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- Start of Business
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Stone, Sharman, MP, Fischer, Tim, MP)
One Nation Party
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Fischer, Tim, MP)
(Kelly, De-Anne, MP, Fahey, John, MP)
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Cameron, Eoin, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
(McMullan, Bob, MP, Williams, Daryl, MP)
(Kelly, Jackie, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
(Crean, Simon, MP, Moore, John, MP)
(Nugent, Peter, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport
(Filing, Paul, MP, Zammit, Paul, MP)
(Billson, Bruce, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Goods and Services Tax
(Evans, Gareth, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
(Gambaro, Teresa, MP, Moylan, Judi, MP)
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Thomson, Andrew, MP)
(Forrest, John, MP, Scott, Bruce, MP)
Goods and Services Tax
(Ellis, Annette, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Taxation: Foreign Corporations
(Hawker, David, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- ONE NATION
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- BILLS RETURNED FROM THE SENATE
- STANDING AND SESSIONAL ORDERS
- HUMAN RIGHTS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1998
- REGIONAL FOREST AGREEMENTS BILL 1998
- TARIFF PROPOSALS
- CORPORATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1998
- SOCIAL SECURITY AND VETERANS' AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (BUDGET AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 1997
- NATIONAL CAPITAL AUTHORITY
- ASSENT TO BILLS
- FAMILY LAW AMENDMENT BILL (No. 1) 1998
- REQUESTS FOR DETAILED INFORMATION: RESPONSE
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Indigenous Cultural Property
(Latham, Mark, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Department of Veterans' Affairs: Funding and Grants for the Electoral Division of Oxley
(Hanson, Pauline, MP, Scott, Bruce, MP)
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
International Maritime Conventions: Australian Ratification
(Morris, Peter, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
- Indigenous Cultural Property
Tuesday, 30 June 1998
Mr NUGENT (5:27 PM) —I chair the Human Rights Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and so I take a particular interest in matters concerned with human rights. Of course, over the years Australia has put in place a human rights structure that is frequently held up as a role model for others to emulate. Human rights matters command a major place in the life and the attention of this nation, and in the media of this nation. They are even a key plank in our foreign affairs policy. Human rights legislation has been built over quite a long time and covers a very wide range of areas. Yet there is always some questioning as to whether we are doing it right, and whether there are better ways of doing it or whether we should change whatever is already in place in respect of human rights activity.
One thing that disappoints me sometimes is that if you try to change something to make it a bit better there seems to be a lot of questioning as to what your motives are. It seems that if you want to change something you must, by definition, as sometimes those on the other side will say, be acting on base motives. There is no acknowledgment that changing things might enable you to deliver a better result. It seems to me that in this place we should always be looking for better ways of doing things.
One of the important building blocks, in terms of human rights in this country, and human rights delivery and human rights protection, whether it is in disabilities, as the member for Jagajaga (Ms Macklin) was talking about, or in the whole range of other areas of human rights activity, is the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. This bill is all about making some changes to HREOC. Given that this particular debate was started last week and was adjourned until a few minutes ago when the member for Jagajaga continued her remarks, it would be helpful perhaps to remind the House what this bill is going to do, as opposed to some of the somewhat wild ideas that have been floated from members of the opposition during the debate.
The bill is going to rename the commission as the Human Rights and Responsibilities Commission to better reflect the commission's function of educating all Australians about their responsibility to respect each other's human rights. The new commission's structure will consist of a president and three deputy presidents, each of whom will have responsibility for particular subject areas. One deputy president will be responsible for human rights and disability, one will be responsible for social justice and race and one will be responsible for sex discrimination and equal opportunity. Therefore, it is actually not true to say, for example, as the member for Jagajaga did, that there is no interest in the disability area.
The bill provides for the functions performed by the current Privacy Commissioner to be separated from the commission and for a statutory office of the Privacy Commissioner to be created. The bill provides for the refocusing of the commission's functions in order to give greater priority to education, dissemination of information on human rights and assistance to business and the general community. The bill will make the commission's power to intervene in court proceedings which raise human rights issues conditional upon it first obtaining the Attorney-General's approval. The bill provides for the abolition of the Community Relations Council, which has never been actually established, and the abolition of the National Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination in Employment and Occupation, which has only produced one report since it was first established.
The new commission will not retain the current power of the Human Rights Commissioner to make non-binding recommendations in reports to the Attorney-General for the payment of damages or compensation following inquiries into complaints of breaches of human rights under the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986. Unlike complaints under the three anti-discrimination acts, these particular complaints do not deal with conduct which is alleged to be unlawful.
When governments make changes to legislation, there are those who will always impugn some base motive. There will be agreement on some aspects of what we are proposing and disagreement on others. Certainly a lot of people just suspect any change that is undertaken. There are pros and cons, I would suggest, to a number of aspects of the changes that we are making. I must admit that I had some reservations, for example, in not having special commissioners to look after each individual area, as has hitherto been the case. But it seems to me that we should always be prepared to look at new ways of doing things. If you get somebody who specialises only in a narrow area, certainly you get the benefit of particular expertise. But, equally, if you have somebody who takes a somewhat broader view, then they can often bring attitudes, views, knowledge and expertise from outside that limited area that might be beneficial, and it is worth having a look at and perhaps trialling that sort of approach.
