return to list of speeches


Senator Lionel Murphy QC

Leader of the  ALP in the Senate





'Radio Script: Censorship' Senator Lionel Murphy QC ALP Leader in the Senate July 1967







One of the great myths in Australia is that we live in a free country. But this is a myth because today our civil liberties and human rights are being whittled away.

Fundamental freedoms are ignored or challenged by an increasingly authoritarian Government.

There is a creeping erosion of the everyday rights which so many people still believe are beyond question.

The most dramatic attack on our civil rights is conscription, with young men forced to fight in the Vietnam war which so many believe to be unjust and immoral - young men who have the choice of killing or being killed in one of the most confused conflicts in history.

But there is a great mass of day-by-day repression by a powerful Government and its bureaucracy.

The homes of respectable citizens are invaded without cause as in the case of Miss Edith Mayo in Queensland.

You may not read certain books if a public servant or Minister decides otherwise.

You are not allowed to see certain films if the Minister for Customs decides otherwise.

If you are a public servantóone in four of Australia's workforceóyou risk dismissal if you criticise your Department or take an active part in politics.

If you have political associations you may find yourself the subject of a security dossier and your 'phone tapped.

If your political or industrial views clash with the Establishment you may find yourself blackballed for certain jobs, especially in the mass media.

This suppression of our rights flows directly from the Federal Liberal Government.

A change can occur only by a change in that Government - by the election of people who have not become accustomed to repression. This is the only way to change a system which has grown far too powerful.

The Labor Government will be pledged to carry out the policies on civil liberties adopted at our Federal Conference last July.

These will give you freedom to decide how to live your life, without the shadow of big brother over your shoulder. A Labor Government will move to alter the Australian Constitution to include a Bill of rights - to provide that fundamental civil rights and liberties could not be infringed by any Government, no matter who was in power.

Also a Labor Government is pledged to take all possible legislative and administrative action, as well as judicial proceedings, to prevent attacks on our freedom, especially to prevent discrimination on the grounds of colour, race, religion or politics.

Trial by jury, under attack from many quarters, would under Labor be preserved and extended as far as practicable in all serious civil and criminal cases.

Other important changes under Labor would come in the field of censorship - an area where Australia has become an international laughing stock and linked with countries like Ireland, South Africa and Spain.

Labor would change censorship laws so that adults would be entitled to read, hear and view what they wished in private or public, but with the important reservation that they and the persons in their care should not be exposed to unsolicited material offensive to them.

A judicial tribunal would be set up to hold public hearings and give published reasons for decisions, while Commonwealth laws for censorship of imported books, records and films would be altered to accord with this general principle.

This is a major step which would bring Australia into line with enlightened international opinion.

This attitude on censorship is symbolic of Labor's broad views in all areas of Government.

We Australians live in the seventies not the twenties - we have a major role in today's world and we deserve to live our lives freely under a truly democratic Government.

Now is the time to regain our rights. A vote for Labor is a vote for freedom.

return to list of speeches





'Address to the 27th ALP Conference' Proceedings of the 1967 ALP Annual Conference


Mr. President, Federal and State Leaders and Delegates,

I wish to refer, first, to the great victory in Corio. Congratulations are due to the candidate, to the Federal Leader, Gough Whitlam, to the other Leaders, and Members of the State and Federal Parliaments who took part in the campaign, and special congratulations are due to the Victorian Branch which organised and financed and carried out a magnificent campaign.

Mr. President, our goal is to rearrange our society in such a way that every person will have the opportunity to attain the utmost fulfilment of his own personality - that is the goal of democratic socialism. It was the aim of those who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the citizen in 1789; it was the aim of those who wrote the American Bill of Rights; it was the aim of those who wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it is our aim.

It is an error to think that the only changes we have to make are changes in the economic structure. Chances in the control of production, distribution and exchange are an essential part of our programme of democratic socialism. Equally important, indispensable, are changes in the constitution and law to enlarge personal freedom and to ensure democratic procedures. Unless we do this our society will inevitably degenerate into fascism or communism.

