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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1054

Dr THEOPHANOUS(3.40) —It is a pleasure to follow the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) when, for a change, I am in agreement with him. He has dealt with many of the legal provisions of the Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill. It is quite clear that the amendment has arisen partly because when the Commonwealth's Racial Discrimination Act came into place there was considerable recalcitrance by some State governments regarding any anti- discrimination legislation being placed on the books. Considerable progress has been made in a variety of States regarding this matter. There has been a problem in that the overlap has resulted in a challenge in the High Court of Australia. Therefore, it is necessary for us to pass a further amendment to the Act in order to ensure that where there is harmony in principles between State and Commonwealth racial discrimination Acts people can take action under both Acts. We must have a situation in which good and morally just State legislation in these matters is not destroyed or overridden. The section which is to be amended in the original Act is section 6A. It will provide that nothing in this legislation renders Australia or a State liable to be prosecuted for an offence. As I said, the amendments will now involve the harmonising of these two sets of measures in the States. I want to address myself more generally as to why anti- discrimination legislation of this kind is absolutely essential. One cannot go past what has been stated in the Schedule to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975; that is, the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, which was passed by the United Nations. The first paragraph is worth repeating. It states:

Considering that the Charter of the United Nations is based on the principles of the dignity and equality inherent in all human beings, and that all Member States have pledged themselves to take joint and separate action, in co- operation with the Organization, for the achievement of one of the purposes of the United Nations which is to promote and encourage universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion,

The second paragraph, which is important, states:

Considering that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set out therein, without distinction of any kind, in particular as to race, colour or national origin,

This passage is especially topical in Australia at present:

Convinced that any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere.

Those declarations are worth repeating because although there is agreement on all sides of this House about the abhorrence of racial discrimination, individuals and groups in this community are still trying to stir up racial and ethnic differences on the basis of doctrines of superiority-doctrines which can be described only as obnoxious and ignorant. In particular, with the economic crisis in Australia, there are attempts to blame various minority groups, be they Asians, southern Europeans, Middle Eastern, Latin American or even the Australian Aborigines. Particular groups are blamed for the problems of the economic situation. I am sure that all honourable members on both sides of the House abhor this kind of logic. I am sure that they do not agree that migrants to this country, Asian refugees or any other ethnic group in this country, should be treated differently from the way in which the rest of the community is treated. The problems within the community are structural in character and of an economic nature. I will not go into the causes of those problems in this speech because I have done so in many others. It is intolerable that we have people preaching the gospel of hatred, putting one group against another, in this community.

The Racial Discrimination Act is an excellent Act. What we need are better modes of enforcement of the Act against groups and individuals who resort to these sorts of tactics. It is time for more action to ensure that the principles and the spirit of the Act are carried out. If they are not, we will have groups whose principles are based on the gospel of hatred and those groups and individuals will start to have an insidious influence within the community. We may find that, instead of a bringing together of all Australians-to use a phrase that has been used recently-to deal with the problems of this nation which need to be dealt with by the Government, some people will try to take the opposite approach and act in a negative and derogatory fashion.

It is in this sense that I support the Bill. The Government will endorse and assist with anything that any State government is prepared to do to assist in the spirit of co-operation, to destroy completely racial discrimination and to promote harmony within a multicultural community. In that sense this Bill is a positive measure because it endorses and assists in that general process. On the other hand, I make it clear that nothing in the new amendments will change our resolve in relation to those State governments which have refused to introduce racial discrimination and which implicitly, if not explicitly, continue to have racist practices. I refer to their attitudes towards the Aboriginal people. Unfortunately some State governments have not been prepared to introduce legislation to carry out the principles of the Federal Racial Discrimination Act in their States. In fact, they have gone further and tried to undermine the implementation of that Act. We recall all of the problems which the former Commissioner for Community Relations, Mr Grassby, had with the Premier of Queensland in trying to obtain some agreement on these matters-through dialogue; not through the use of any punitive powers-but who increasingly found himself frustrated. The very validity of the Act was challenged by certain people. It is disgraceful that anyone in public office should feel entitled to challenge the validity of an Act which tries to encourage harmony and equality in our community and which gives every Australian, irrespective of race or culture, a fair go.

In conclusion, I applaud the quick action being taken by the Attorney-General ( Senator Gareth Evans) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) to ensure that we have progress and continuity in the long campaign to eradicate racial prejudice and discrimination in this country. Their actions are to be applauded in that they will allow us to continue with our program and to ensure that all State governments will have this progressive legislation and all persons who wish to take action under either State or Federal legislation will be able to do so. I end with a plea that by the time of the next parliament we will be able to say that every State government has commensurate legislation in the area of racial discrimination.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.