Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2814

Senator DURACK(8.03) —I think it is rather passing strange that we have heard those words from Senator Mason on behalf of the Australian Democrats. He seems to have entirely missed the point of what the issue is here. He has been trying to justify some stance the Democrats took at a time when there was a united ticket between the Democrats and the Government, I think with the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Gareth Evans, when I remember Senator Gareth Evans saying `If I have to do that to buy your lousy little vote I will' and, of course, he did. The Democrats agreed to some pathetic little amendment to these regulations. In his own words, it was a very small price that the Government paid for the Democrats' lousy little vote. I think that was one of the most disreputable incidents that I can remember in this Senate.

As Senator Harradine pointed out, they were useless amendments. He pointed out how useless they were in a very relevant comment he made about the problem we have before us today. If the Democrats had seriously addressed the problems of this legislation instead of putting up some pathetic amendment, which we will deal with later, as the only concession it was prepared to make on this question, we would be addressing an issue of some substance. The substance is that the Government has proposed a Bill which has a definition of discrimination that is in very wide terms. As I read out earlier, it encompasses any distinction or indiscrimination-I will use a word that people can understand and not the hopeless legislative lingo of the parliamentary draftsmen-made on the basis of race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin that has the effect of impairing or denying equality of opportunity in employment. As if that is not wide enough, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Bill goes on to refer to any other distinction or discrimination that is determined by the Minister and published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette.

The Government admits that the sort of discrimination that will be promulgated by the Minister, the categories of which are never going to be closed under the demands of the human rights industry which the Government proposes to assist to flourish, has already been expanded to include criminal records. When employing somebody, one cannot discriminate on the basis of somebody's criminal record. Senator Mason is now leaving the chamber. He has lost interest in this, having defended his contribution to developing video pornography in this country. One cannot discriminate on the basis of a criminal record, age, marital status, medical records and personal attributes. How is anyone going to interpret that? Nationality, trade union activities, physical disabilities and sexual preference are all additional grounds of discrimination which the Minister is likely to promulgate under legislation which cannot, as drafted by this Government, be disallowed even by the Parliament. The purpose of the Opposition's amendments is to prevent the Minister being able to do that. Senator Harradine has supported those amendments but we can conclude by Senator Mason's contribution that obviously it is not going to be supported by the Democrats.

Senator Harradine —I am supporting your amendments.

Senator DURACK —Senator Harradine is supporting our amendments to prevent that being done. Senator Mason and the Democrats are not going to. They are going to allow this open-ended power of the Minister to proclaim any category of discrimination that he sees fit on the advice, no doubt, of the human rights industry. The Opposition's amendments are to prevent that happening. Senator Harradine is supporting them and in support of them he has referred to the experience we had in the Senate very recently in regard to the regulations on video pornography. He has brought forward and explained how that power given to a Minister or to censorship bureaucrats has been grossly abused. He brought forward a very strong argument by way of that example as to why we should not do this. All that Senator Mason has done is to defend some sordid little agreement whereby the lousy little vote of the Democrats, to quote Senator Gareth Evans, was bought by some pathetic amendment that was agreed to, but it did not address in any way the central issue of principle we are debating now and in support of which Senator Harradine has given this example.

I raise with Senator Gareth Evans the question of the position of individuals and maybe even companies or institutions which will be alleged to have breached the prohibition of discrimination of these various kinds. I pointed out that in future the Human Rights Commissioner will be able to investigate claims of such discrimination; he will be able to make findings and then report to the Minister who, no doubt, will use it for his own political purposes in parliament if he does not like the person concerned for some reason or another. The Human Rights Commissioner can recommend the payment of compensation to, or in respect of, a person whom it is said has been discriminated against. Senator Evans's answer to that situation is: `These are powers like the Ombudsman has. The Ombudsman can have these inquiries. He can report to the Minister, the Minister can do these things and, apparently, recommend compensation'. I do not think that has happened very often.

The answer we have had from Senator Evans is totally irrelevant to the question we have before us because the Ombudsman's jurisdiction is confined to the acts or practices of Commonwealth public servants or, in the case of State ombudsmen, State public servants. If it is found that the public servant has been guilty of some act or practice contrary to good administration, or whatever it may be, he may be exposed and compensation may be recommended. But here we have the case of an ordinary private citizen who is alleged to have breached the anti-discrimination rules, vast categories of which I have already mentioned, and who, under this legislation, may not be able to be fined or ordered to pay a sum of money by a court which is what we would expect if that is what the law believes should be a just sanction.

Here we have a case where a bureaucrat, in the shape of a human rights commissioner, who has all the panoply of one kind or another of this legislation, can report to a Minister and advise him that Mr X or Mrs Y-an ordinary citizen of this country-should pay a sum of money by way of compensation for the heinous crime he or she has committed. Earlier Senator Walters gave an example of a piddling matter found to be discrimination by the Human Rights Commission in Queensland. We could give countless examples of that situation. However, the Human Rights Commissioner says that that person should pay maybe $20,000. I believe the going rate these days in this area is up to $40,000.

We know what sort of blackmail is pursued in these areas. Employers are frightened out of their wits about the sorts of complaints that are made and to buy off the publicity they will pay out some thousands of dollars to be relieved of the publicity from the busybodies in the human rights industry. This Government is giving power to people to do exactly the same thing, to pillory and to publicise their judgments about another citizen's conduct. This matter has nothing to do with governments or public servants; it has everything to do with ordinary human beings and Australian citizens in any part of Australia who can be pilloried and pressured in this way. If a Minister takes up such a person's cause in Parliament under the privileges of parliament he can put the most enormous pressure on people to pay at the moment probably upwards of $30,000 or $40,000 in so-called compensation by individual citizens of this country. It is a most disgraceful method of enforcing law that I have ever heard. It has been promoted by this Government in this legislation and it has been unashamedly promoted by Senator Evans, who is supposed to be a great defender of people's civil liberties. This legislation is the end result of this activity. To say that it is a precedent set by the Ombudsman Act is pathetically irrelevant.

We are talking here not about public servants; we are talking about ordinary citizens of this country, not just employers by any means. We are talking about people in all categories-any employers in small business, big business and charitable institutions. That is why the Opposition brought forward an amendment which will try to cut down the ambit of this provision so that people in employment can have some religious, moral or political objectives and can at least discriminate on the basis of their own conscientious beliefs in that way. The Government has rejected that amendment of the Opposition in favour of some very narrow amendment. I ask Senator Evans this question: Is he prepared to employ on his staff a prominent member of the Liberal Party, the National Party or the Australian Democrats? Does he ignore that? If an applicant for a job on his staff told him that he was a very prominent member of the Liberal Party, would Senator Evans ignore that in his decision to employ or not to employ that person?