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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3016


Senator WALTERS(1.46) —Following the election we were told by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) that he would be governing by consensus. The first action of his Government was to change the whole basis of the Constitution. The Chief Judge of the High Court of Australia warned us that the decision to override the powers of the Tasmanian Government in stopping that Government building the Franklin Dam would for all time interfere with the everyday freedoms of the individuals in the various States. That matter has not finished. A headline in the Canberra Times today states 'New fight begins over dams in South-West Tasmania'. The point is that once the conservationists got a taste of blood they would continue the fight. They will put much more pressure on the Government and, if they do not win, the Government had better look out. That is what that is all about.

We know that the external affairs power will be used in many ways, particularly in association with my State. Tasmania has been told that it has two years in which to introduce a sex discrimination Bill and that if it does not the Commonwealth will introduce its own legislation. We have been told that if we do not introduce Aboriginal land rights even though we have no Aborigines living in their traditional state, Aboriginal land rights will also be introduced to our State. We are right back to the problems that we had during the Whitlam era. Whenever a Labor government takes control of the country the standards of the country deteriorate.

We can perhaps start with the passage of the Family Law Act. The Attorney- General (Senator Gareth Evans) decided that divorce by post would save the Government a lot of money. So he introduced divorce by post. Divorce by post, of course, means that a couple intending to divorce has to separate for only 12 months, that following that separation one fills a form in and in due course is told: 'Mrs So and So . . .' or 'Mr Jones, your divorce came through on such and such a day'. Now, with one in every two and a half marriages ending in divorce last year we find the Attorney-General suddenly becoming very concerned about the divorce rate. He is spending $100,000 in trying to overcome the problem. We have television series telling us that divorce does not do the family much good. But, of course, he introduced divorce by post.

We then come to the Sex Discrimination Bill. While I am certainly in favour of a sex discrimination Bill because I believe there is discrimination in certain areas in Australia against some women, we do not want that sort of Bill. We were told by both Senator Evans and Senator Ryan that we were all being hysterical when they brought down their first Bill. You bet we were being hysterical! Eighty-odd amendments later, when the Bill had been rewritten, the Bill was passed-and it was a much better Bill. You bet I was being hysterical about a Bill that needed 80-odd amendments and needed redrafting! Every other Australian should have been equally hysterical. But the Bill as it is now discriminates against people with religious beliefs. It does away with some of the freedoms of religion that we in this country have held so dear, and rightly so. It is not so in other countries. We have a situation in which a person with very firm religious beliefs in the area of marriage, for instance, who owns and is renting a block of units, is not entitled to ask whether a couple wishing to occupy one of the units is married. That person has been told that it has nothing to do with him or her, that there must not be discrimination on the grounds of marital status, even though the matter interferes with religious beliefs.

Let me refer to what Senator Giles said during one of the talk-back sessions that she and I had, before the 80-odd amendments, when I was showing concern that church schools would be discriminated against if they were not exempted from the legislation. She said:

As I understand it, that particular part of the Bill that relates to those employees--

that is, the church school staff-

may in fact be amended, simply to allow for a period of two years, cooling off, phasing in or whatever period . . . I would be very distressed if I thought this Government were to continue to support the very bigoted and biased approach that is still evident in some sections of our education system . . .

What right has any government to call some religions bigoted and biased? What right has a government to interfere with our religious freedoms? It is not the place for governments to interfere and never will be but, of course, this Government does not see that in any way at all. We have now had affirmative action, and it was nice to see that the proposal has been watered down and that compliance has been made voluntary-for the present. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet have seen that Senator Ryan made such a hash of the Sex Discrimination Bill and, indeed, of her portfolio of Education in general, that they have watered down the affirmative action considerably. They say they are still committed to legislation in this area but that, of course, will not be seen until after the next election. We will certainly see what occurs then.

Another standard that has been lowered in this country is in the area of videos . The Attorney-General told us very proudly that the barriers to hard core pornography have now been lifted. What wonderful freedoms! They are wonderful for whom? We have the Prime Minister, that great man of consensus, changing the national anthem. Not only did he change the national anthem but he also changed the words of the new song that he chose because he found those words to be too sexist. There was no debate in the country regarding this matter; no debate at all. It does not seem to matter whom I speak with, whether with people who really want a new anthem or otherwise; they all believe that there should have been debate, that there is no place in a democracy for one man to make such decisions.

Again, we have the change of the oath of allegiance. In this country we have always recognised the Queen as the head of the Commonwealth and now as the Queen of Australia and she has been recognised as such in our oath of allegiance. But this man, this Prime Minister, who believes that this country should be a republic, that there should not be any State governments-he made that very clear in his Boyer Lectures before he was elected to Parliament-says: 'We will change the oath of allegiance and cut out all recognition of the Queen of Australia'. The oath has now become a pledge, nothing more than a pledge. Australia is the only country in the Western world to have such a short period in which people qualify to become citizens. They have to be in the country for only two years. That is the shortest such period required by any country in the world. Most other countries have very long qualifying periods.

That is not all. As all honourable senators know, the Special Minister of State , Mr Young, who has been in trouble because he believes in telling his mates all about what is going on rather than keeping to himself matters of secrecy discussed in Cabinet, has made representations to the Remuneration Tribunal to the effect that members of parliament should be allowed to take de facto spouses overseas with them. One after the other, these are all ways in which this Government is lowering the standards of Australia. A decision has yet to be made on changing the Australian flag. Committees have been set up to look at the way in which we should change our flag.

There must be some method of debate in this country which would enable us to find out what the people want. This Government has tricked the people. It said, on coming to power, that it would govern with a view to consensus. There has been less consensus under this Government than there has been under any government in the past. Indeed, this Government has been far more draconian in its actions than any other government. When this Government came to power its first action was to take the Tasmanian Government to the High Court of Australia in an attempt to take away its rights. This is hardly a good way for a government to start. It will be the undoing of this Government because, as we have said, the fight is not over. The fight is again depicted in the Canberra Times of today. It carries the headline 'New fight begins over dams in South- West Tasmania'. The Government has a lot to answer for. Fortunately, Mr Hawke is going to an early election, or so we are told. The sooner the better as far as we are concerned because he will then have to answer to the people of Australia.