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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2817

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(8.23) —I am perfectly happy to answer Senator Durack's question. Let me first, however, respond to Senator Walters's further foray into the Brisbane case by saying that I have no doubt that the woman complainant in that case has sought compensation of the figure mentioned and has sought apologies and letters to the medical journal and so on. It may well be that her settlement terms may well have been communicated to the doctor by the Human Rights Commission. My information is entirely consistent with that account. But the Human Rights Commission has not made any determination on the matter. It has simply sought to know what the response of the doctor is in order that the matter can be conciliated. It may perfectly well be the case that the woman has no credible--

Senator Walters —Why did it pick up such an idiotic case?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Because of the whole philosphy of the legislation which I appreciate may not be consistent with the honourable senator's views of the world. But people out there in the community are discriminated against daily in their employment and in other ways by people who are prejudiced and bigoted and insensitive to the claims that people make for respect for their own particular differences. It is important, if we are to be a civilised society that pays regard to those sensitivities, that we give some sort of opportunities for people who are discriminated against unfairly, unreasonably and on the basis of crude prejudice, as distinct from some rational ground, an opportunity to do something about it. They cannot do very much about it in the context of the employment discrimination situation we are here talking about because all they can ask for is not a determination or anything of that kind; they can only ask for an ombudsman-type of intervention.

I do not disagree with Senator Walters's account of the case but I just think honestly she is trying to draw a bit more from it than the facts will allow at this stage. If the Commission had gone striding in there demanding that a doctor do all sorts of things without any rational foundation for it, making strident determinations and so on, there might be a case for complaint. But a conciliation process is something very different from that and this particular case has by no means, as I understand it, run its course.

Senator Durack's question was a perfectly reasonable one, but there is a perfectly straightforward answer. Of course I would not appoint to my personal staff someone who was overtly and prominently a member of the Liberal Party of Australia, the National Party of Australia or anyone else with views politically opposed to mine. In doing so I would be perfectly within my rights under the terms of this legislation because what the legislation does in its definition of discrimination, which is relevant to the job situation we are talking about-discrimination on the ground of political belief-is make it clear that the section does not apply to any distinction in respect of a particular job based on the inherent requirements of the job. That picks up the language of the relevant clause of the International Labour Organisation Convention and, in casting the legislation in these terms, we are simply picking up the perfectly rational and understandable qualification in the Convention.

Obviously it would be an inherent requirement of a job working for a politician, for a Minister in a government, to have political views which made it possible for that person conscientiously and effectively to advance the cause of the political party of which his boss was a member. Of course that is the case; of course that is an inherent requirement of the job; and of course the legislation would have no application in that situation.

The reason why I paused a little before jumping to my feet in reply to Senator Durack was that I could not believe that I had missed something so obvious about the way in which the legislation is cast. I needed a moment just to check the terms of it and the Convention to make sure that I had not been suffering some-

Senator Durack —You needed someone to tell you what was there.

Senator GARETH EVANS —No, I needed someone to calm me down while I got my breath back because someone could be so comprehensively misled in his understanding of the legislation as the honourable senator obviously was to ask such a question which demonstrated such a complete lack of knowledge of what the basic principles of the legislation were. It is a pity that so much of this debate on human rights and on discrimination has been cast in a strident and rhetorical form which simply does not pay proper regard to the detailed, careful and qualified way in which all of these particular proposals have been cast and put together. It is good if we can get rational debate on these things. I am perfectly happy to contribute for as long as is necessary to a rational debate. But it does not help when scaremongering and misrepresentation, deliberate or inadvertent, takes place, and that, unfortunately, has been a characteristic of too much of the debate on this issue.