The increasing concentration of economic and political power is a menace to personal freedom unless it is subjected to public control. This applies, not only to the private sector, the great concentrations of economic power there with corresponding political power, it also applies to the public sector. Abuses of power, social injustice and inequality can occur also in the great public corporations and departments of State unless they are subjected to public supervision and control.

Every generation has to fight over and over again the battle for our fundamental civil rights and liberties and this generation has to do that also. We Australians tend to think that our civil rights are beyond question. In recent times, almost every one of our fundamental rights and liberties has been either trampled on, whittled away, challenged or ignored in Australia.

In the Mt. Isa dispute the freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom even of movement were denied by the Queensland Government. You will recall that a man was prevented even from rejoining his own family.

In the Paddington case in the R.S.L. freedom to express political beliefs was denied to members of the R.S.L. in New South Wales.

In Parliament, the Prime Minister himself has used 'guilt by association' on three occasions in a very short period. You will remember one of those - the Michaelis case.

The recent amendments to the Crimes Act reversed the traditional onus of proof - they introduced offences in vague and general terms. Trial by Jury has been under attack; in New South Wales attempts to take it away civilly; in the Federal Parliament attempts to take it away in criminal cases; in New guinea it's been swept away altogether. Do you know that, up until 3 or 4 years ago, In New Guinea, there was Trial by Jury at least in limited capital cases for Europeans.

The way they achieved equality in New Guinea was not to extend Trial by Jury as far as practicable, but to sweep it away altogether. So don't think that even the most cherished of our rights is sacrosanct. Each one of these is in peril.

The great constitutional safeguard of the citizen was the habeas corpus - we all read about this when we were at school. This was the great safeguard for which men shed blood in England three centuries ago. That safeguard was built on two basic features. One was that you could go to any Judge to make an application for yourself or any person who was unlawfully imprisoned. If you failed, you could go to every other Judge. The other basic feature of it was that if once you were freed there could be no appeal against that by the Crown. The liberty of the citizen was not to be kept dangling while there were successive appeals. That was the second great feature which made this the fundamental remedy of the citizen in this country. That was the position when I was a boy.

Today in New South Wales both of those basic features have been swept away 0 one by judicial decision, the other by legislation.

We have the police in various States pressing to amend what is known as the Telephone Tapping Act, the Federal Act which prevents the invasion of privacy on the telephone, and, if they get their way, that would be done. I should say that what they are asking for is utterly opposed to our policy. We will resist it in the Parliament and, if I know the Senate and I think I do, it will never pass the Senate, never. The attempts to invade privacy by tapping telephones to combat organised crime such as gambling would never be tolerated in this community, and those who are pressing for it ought to forget it because they will never achieve it.

Equal representation is one of the basic civil rights in any community. We don't have it in Australia. You don't have equal representation in this State; if you did have you would have had a Labor Government twenty years ago. If you did have it there would be no doubt of the outcome of the next State Election. But you don't have equal representation; you don't have adult suffrage on the basis of one man or woman, one vote - one value. Democracy is denied in the Lower House in South Australia and, of course, it doesn't exist in any sense in the Upper House. It doesn't exist in the Upper House in Tasmania. These basic rights must be restored before we can claim to have democracy in Australia. So far as equal representation is concerned we should amend the Constitution of the Commonwealth to provide that there will be equal representation in every Federal and State Legislature - that is every Chamber throughout the Commonwealth. Until we have that we cannot claim to have democracy.

What has been happening about this in the spheres where we can do something about it?

You heard what the Premier of South Australia said about what he was doing in this State, and he has done a great deal to move towards democracy.

