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Thursday, 11 February 2010
Page: 1181


Mr OAKESHOTT (12:56 PM) —I rise not to oppose the National Health Security Amendment (Background Checking) Bill 2009

Just very quickly, there was one issue of concern that I missed in the previous debate on the Prime Minister’s ministerial statement Closing the gap. It is the issue of regionalised and urbanised Indigenous communities. I, for example, am a coastal representative in a regional community on the mid-North Coast of New South Wales. We have about 11 per cent of the Indigenous population of New South Wales. But over the last hour I heard not one single word about regionalised and urbanised or coastal communities and there is an emerging danger as we start to spotlight attention on this issue that a choice emerges between the haves and the have-nots. We start to see politicians wanting to paint the picture that all Aboriginal issues are from dusty outback towns and that the only voice is that of Noel Pearson and Cape York Institute. We do not want to go down the path of developing a have-and-have-not culture as we move towards trying to grapple with closing the gap. The Noel Pearsons of the world do some wonderful work for the Cape York communities, but there are many voices in the Indigenous communities of Australia which have many wants and needs.

Likewise, while there are many challenging and complex issues in the dusty outback towns of the Northern Territory, there are just as complex and just as challenging issues on the mid-North Coast of New South Wales. I would have loved to have heard about some of the work the government might or might not be doing but should be doing in communities such as Middleton Street in South Kempsey or Purfleet in Taree. These also should be part of the picture of improving the lot of all Australians. Hopefully, next year we will hear some more talk about some of the regional and urbanised communities and the work that is being done in those as well.

In rising to speak on this bill I do not oppose it. The National Health Security Amendment (Background Checking) Bill 2009 seeks to amend the National Health Security Act 2007 to enable the minister to require that the Australian background-checking service of the Attorney-General’s Department, AusCheck, conduct background checking of people who handle or dispose of security sensitive biological agents. I would have thought that it was a no-brainer. It is a sensible change and I would hope it is one that is embraced broadly by all of us in this place. I do not think that background checking can be called an invasion of privacy. It is a sensible and appropriate way of making sure people of credibility and trust hold positions where credibility and trust are needed in their daily work.

The broader point that I continue to make about some of these issues as they have come through this place in my short time here is that, despite not opposing this bill, despite not having a problem with background checking, I do continue to fly the flag for liberty and the concept of individual liberties in this country. We live in a generation where in the Australian community—and I do not know whether it is knowingly or unknowingly—that concept of individual liberty is not being placed on the pedestal it should be, and as a consequence we have seen that challenged over the last decade and so much given up as far as individual rights within the daily life of an ordinary Australian.

For democracy to be strong, for freedom to be present, liberty needs to be protected. I would have hoped that that would be something that everyone would generally endorse. Therefore, we need to be vigilant in our roles as public policy makers in protecting that concept of liberty and making sure that encroachment by governments and executive—in particular over the last decade into territory that starts to challenge some of those individual liberties and therefore challenge the freedoms of this country—is not overstepped. In this case, I do not think it is, but I continue to raise the point that I am here flying the flag for those individual liberties and making sure that the executive is the servant of the people rather than trying to be its master. I do not oppose this bill. I think it is a sensible change, and I look forward to seeing it in practice and delivering some good outcomes through the AusCheck system.