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Friday, 19 April 1985
Page: 1227

Senator MISSEN(9.25) —I shall speak very briefly on this matter. I do not imagine that we will determine the question and vote on it today. I appreciate what Senator Harradine has said. This certainly is a difficult question which is fraught with problems in that it is highly political. Therefore, the suggestion has been made that a general discussion be held which would take into account the various possibilities that are available for the consideration of the issue of human rights in this country. It may not result in the introduction of a Bill of Rights at all.

I rise to speak particularly because this debate has already led to some misconceptions on the part of the local Press, which I think sees the proposal as a manoeuvre connected with the internal problems of the Australian Labor Party. That is not the intention of the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs in taking on this reference. I will read into the record a statement which I have made, as Chairman of the Attorney-General's Committee of the Opposition parties' and which I released this morning. I said:

I refer to an article by one Louise Dodson appearing in the Financial Review of the 18th April 1985. The article refers to certain internecine fighting between the Federal Attorney-General, Mr Lionel Bowen and certain members of the Caucus' Legal and Administration Committee. It concludes that the Attorney-General had suffered a set back from the Caucus committee's commitment ''to the introduction of a bill of rights which will now be referred to a bipartisan Senate Committee.''

This is apparently intended to refer to a decision by the all Party Constitutional and Legal Committee of the Senate which now proposes to investigate ''the desirability, feasibility and possible content of a Bill of Rights for Australia.''

As a member of that Committee I can assure the public that the Committee is prepared to discuss the general subject of a possible Bill of Rights but it is totally untrue to suggest that any form of such a Bill, whether proposed by Senator Evans, the previous Attorney or the present Attorney-General is the subject of such an inquiry. Any such proposal would be a separate matter for consideration by the Senate.

As is well known, the Evans Bill of Rights was kept from the public prior to the 1984 election and has never been presented to this Parliament in any form. There is no proposal at present that the Senate Committee consider the terms of such a bill and the Liberal Senators have no intention of intervening in the squabble between the Labor factions over such a Bill.

The inquiry will operate under a general charter that will enable the Committee to examine the whole subject of enforcement of human rights in this country.

That statement supports the position which Senator Durack stated on behalf of the Opposition that, if a specific Bill is to be referred to, it should be referred to by this Senate. I think that is the position taken by members of the Committee who sit on this side of the chamber. As far as this whole question is concerned, I have no doubt that specific Bills will be looked at and that types and forms of a Bill of Rights will be considered. The shadow Attorney-General, Senator Durack, is right in saying that one should not see this inquiry as a means of referring, by a back-door method, a Bill which as yet has not actually been brought forward. I suppose that will be only one of the matters which will be considered by the Committee.

I have made those remarks because I think there is some misconception on the part of the Press as to the purpose of the proposed inquiry. I am sure the Opposition members are not concerned in playing a part in any way in the discussions among the factions of the Labor Party, which are already quite adequate in number without any help from us. This proposed inquiry could do a lot of good because the whole question of human rights in this country has to be taken from the plane it has descended to and looked at by a committee of the Senate. I hope, therefore, that the motion and Senator Durack's amendment, in such form as it will subsequently be determined, will be passed so that we can get on with the job.