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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
Dr THEOPHANOUS (5:41 PM) —The previous speaker, the member for Aston (Mr Nugent), spoke at length on international human rights, and they are very important. He did not speak much about the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1998 and its purposes and what has been happening to human rights under the Howard government.
Unfortunately, this bill is about the emasculation of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The commission has been attacked, its budget has been cut and now we have this so-called restructuring of the commission in order to cover up what the Howard government has done in the area of human rights.
There are two aspects to this. The first aspect concerns there having been a very significant reduction in expenditure in this area. The second aspect, which is equally unacceptable, is that the government wanted to get rid of certain individuals who were acting as commissioners or not reappoint some commissioners, and so it decided to restructure the commission and get rid of those commissioners.
In the initial phase, in the initial proposals from the government, there were to be no specific commissioners at all; we were to end up with having no specifically oriented commissioners. Because of public protest about this proposal, the government has now made some concessions and there will be three deputy presidents with specific expertise in certain areas. That is an improvement on what was previously proposed. But, nevertheless, what the government has been trying, and continues, to do with the general structure in this area of human rights is still unacceptable.
It is all very well for the member for Aston to come in here and talk about how we need to do more in the area of international human rights—and I agree with him; I think that Australia does need to do more in the area of international human rights—but also we need to look at our own human rights record and we need to do more to ensure that human rights are protected in this country.
One of the most unacceptable things about this legislation is the way in which it abolishes the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. That commissioner has played a very important role in trying to ensure that people of indigenous background achieve social justice and that discrimination against those people which takes a variety of forms—both subtle and not so subtle—is not present in Australia. That was the intention in having the Social Justice Commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. That position has been abolished and replaced with another which will take a broader role in racial discrimination.
This broader role, in a sense, is one example of responding to phenomena such as One Nation when attacks are made against Aboriginal people by saying, `Let's get rid of specific services and specific provisions that help and assist our indigenous people.' I have to say that we are very unhappy about that. We do not believe the government has given any real explanation for the actions it took in this area. There are other areas which the government has cut back—for example, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. That was up in the air for quite some time. Again, the government has been confused. It has sent out confused signals about what it intends to do in terms of the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. But I think that at least we now have some progress in that the government has recognised that there is a need for some specific responsibilities for the new commissioners. I guess one has to be thankful for small mercies, given what they originally intended to do, which was to get rid of all the specific commissioners. I do want to record my protest in particular about what they did in relation to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.
The reality is that in this country we have very many forms of discrimination against people. We have discrimination against people on the basis of their race, on the basis of their cultural background, on the basis of their sex and on the basis of their disability. Although we have made progress as a society, we also have dark forces in our community that seek to turn back the clock and entrench discrimination. One way to overcome discrimination is to have a proper access and equity program; a program that guarantees access and equity, especially in the provision of government services. I have a lot to say on this matter because, when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, I was directly responsible for the access and equity program for people of migrant background and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
We put into place a whole series of programs to ensure that access and equity took place. This was done through the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and about 50 per cent of the work of the Office of Multicultural Affairs was concerned with ensuring that the access and equity program was implemented. I can tell you that implementation of a program such as access and equity, which is intended to ensure that discrimination does not take place, especially in the Public Service—whether it is the federal or state public services—is not an easy matter. Indeed, Prime Minister Keating requested me in 1994 to carry out consultations in relation to discrimination against ethnic, or non-English speaking background, people. I carried out what were called multicultural consultations throughout Australia in 1994.
At that time what did we discover? We discovered that, notwithstanding the fact that we had had an access and equity program for about 10 years in this country, we still had significant aspects of government programs which were not being delivered on the basis of equal access and equity. We had discrimination within the Public Service, and we had discrimination in the delivery of programs to people of ethnic background or Aboriginal background. I am sure that there was also discrimination in the delivery of programs to women. So what does the Howard government do when it takes office? It abolishes the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Therefore, the whole access and equity program, including the whole issue of the responsibility of departments to report on their achievements in access and equity, is abolished.
What do we have now? The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (Mr Ruddock) was given a couple of officers in Canberra whose whole job is to try to do what previously half of the Office of Multicultural Affairs was engaged in doing: that is, ensure that there are programs which overcome the problems of discrimination and ensure access and equity and the like. Now we have these couple of officers working in the department supposedly monitoring all the departments of the federal government in relation to this whole issue of access and equity. What a joke! As was proven in the discussions that I had in 1994, the reality is that the Public Service in this country has its own entrenched processes and structures and was not interested in actually changing its structures to deliver genuine access and equity. That was when we had a large number of people monitoring the situation.
Now what have we done? We have got rid of all those people and we have a couple of people in the department of immigration. If that was not enough, what happens to the independent Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission budget. We have to reduce the number of commissioners, and we have to get rid of the specific commissioners. That is our idea of ensuring that there is not discrimination in this country and that there is an enforcement of human rights. This is an absolute nonsense. We have gone backwards in the estimation of the international community in relation to this matter. What we have to do is strengthen those programs, not weaken them.
