit of Australian community life that there should be discrimination against groups of people or individuals on account of their place of birth, background or ethnic group origin. I would certainly bring to the attention of Ministers in the Government the matters that have been raised by Senator Robertson. I would agree with him where he mentions the need for interpreters that the provision of information and communication of government programs of assistance that may be of benefit to unemployed people or to sick people or to ageing and frail people is a very basic need. I agree with him with regard to the persons who are working at counters in government departments. It is the first point of contact for many people who are reaching for assistance. I have stressed with my own Department’s administration and with the Public Service Board that there ought to be career opportunities at counter employment so that it is not always the most recently arrived member of a department who has this most important duty to perform. I have also stressed that where people have additional capacities such as additional languages they ought to have career opportunities in the public contact area of work which so often can be a great facility to those who require special services. I am pleased to see that Senator Robertson also has those views. I will again bring those matters forward in the appropriate way.
With regard to the Good Neighbour Council, I would need to refer that matter specifically to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar). Again I think there are different views about the work of the Good Neighbour Council in the future. Although I believe that there are many groups of people who feel that in some ways the work of the Good Neighbour Council could be performed in a different way in the future, there are also many who assert that the work of the Good Neighbour Council over so many years has been a magnificent voluntary service. I believe I met many members of the Good Neighbour Council in Darwin and I can understand that Senator Robertson would suggest that approval of funds for the continuation of these services would be something that should be considered by the Minister concerned. I will see that that is done. What was said by him constructively about personal friendships and relationships is something that brings to us all our own responsibilities. Certainly, it underlines the responsibility of government to people who find difficulty in settling in a new area. I hope that what was said by Senator Robertson will be read widely and agreed as being a most constructive approach to people of Greek origin who are having difficulties in his city. I will certainly see that the Government is advised.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.25 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1979:
– The Minister for Primary Industry has supplied the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
(a) Monahan Dayman Adams Pty Ltd, 153 Walker Street, North Sydney, NSW 2060.
(a) The fee paid to Monahan Dayman Adams by the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation will be TA per cent of media billings and the production cost of commercials and advertising materials for that part of the promotion campaign handled by the agency. This is the most common scale of fees charged in the advertising industry.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 21 February 1979:
Have any national surveys been made of fishing resources within the 200 mile limit: if so, what have been the results of such surveys?
– The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
A review of Australian fisheries resources within the 200 mile Australian Fishing Zone was conducted by an Australian Fisheries Council working group comprised of Commonwealth and State officers and experts from industry and
CSIRO. The working group’s report, ‘The 200 Mile Australian Fishing Zone ‘ was published in November 1 977.
In addition physical surveys have been undertaken by the Department of Primary Industry Fisheries Division in cooperation with State fisheries authorities and by the Fisheries and Oceanography Division of CSIRO. DPI surveys are directed towards development of commercial fisheries. CSIRO is concerned with resources research. CSIRO resource surveys have been undertaken in south eastern waters, in the Great Australian Bight and off Western Australia. DPI surveys have been conducted since 1977 concentrating on deep water trawl species in waters off south east Australia. Valuable fisheries have been located off South Australia and Tasmania and Australian commercial vessels are now operating in these fisheries.
A report on the 1977 survey is available from the Department of Primary Industry and a report on the 1978 survey will be available shortly. Progress reports on these surveys are published in the Department of Primary Industry monthly publication Australian Fisheries. Further surveys for other areas are proposed.
Exports of Wine and Brandy (Question No. 1316)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry the following question, on notice, on 22 February 1979:
– The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Several factors have contributed to the erosion of Australia’s competitive position in overseas markets. A very significant factor has been the cut-price exports issuing from the subsidised wine industries of the European Economic Community in an effort to reduce their massive wine surplus. Low-priced wine has also been emanating from Eastern European countries with the apparent aim of gaining hard currencies rather than making economic sales’.
The report also states that in relation to world wine production between 1966 and 1976:
Production has risen 24 per cent faster than consumption over these 10 years. The world’s markets are still flushed with surplus wine and the world’s 1977 surplus wine stock (or ‘wine lake’ as it is sometimes called within the European Economic Community) was estimated at 2.6 billion litres’.
This surplus is almost 8 dmes as large as Australia’s annual production of wine which in 1 978 was 332m litres.
The Wine Board and the industry has since examined alternative possibilities. However, I understand that they have reached the conclusion that because of the analytical methods required by the EEC this analysis would involve approximately the same cost whichever body performed it.
This would suggest that the analysis fee is costed at realistic levels.
I appreciate that the EEC certification requirements are particularly burdensome on exporters of small quantities of wine. On the other hand, without any mechanism to control the demands on its services, the Australian Government Analytical Laboratories could face an untenable work load.
The need for better terms of access to the EEC for Australian wine exports is a matter which is being actively pursued in ongoing discussions with the EEC.
It is pleasing to note the interest being shown in the Government ‘s ‘export now ‘ drive. The thrust of Government assistance to exporters is by way of grants related to performance. Industries are also encouraged to take full advantage of facilities provided by Australian Trade Commissioner Service.
In 1977-78 the Australian Wine Board became eligible for Grants totalling $210,000 which represented three quarters of total expenditure by the Board on overseas promotion during that year.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1979:
– The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 28 February 1979:
What has been the exchange rate of the Australian dollar, at 3 1 December of each year from 197 1 to 1978, expressed in units per Australian dollar, of (a) United States dollar; (b) pound sterling; (c) Deutschmark; (d) Guilder; (e) Swiss Franc; and (0 Yen.
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The exchange rate for the Australian dollar, as at the end of December of each year from 1971 to 1978, expressed in units per Australian dollar, is shown in the following table:
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 21 March 1979, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1979/19790321_senate_31_s80/>.