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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 4004


Mr SPENDER(4.20) —I shall be brief since the House is about to adjourn. I think there are more members outside the chamber than there are inside it.


Mr Young —We still have the quality.


Mr SPENDER —The quality is here; the Minister is quite right. As the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) has pointed out, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Bill was originally passed through this House in late 1985. One year later it is back here. At that time it was part of the Bill of Rights package. We opposed the entire package for the reasons which we stated here then and which we stated throughout the country. What happened? The Government withdrew the Bill of Rights legislation. Reasons were sought to be advanced as to why the Government withdrew the Bill of Rights legislation, but it withdrew it for one very simple reason: The Bill was unpopular, it was rejected throughout the Australian community and that rejection was made manifest everywhere. I went around this country addressing public meetings in all the States and the Northern Territory. The reaction against the erosion, as the public rightly saw it, of our rights and liberties under what was proposed was strong. For that reason and no other reason, the Government pulled back. It pulled back simply because it had an electoral liability. When this Government is faced with electoral liabilities, as it will be faced with one in the case of the identity card, its capacity for compromise and capitulation is truly remarkable.

The original Human Rights Commission was established under the Fraser Government. That Government was wise enough to set up that Commission with a five-year sunset clause which by now would have just about come into effect. We will have a replacement commission. Let me make it quite plain that on this side of the chamber we entirely and consistently support the cause of human rights in this country, but we have a different view as to the way in which to go about things. I should have thought that this Government would have learnt that the establishment of a commission with wide-ranging powers to make value judgments as to what some of the very general statements of principle in the various international covenants mean is not something that suits this country and is not a way of going about things that reflects our values.

Let me remind the House of one or two aspects of the way in which the existing Commission has worked. We can hope for no better from what will take over its work. In the first place, when it found that its activities were criticised by the then shadow Attorney-General what did it do? It excluded him from its premises. That illustrates a very peculiar approach to questions of human rights since one of the human rights that we are meant to uphold is that to criticise and to suffer criticism. Next, it was asked by this Government to do a number of reviews on legislation. It did a review, review No. 14 for the Attorney-General, of the Queensland electricity supply and related industrial laws. One of the changes made in Queensland was to the effect that, where a person is a member of a trade union, that person, under the change made to the laws of Queensland, could resign at any time at all rather than having to give notice. Most of us would think that was perfectly fine because we are dealing with voluntary associations and, if members of a voluntary association wish to quit such an association, they should be able to do so immediately. This is what was said by the Commission and it illustrates the ideological bias of the body and the great dangers of vesting these wide-ranging powers to make value judgments in a commission such as the one that was set up and such as the one that is to be set up. Referring to the Queensland law, report No. 14, at page 13, states:

It repeals the existing section 48 of the Principal Act and substitutes a new section 48 which allows for resignation from a union by a union member to be immediately effective on the member so notifying the union in writing. This provision overrides any union rule which provides to the contrary.

What is wrong with that? The report continues:

The Commission considers that such a provision could lead to an erosion of the financial position of unions, damage union solidarity and make unions less able to work for and protect the interests of workers generally. It is understood that most union rules provide a minimum period of notice of resignation partly to ensure the financial stability of the union-

and what has that to do with the rights of members, one might ask-

and partly to prevent members resigning in a huff over a particular decision made at a particular time by a union with which they may not for the moment agree.

In other words, Australians are too damned stupid to be able to make their own decisions as to whether they want to be in or out of a particular union run by a particular group.

One other reference to its work is a publication entitled Teaching for Human Rights which was put out under the banner of the Human Rights Commission. In regard to what it calls the `capitalist world'-and this publication was to go to schools-it states:

There has been mass assassination, too, by more covert and indirect means. The construction of a capitalist world economy, predicated upon dishonesty and greed, has slaughtered uncounted millions the world over through the exploitation and misdevelopment of global resources. The United States and other erstwhile free market democracies have much to answer in this regard.

That kind of ideologically loaded teaching is not the kind of teaching we need in our schools. That kind of propaganda is not the kind of role that this Commission should have.

We therefore oppose the legislation. In doing so, let me conclude by saying this: We in this country have nothing for which to apologise when it comes to the protection of human rights. Our record is not perfect, but it is one of the best records-and consistently one of the best records-in the world. That is how it will be so long as we have a democratic process in this country. But this kind of Commission will not add to our rights and is the wrong road to go down for the protection of the kind of rights that most people in this country believe in, and certainly that most members on both sides of the House believe in.