I do not know why the Minister for the Status of Women (Mrs Moylan) is here. Given the reduction in resources, I do not know what she intends to do about discrimination against women. Does she expect that discrimination against women is going to go down once resources are reduced? Is that what she expects when we know that in fact the opposite is happening?
Mr Williams —Do we?
Dr THEOPHANOUS —`Do we?' says the Attorney-General. Of course, you would not know, would you? Because you do not even bother to look into these matters. You are not even concerned. You did not even defend this commission when it went to cabinet; you allowed those cuts to this commission to go through. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. If you were really serious about these matters, you would have asked for more resources in this area instead of allowing these massive cuts to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to take place.
Mr Williams —Just throw money at it!
Dr THEOPHANOUS —You think it is just a question of throwing money at it, do you? It is not a question of throwing money at it at all. Some of your legislation is inadequate in this area as well, and you need to do something about it. But what have you done about it in the years that you have been in government? Nothing. That situation is serious.
Mrs Moylan —We've done more than you.
Dr THEOPHANOUS —I remind you that we put the whole structure in place. Also, if you look at our reports on access and equity and in this area, we were never satisfied with what was happening. In every single report we said that more needs to be done. Have a look at the 1994 and 1995 reports on access and equity. These reports openly and honestly state, `We have problems, we are dealing with those problems, but we need to deal with them even further.' At no point did we say, `We are self-satisfied; we can cut the resources off a body such as the human rights commission.'
Mrs Moylan —You just kept putting out report after report and did nothing with them.
Dr THEOPHANOUS —The minister knows that there has been a substantial increase in the problems confronting women. During question time, she tried to tell us how superannuation programs for women are getting better. I was just astounded by her statements.
Mrs Moylan —You didn't do anything about it, did you?
Dr THEOPHANOUS —We didn't, didn't we? We brought in a compulsory superannuation program which covered all workers, which therefore covered the most poorly paid part of the population, which happens to be women workers. What have you done? You have abandoned that program, you have got rid of that program, and therefore a large number of women who were in superannuation programs are no longer under those programs. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for getting rid of that superannuation program which covered all Australians. Now we have a situation where people are covered only if they want to be covered.
Mrs Moylan —Watch us, you might learn something.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mossfield) —Order! I ask members to address their remarks through the chair.
Dr THEOPHANOUS —The minister seems to think that she has done a good job of the superannuation issue, but she has done a great disservice to women in this country because the majority of beneficiaries of that program were women. There is a range of other areas, even wages for workers, where women are discriminated against and continue to be discriminated against. What is the minister doing about it? `We will do a great deal, won't we? We will cut the resources of the human rights commission.'
Let us hope that the new structure which has been put into place is effective. We are going to be watching this very closely: we are going to be watching the appointments, we are going to be watching the resources which your government gives to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in its new restructured form and we are going to be bringing to your attention lapses in the area of the implementation of human rights.
Especially with the Hanson phenomenon rampant in this country, there is no doubt that people now are very afraid about discrimina tion against them. It is not just a question of discrimination against women; it is also a question of discrimination in race and culture. We have had in this country a terrifying debate where even the Prime Minister (Mr Howard)—belatedly, after two years of walking around like a blind man, not seeing what was happening—finally said the other day, `Some people of Asian background are starting to feel that maybe they are not welcome in Australia or that they are not really the same as the rest of us, that perhaps they are second-class citizens.'
It took him two whole years to recognise what was happening with the Hanson phenomenon. If he had gone out and talked to people of ethnic backgrounds, if he had had a single minister who was interested in talking to the ethnic communities about these issues, then he might have understood what was happening—especially amongst people of Asian and Middle-Eastern backgrounds, people from Latin America and people from the recently arrived European groups. All those groups were wondering what was happening in Australia. They all started to feel that forms of discrimination against them would be allowed in this society, even encouraged. That is one of the most serious things that has developed as a result of allowing the Hanson phenomenon to build up in the way that it has.
But I regret to say that this government is one for which, in most areas of its administration, the minimum amount is adequate: `We need some human rights legislation, let us have the minimum. Let us not have some of the best. Let us not have the best resourced. Let us not really do a good job. Let us just do a minimum and barely adequate job. That is enough for us.' That is something which is true of a whole range of areas in the administration of this government.
From my point of view, I am very disappointed to see that so many programs put into place to overcome discrimination and to ensure people had basic human rights, access and equity have been totally abolished. We do not even monitor some of the matters that we used to monitor, for example, the access of people from different backgrounds to employ ment in the public service and programs which the government is supposed to be delivering fairly and adequately to everybody. I am sad to say that this bill reflects some of the worst changes in human rights in legislation before this parliament that I have seen in the years I have been here. I hope that we will be able to reverse some of these negative developments and change what is happening so that Australians can feel that their human rights are being protected. (Time expired)