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Monday, 22 November 2010
Page: 3234

Mr HAYES (6:37 PM) —I rise today in full support of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Bill 2010 and the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2010. During my years in this House I have been a strong advocate for protecting and promoting human rights, both in Australia and overseas. I have devoted particular attention to the abolishment of the death penalty, as I strongly believe there is no greater human right than the right to life. Deputy Speaker, you will recall that I have spoken on many occasions about a number of Australians currently on death row in Bali. I do not wish to intervene in another country’s criminal jurisdiction, but one thing I have been passionate about is the application of their human rights—their right to life. I will keep on that campaign knowing full well that the appeals of Scott Rush, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have been heard and that we eagerly await the final determination of the Indonesian court. I understand that these bills do not specifically relate to the death penalty; however, they do play an important role in enhancing Australia’s human rights obligations.

These bills implement the legislative aspects of Australia’s Human Rights Framework, which was announced by the Labor government in April this year. The framework is based on five key principles and focuses on: reaffirming a commitment to our human rights obligations; the importance of human rights education; enhancing our domestic and international engagement on human rights issues; improving human rights protections, including greater parliamentary scrutiny; and achieving greater respect for human rights principles within our communities.

The bill defines ‘human rights’ as the rights and freedoms recognised or declared by seven core United Nations human rights treaties, as they apply to Australia. These seven treaties relate to a variety of areas, including the rights of the child, civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. Reading through these treaties, I am very proud to say that Australia meets all of its obligations and requirements, and always has. Only a couple of weeks ago I stood in this place and drew attention to the fact that Vietnam ratified the international bill of human rights as far back as 1982—perhaps for trade based purposes—but their human rights record, I am afraid to say, remains questionable. Australia takes pride in the freedoms that it enjoys through its democracy. Australia has always attempted to live up to its international obligations, particularly with respect to human rights. This legislation is designed to ensure that that occurs on every occasion.

The government draws its definition of ‘human rights’ from three treaties I am particularly supportive of and passionate about. These are the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. November 25 is United Nations White Ribbon Day—an international campaign to raise awareness about preventing violence against women. Deputy Speaker Georganas, you spoke about White Ribbon Day today and I want to thank you for taking the time to speak so passionately on that private member’s motion.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination is one treaty that I imagine the constituents in my electorate of Fowler would most welcome. My electorate is a melting pot of cultures. It has the highest proportion of people born overseas of any electorate in this country. Nearly 70,000 people, 49 per cent of people, in the current electorate of Fowler were born overseas. These migrants know all too well the importance and the joys of living in a country free of racial discrimination. Even though I am sure the majority of Australians are open-minded and are happy to welcome people from different backgrounds, asserting our commitment to the religious and cultural freedoms that flow from these bills will never go astray.

Similarly, rights and freedoms declared in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women are close to my heart. During my time in this parliament, I have spoken on many occasions on what can only be described as the worst form of discrimination and that is violence against women. Probably the worst form of human rights abuse, the most prolific form of human rights abuse and the most widespread form of human rights abuse in the world is violence against women. Sadly, thousands of women and girls are abused in their own homes on a daily basis.

We all share a responsibility for effectively addressing this sad reflection of modern day society. I am particularly proud that this government is playing a worthwhile and leading role in addressing that. I also assert that all those organisations active in our electorates to draw attention to the abuse of women and children do such splendid work. The White Ribbon Day organisation has drawn considerable attention to this particular issue. As I have said, the most prolific and widespread area of abuse is the abuse against women. As we approach 25 November, we should not simply pledge our support for women but do as much as we can to stop this scourge of a modern day society. It is something about which we cannot be proud. It does not require legislation to do something; it requires a considerable change in an attitude that constructs an environment where such abuse goes either unreported or ignored.

The other treaty which I strongly advocate is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. My electorate lies in the outer metropolitan area of Sydney. While the south-west of Sydney is a great place to live, it is an area which is overrepresented by people with disabilities. That occurs for a whole lot of reasons, but the most likely reason is that the land where we live in the south-west of Sydney is more affordable. People that live in families with disability obviously find it is very expensive. These families need to make compromises and inevitably that involves where a family can live. The areas particularly around Miller, Liverpool, Cabramatta and the like in the south-west of Sydney are overrepresented by persons with disability. As I understand it, some 52 per cent of all families in New South Wales that live with autism are to be found within a 25-kilometre radius of Liverpool. That is a particularly chilling statistic, but it does show the dimension of disability within our community.

The freedoms contained in this convention, from which we define human rights in this bill, should never be undervalued or forgotten. By relying on this convention to form part of the definition of human rights, we as a nation affirm the need for persons with disabilities to be guaranteed full enjoyment of their lives without discrimination. We are emphasising the importance of mainstream disability issues as an integral part of relevant strategies in sustainable development. We are also recognising that discrimination against any person on the basis of disability is a violation of the inherent dignity and worth of a person.

 I congratulate the Gillard Government for incorporating these principles and freedoms in our definition of human rights. The Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Bill 2010 also allows for the establishment of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. This committee will examine and report to the parliament on the compatibility of bills and legislative instruments with Australia’s human rights obligations under the seven core international treaties I referred to earlier. It will also inquire into and report to the parliament on any human rights matters referred to the committee by the Attorney-General. This bill also introduces a requirement for statements of compatibility for all pieces of legislation brought before this parliament. These statements will leave communities and parliamentarians in no doubt as to whether the bill is compatible with our human rights obligations as set out in those seven core United Nations treaties.

The establishment of this committee and the requirement for statements of compatibility send a strong message to the Australian people that this government is serious about ensuring the protection of all our human rights. These measures also give Australian citizens a greater capacity to comment on new laws and to engage with the committee on how they will be affected by the proposed legislation. It will always be the responsibility of the parliament to ensure it has an open dialogue with the Australian people and this bill ensures that that occurs. It also sends a very powerful message to our international neighbours as to our firm commitment on human rights and that this country is cemented to the view of doing everything it can to ensure that all its rights and obligations are lived up to. Further, the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2010 allows for small changes to the Administrative Review Council to ensure that there is a human rights perspective integrated into the view of the council.

The new measures contained in the bill represent an improvement to what is already a sound parliamentary system in which human rights are championed and defended by all sides of this parliament. Australia is well served by a healthy parliamentary democracy in which people not only have but regularly exercise their right to change governments in order to effect policy outcomes as desired by the people. This democracy, the power of the people to determine government, has protected this country from unfair laws in the past and I am sure it will continue to do so in the future. With these sentiments in mind, I commend the bills to the House.