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Monday, 22 November 2010
Page: 3236

Mr SIMPKINS (6:52 PM) —I am very happy to take this opportunity today to speak on the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Bill 2010 and the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2010. Looking back over the recent history of matters concerning human rights, I acknowledge the many groups and individuals who were so persuasive and ultimately successful in defeating the case for a legislative human rights charter for Australia. As the Attorney-General said earlier this year, such a charter would have seen the entrenchment of great division in our nation and, in my view, the excessive involvement of the judiciary in what is the business of elected representatives across the length and breadth of this nation. There can be no doubt that we who are elected to this parliament are in a far better position to determine what is best for Australia than a narrow profession representing in the main only the highest socioeconomic communities in the inner cities of Australia.

I would also make mention of another part of the Attorney-General’s speech at the National Press Club in April. This is a point I wholeheartedly agree with and I have said so in this place on many occasions. That point is that with any acknowledgement of rights there is also an acknowledgement of responsibilities of citizens and residents. I will return to that point later.

I do not think that there is a problem with the abuse of human rights in this country. I think that we are pretty much at the top of the ladder internationally. No doubt others would disagree. Perhaps some would say that detaining those that come by boat illegally are having their human rights infringed upon by being detained. I would say: let them apply offshore, the right way, and then there will not be the need to detain them. I say let them join the queue and not jump the queue, and then perhaps the suffering of legitimate refugees in refugee camps around the world will not be as long. What about the human rights of those that are in those camps? They do not have the money to fly to the people smugglers and then pay them. Without labouring the point any longer, I reiterate that in this country we do not have a human rights problem, not like so many other countries around the world. I would also make the point that I do not think the government should be so ready to submit Australia to the judgment of the United Nations on human rights matters when those that seek to judge us are behind us in this field. I note the member for Fowler made reference to Vietnam before, and I think, despite Vietnam’s ratification of various conventions, they have a very long way to go on the matter.

I would, however, prefer now to speak more on purely domestic issues. In the Attorney’s speech in April, he made mention of systemic issues in some broad relationship to human rights. He mentioned promoting of the equality of women, ensuring the rights of older people, protecting our children and ensuring that all members of our society, including those with a disability, have the maximum ability to participate in all aspects of Australia’s economic, social and political life. He said that there is also much still to do to address Indigenous disadvantage and issues such as domestic violence and child abuse. The Attorney-General said that these issues all relate to creating a decent and inclusive society. This is an aspiration summarised neatly in the great Australian expression of ensuring ‘a fair go’ or, commonly, ‘a fair go for all’. That is what he said.

There are two points that I seek to make in reference to the points that he made. Firstly, Australians in general do not like special deals. It may be the left-wing political ideal that idolises quotas, affirmative action and other forms of special support for specific groups in society to the exclusion of the majority, but the vast majority of Australians believe that the role of government is to place the opportunity before the individual and allow them to take up that opportunity. My view, and I am sure it is the view of so many in this country, is that governments are responsible for taking the obstacles out of the way but the individual must still compete. It comes back to drive and commitment. It comes back to initiative and innovation. It should not be about special deals and quotas.

A case in point, if I can be so bold, is our new colleague the member for Hasluck, an Indigenous man who has been elected not because of some quota system or special arrangements but because he worked hard, he has a wealth of excellent experience, he is very, very smart and in the end he was clearly seen by the people of Hasluck as the best person for the position. The point is that if men, women, Indigenous people, people of ethnic origins et cetera are underrepresented in sectors of society such as politics, teaching, business or emergency services then it is the role of government to remove the obstacles and allow individuals to achieve their potential, not to promote when there is not the required ability, just on the basis of improving the numbers. This is where socialism always fails, because government manipulates the ability of individuals to achieve their potential and stifles maximum individual achievement and therefore the overall maximum benefit that society achieves.

The other point that I wanted to make is about domestic violence and abuse. There are a number of parts to such problems. There are, of course, the perpetrators of these evil crimes. There are, sadly, the victims of such crimes. There are the people that knew about these crimes and took action, and there are those who knew or suspected but did not act. There are the police who enforce the law, the legal system that judges and of course the services that pick up the pieces afterwards, such as the various child welfare agencies. In recent years there has been a lot of discussion about the failings of these welfare agencies, and clearly there have been issues. I would prefer that they acted more quickly and took children to safety more swiftly and more permanently in many cases. However, for all the failings of these agencies we should never forget the origins of these crimes. The perpetrators are the bad people here, and anyone who knew and did not act shares a lot of the blame. They are the people that were responsible in the first place for children being attacked or subjected to other forms of crime in this area and we should never lose sight of that fact.

These points being made, I return to the bills. I support the coalition’s position that, rather than have a destructive bill of rights, this more modest approach of expanding parliamentary scrutiny of legislation from a human rights point of view is a far better and more appropriate position. Human rights is a matter for the law-makers first and foremost. These are political questions and therefore this is the right approach. This was the coalition’s view in our 15 June 2009 submission to the National Human Rights Consultation, and I am pleased that this main bill is what we wanted. That being said, the scope of the term ‘human rights’ is something that will need to be very clearly defined if the government wants the support of the opposition. That is why these bills should be referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for closer analysis, in order to get this right.

I would also take some time to mention the views of two of my constituents, Paul and Jan Davies. They are greatly concerned by one embodiment of these human rights matters, the so called antidiscrimination laws, and how the interpretation of those laws by the judiciary has in some cases become discriminatory itself. The point is that we should safeguard freedom of speech as a principle of our democracy and not call it discrimination—for instance, when commenting on other religions. I am of course not referring to any incitement to violence, but it should not be something for a court hearing if comments are made publicly about another religion. I support this view of my constituents.

The Davies gave me a document from the Australian Christian Lobby which described how a Christian ministry recently had its television program taken off Channel 10 because of a single complaint about an episode which adversely mentioned homosexuality. The Australian Christian Lobby itself has made the point that a Christian youth camp was fined $5,000 for determining that it would not rent its facilities to a gay youth support group. That was done under Victorian equal opportunity law.

What these cases show is that in these human rights related laws the way in which property is allowed to be used by the owner of that property is now, potentially, to be determined by courts. This is a very concerning situation and one that this parliament should be on guard against supporting or allowing to happen. This sort of conflict with the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief would no doubt be to the detriment of churches and religious organisations, and any attempt to interpret exemptions narrowly will be a negative outcome.

I have spoken about the wider issues, as well as local concerns, regarding the problems that surround blind obedience to the concept of human rights, and particularly where there is little regard for the consequences of such blind obedience, but I have great faith in the existing laws of this parliament to ensure that the rights of our citizens are protected.

I will finish where I started and in territory often visited before in my speeches. The reality is that there are a small number of people in Australia who are very keen to demand their rights. They are in contrast to the vast majority of Australians just getting on with their lives and doing the right thing. It appears that most of those out there demanding their rights seem aggrieved by some injustice that they perceive has been perpetrated upon them by society. The problems they face are never their fault; always someone else is at fault, the system is at fault or they are unlucky. Never is blame or fault at one’s own front door with such people. So they never see the opportunities in themselves for their own success; they never see their own strength to change their lives for the better.

I would always say that before we ask for our rights as citizens and residents, we should ensure that we have fulfilled our responsibilities. Personal responsibility and therefore good citizenship is the best guard to a free and fair society. Perhaps that is the approach we should focus on first and then legislation can be next. I nevertheless look forward to seeing how these bills will work once they have been passed.