We are asked sometimes whether there is a hidden agenda of the government backing away from human rights. I do not believe that is the case. I believe the government is certainly looking at doing things differently, but just because we want to do them differently does not mean to say that we are backing away. There is certainly a change of emphasis, and we are looking particularly to put more emphasis on the education side. There is also the introduction of responsibilities—something that will strike a chord with many in the community. Nothing should be cast in tablets of stone. We need to respond to community concerns, be prepared to make some changes, and to respond to changed circumstances. I am not sure how some of the changes will work out, but I think we should be prepared to give them a go.
But quite apart from the structures—and that is what this legislation is all about—it would seem to me that often human rights advocacy and the effectiveness of human rights advocacy are not always about structures; they are often about the people and the attitudes in the community that they respond to. This country has produced some outstanding people in the field of human rights—people who have set a fine example in this country as well as overseas. I am talking about people such as Sir Ronald Wilson, who is a previous president of the HREOC. He produced the stolen children report and was the Deputy Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in its first three years—a council on which I had the honour to serve for about six years, including Sir Ronald's three years.
I am also talking about people such as Chris Sidoti, who is still at HREOC. He has sometimes been critical of the government and, frankly, I think that is not always a bad thing. If somebody comes up with reasoned argument or evidence and criticises some of the things that governments do, whether it is this government, the previous government or the next government, there should be a place in our society for them, for independent bodies, to do so. Chris has certainly done that sometimes. One example was when he criticised the detention for far too long of illegal migrants by the department of immigration.
Chris Sidoti and HREOC have been very important in enforcing and supporting human rights not only in this country but also overseas. We, as a country, do a lot of work in the region in the human rights area. The Australian government has funded regional human rights bodies and HREOC provides much of the expertise to support those human rights bodies in the region. The restructuring will, I assume, mean that the present appointments will be terminated and new appointments made. I would certainly hope that Chris Sidoti—who I think is an outstanding Australian and an outstanding worker in the human rights field—is retained in a future role in HREOC.
Human rights activity must be an ongoing evolutionary process, and this is part of that ongoing change that is inevitable. Other initiatives have also been undertaken by the government. One of the things, for example, that this government has undertaken—a new initiative, which I think is to its credit—in the human rights area is the creation of the Centre for Democratic Institutions, an important Australian government initiative aimed at promoting democracy, human rights and effective governance in developing countries, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. The establishment of the centre fulfils a promise that we made at the last election to assist developing countries to strengthen democracy and provide effective governance. Governance is now one of the five priority sectors for the aid program. Only last week it was announced that the new director of the CDI was Mr Roland Rich. He is a long-serving and outstanding member of the staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and I am sure that he will carry out his duties diligently and in an outstanding manner. I, and I am sure all the other members of this House, wish him every success in that future appointment.
This government in many ways will continue the human rights policies that have been in place for a long time. But we also will institute a number of new initiatives—initiatives with both human rights in this country and human rights overseas. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Downer), for example, only this afternoon in question time was talking about his upcoming trip to Indonesia. Part of our government's activity will be through our activity overseas. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has made it clear that he will be raising with the Indonesian government a whole raft of issues in terms of human rights type activities. Whether it be democracy or military suppression in East Timor or brutality in the recent civil disturbances in Indonesia, those are the sorts of things which we have a proud record of pursuing at all levels overseas, and we will continue to do so.
Mr Tony Smith —What about the poor Australian journalists?
Mr NUGENT —The gentleman from Dickson interjects, `What about the Australian journalists?' The reality of life is that only yesterday we had a motion in this place, on which I spoke, about the Australian journalists. We are pressing, and the government has pressed, the Indonesian government and its new President, President Habibie, to open a new inquiry into the deaths of those Australian journalists. In fact, the Indonesian Minister for Justice has indicated that he is prepared to look at new evidence and, potentially, have a new inquiry into the deaths of those Australian journalists.
This government has been active, as was the previous government, in encouraging Indonesia to go down the particular track of having that new inquiry. I think the important thing at the moment is that, with the change of government in Indonesia, with its new President and new regime, we are seeing a fresh willingness to look at some of those issues and to take a different approach to the one that was taken under the former President of Indonesia. Therefore, it is important that this government, if you like, strikes while the iron is hot and pursues those matters. Those are matters which the Minister for Foreign Affairs has said he will be pursuing during his visit to Indonesia in the next few days—specifically, to look into having a new inquiry into the deaths of those journalists, to look at the problems in East Timor and to look at the issue of human rights as they apply across the board in Indonesia.
There are a whole raft of other issues that the government needs to pursue in connection with its foreign affairs policy and the issue of human rights, whether child labour in places like Pakistan and India, forced sterilisation of women in China, political issues in Burma and so on. We need to take a very hard look at a whole range of those areas, and we need to look at the manner in which we go about our diplomacy in those areas.
In closing, I would just say that this government is active in the human rights area. This government is aware of concerns and the need to look constantly at how we might approach these issues more effectively. This government does adopt a slightly different approach to that adopted by the former government. This government from time to time will change things and, where it thinks appropriate, it will not be intimidated into not doing so.
This bill makes changes to HREOC which will now become the HRRC—and I am not sure what the mnemonic for that will be. Time will tell if the changes are to be effective, but certainly I believe we need to keep an ongoing watching brief to see whether or not those changes are effective. We need to monitor that situation, but we do need to give the changes a chance to succeed. I commend the bill to the House.