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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1481

Senator COONEY(8.05) —The comments made by Senator Short perhaps indicate the effectiveness of the Human Rights Commission over the years. It was set up by the Fraser coalition Government in 1981 and it existed until December 1986 when legislation was brought in to end it. It has now been replaced by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The significant point about Senator Short's remark was that over that period he was able to detect only two or three points of criticism. It stands in the Commission's stead that so little criticism can be made of it over that five-year period.

Senator Michael Baume —I have some more to come.

Senator COONEY —Senator Michael Baume has a lot more criticisms to come. It is easy enough to criticise the mistakes of any institution. It has even been suggested in these hallowed halls that parliamentarians can make mistakes, that judges can make mistakes or that teachers can make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. Therefore, it is easy to criticise a particular body by picking out some negative aspects of its behaviour and suggesting that these represent the lot. If one looks at the highlights of 1985-86 in this report one can see what the Commission has done. It says that it has had an increasing number of complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act, two-thirds of which related to employment. What is wrong with a body which purports to and in fact does eliminate discrimination in employment? If people are discriminated against on the basis of colour, education or sex and if there is a body to address that, what is wrong with that? Surely in a society which purports to give everybody equal opportunities and which allows people to make the best possible use of their talents, is it not proper that they be given every opportunity to develop those talents as best they can?

There is evidence of prejudice in society. I have here some anecdotal, but significant evidence taken by Annette Rubinstein of the Western Regional Health Centre in June 1983 about the results of workers' compensation claims made. She found that 6.8 per cent of the claims made by Australian and United Kingdom born men were rejected. This compared with a rejection rate of 17.6 per cent for claims made by Australian and United Kingdom born women. The rejection rate for the women was more than double, in fact it was almost treble that of the men. The claims of migrant men showed a 19.7 per cent rejection rate, compared with 35.4 per cent for those of migrant women. Those figures were not taken over a wide base, but nevertheless they were the results obtained in this survey and this evidence raises a question about the way in which women-and migrant women particularly-are treated. If we, as a society, stand around and say that nothing should be done about such things, that any attempt to rectify this should be rejected, we should consider just exactly what we are doing to our society.

I invite Senator Michael Baume and whoever speaks on the other side on this matter to suggest what they would do to stop that sort of thing happening, what they will do to bring some sort of equality so that people of equal merit will be treated equally in society. If that cannot be done, I suggest that it ill becomes people to criticise an organisation and a body which attempts to do what nobody else attempts to do. I gather from what Senator Short says he will do that the Opposition will absolutely reject any attempt to bring fairness and equity into the work place and into this society.