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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2764


Senator WALTERS(12.20) —As Senator Durack and Senator Puplick have said clearly, the Opposition fully supports the original human rights covenants. It was pointed out that these agreements took place under the Fraser Government. There is, no doubt, no question at all that there is a need in this country for a monitoring and caring of people who have discriminatory actions taken against them. However, as a result of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Bill 1985, and the actions of the Human Rights Commission there has been a growing concern in the public mind about exactly what is occurring. It is not entirely the fault of the commissioners. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Bill says that the functions of the Commission are to inquire into any act or practice that may be inconsistent with or contrary to any human right.

We know only too well that so many people can take up that statement and believe that some human right has been breached on their behalf. The Commission made the mistake of not following its functions clearly. The Bill states: `Where the Commission considers it appropriate to do so'. The Commission could have ignored all the trivial complaints Senator Puplick was referring to, all the stuff that does not cover human rights in the basic sense in which Australians believe they should be covered. Several examples have received quite a deal of publicity. I will give one example. It involves a doctor who was taking the history of a patient asking the patient whether she was married. I am sure that if Senator Grimes were here he would say that this is a very usual question for a doctor to ask a patient. The patient took strong exception to the question and said that it was an infringement of her rights and that she would not answer the question. The doctor thought it was all a bit too stupid and claimed his right not to treat her, not to look after her, if she were not prepared to give him a full history. I have never heard of anything quite so stupid.

In my husband's early career occasionally, if he asked patients `What is your problem', the smart answer was: `That is what I have come to you to find out, doctor'. His reply in those cases was usually: `I am not a vet. I happen to be a doctor'. That is probably the appropriate reply. If a patient whose history is being taken considers it to be an infringement of his human liberties to be asked by the doctor a reasonable question, the commissioners would have been justified in saying that the objection was frivolous. But that did not occur. The situation went a lot further. I have been talking to the doctor. He was fined, I think, $1,000 in damages. He was to publish a full report of the case in the medical journal as a warning to other doctors and he was to write a letter of apology to the plaintiff. I have never heard of anything so stupid. This is the sort of thing that would bring the Commission into disrepute. People see such matters as ludicrous. Because of the Sex Discrimination Bill marital status must not be used to discriminate. If a doctor, in taking a history, cannot ask about marital history the whole thing is stupid.


Senator Sheil —He might be asking that to protect her privacy.


Senator WALTERS —He may well be. Senator Sheil knows that that question is normally asked in taking a history. There is another well publicised case of a doctor wanting to rent out accommodation and objecting to renting to the people who had sought the accommodation on the grounds that he did not believe that he should be forced to rent to people whose beliefs he opposed. The Commission has not responded in a responsible manner to such situations. I believe the community has that view. I will now consider the educative role of the Commission. Clause 11 (h) of the Bill, which deals with functions of the Commission, provides:

To undertake research and educational programs and other programs, on behalf of the Commonwealth, for the purpose of promoting human rights, and to co-ordinate any such programs undertaken by any other persons or authorities on behalf of the Commonwealth;

I have one of the books put out by the Human Rights Commission. On page 2 it says that small grants should be made to teachers who take up some of the programs. It states:

The materials published so far have always been seen as a beginning and not as an end. The Human Rights Commission is now sponsoring in close collaboration with respective education authorities a small grants program under which schools and their teachers are invited to explore human rights issues in their classes.

It then says:

Whatever it is teachers choose to do the Human Rights Commission will pay $500 or $1000 for a 2-term project to those who contract to take part and who can report in detail on the ideas and activities and resources which prove most creative in practice.

That money was not going to the school but into the pockets of the teachers concerned. The Human Rights Commission was offering to pay teachers a certain amount of money if they taught the programs in their schools. I will read from a later section in the book because it advises teachers on how to go about teaching some of the work. It says:

In the first few weeks of the school year the teacher can challenge some of the learned behaviours that do not seem to encourage children's rights and by careful selection expose children to a wide and varied range of positive thinking about themselves and others.

That sounds very good, but then it goes on:

Children come to school with some fairly set ideas. A lot of these are sex role stereotypes. A lot of work has been done and has got to be done with non-sexist education with the class to begin the human rights integrated approach. This should be done in the first four weeks of the school year. The particular grade in mind for the unit of work in this approach is first grade but mood of the ideas should be used with kindergarten.

The book says that the first four weeks that a little girl or boy arrives at school in kindergarten are the most important four weeks in getting to that child to change the sex stereotype roles that that child may have learned at home. The book goes on to tell the teachers how this can be done. It says:

The teacher can make rules, for example, no one plays with the cars unless there are equal boys and girls playing with the cars in the kindergarten corner or the paper dolls don't go out unless one boy at least is in the group.

That means that little girls cannot play with paper dolls unless they can talk one of the little boys into also playing with the paper dolls.


Senator Georges —What are you talking about? I have been listening to you for the last 10 minutes.


Senator WALTERS —This is what the honourable senator's Commission is doing. If the honourable senator had been listening he would know that I am describing some of the teaching that has been put into the schools. The Commission talked teachers into using the program by offering to pay them money-in their pockets, not to the school-to use this sort of nonsense. If I were Senator Georges I too would be saying: `What on earth are you talking about? This could not possibly be the case'. But suggestions have been given to teachers that if they want to change a little girl's thinking that mummy stays home and looks after her they do not allow her to play with dolls unless a boy plays with them and they do not allow boys to play with cars unless an equal number of boys and girls play with the cars. I have never heard of anything quite so stupid. I am quite sure that Senator Georges would agree with me. That is why he is saying: `What on earth are you talking about?' The mind boggles. This is ludicrous. There is much more that the Commission has been doing which really has no part of what its function should be. I oppose very strongly the suggestion that a commission should have such a function and that it can get its programs into the schools-into the kindergarten areas-and tell our children that they cannot and should not look upon the family as the norm; that they must be taught in the first four weeks of their schooling in kindergarten that what they have experienced at home is all wrong; and that they have to be taught something totally different.