In the Senate we have done whatever we could. In the last period of this Parliament we have had challenges to democracy. The most important of these was the attempt by the Government to deny Trial by Jury to persons charged with serious criminal charges, even involving lengthy terms of imprisonment. An attempt was made in the Narcotic Drugs Bill and the Customs Bill to create a situation where a person could be subjected to up to two years imprisonment and a $1,000 fine and be denied Trial by Jury. Well, we wouldn't tolerate it. By one of the heaviest votes against the Government that measure was defeated and the Government was let known in the most emphatic terms that no legislation of that character would ever pass through the Senate.

Endeavours were made in an Education Bill to introduce a system of Scholarships where the award of scholarships, the entitlement to them, the terms upon which they were held, the terms upon which they could be taken away from students (and these were all Commonwealth Scholarships, secondary, technical, graduate and postgraduate scholarships) al of these matters were to be in the discretion of the Minister alone - not limited by any regulation or rule but to be for his sayso, so that he could give a scholarship to one person and to another, in precisely identical circumstances, he could deny it. Senator Cohen led the debate on this matter and the reaction of the Senate was such that the Government was repeatedly defeated and the Bill was withdrawn by Senator Gorton in disorder, and that Bill is still pending.

Now this was a most serious invasion of the rights of the citizen. When the citizen's rights depend not on any Act of Parliament, not on any regulation or rule, but depend on the sayso of a Minister or some other public official, then there are no rights - you haven't got any rights. All you can do is ask for something. If we are going to have democracy in this community; if the citizen is going to have proper entitlement, then we must base it on law and order and not on discretion of public officials, and no man ought to be in the position where he can discriminate, as was sought by Senator Gorton, and as was repulsed by the Senate in the debate magnificently led by Senator Cohen.

The endeavour by the Government to avoid the control by Parliament of public officials has been repeated in the last several years in the Federal Parliament. Endeavours have been made again and again to introduce a system of instruments in writing whereby laws could be made of a subordinate character which were not subject to the supervision of Parliament - they were not to be tabled as regulations would be, they would be not subject to disallowance by either House of Parliament. On every occasion those attempts have been defeated in whatever form they have been made by whatever device, obvious or underhand, the Government has used, those have been rejected in the Senate, and they will continue to be rejected in the Senate.

The Parliamentary Party, using the situation we have in the Senate, has seen to it that the abuse of the regulation-making power by the Government has been curbed and prevented.

You will remember the famous Ipec case. There was a case where a regulation was introduced to which we had no objection in its terms. It was simply to alter the authority to make a determination on the importation of aircraft from the Director-General to the Minister. We had no objection to that. We thought it probably ought to be in the hands of the Minister. The circumstances under which it was introduced, however, showed that this was an abuse of power. It was deliberately designed to defeat the rights of those who made an application and got to the very doors of the Privy Council with their case about to be heard. This was a blatant and arrogant abuse of power.

The history of this count shows a steady erosion of the standards which used to govern our conduct of public affairs and ought to continue to govern them. The brazen misuse of power by the Federal Government shows that we ought never to consider that any of these rights which we've thought to be safe, are safe at all. We need amendment of the Constitution to provide that the fundamental civil rights and liberties will be beyond question - that no government will be able to trample of these rights.

Mr. President - our task is not simply to alter the economic conditions. There are many great matters with which we must concern ourselves, which are outside the sphere of the Economic Planning Committee.

We must restate the rights of citizens in Australia for our generation in the new context of concentrated economic and political power. Then we must initiate the reforms necessary to defend these rights, to ensure democracy and enlarge personal freedom. Every extension of governmental power must be balanced by new defences for personal freedom.

All over the world people are demanding not only freedom from want and fear, but personal freedom and dignity. Our success as a political party will be judged by the standards we establish - of liberty, equality and fraternity.

The weakness of democracy is in not subjecting to public control the great concentrations of economic power. The strength of democracy is in our civil rights and liberties. Our Party in the Senate will fight to maintain, to strengthen and to extend those rights and liberties.

return to list of speeches