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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2828


Senator DURACK(9.43) —I would like to pursue this matter with Senator Evans. I was going to pursue it anyway but as it has arisen now in relation to one of the amendments I think it may be appropriate to raise it now. In the letter the Prime Minister wrote to the former Leader of the Australian Democrats, Don Chipp, on 12 March 1986, he made a very specific commitment to the Democrats-presumably it was on behalf of the Government-stating the Government's policy. The relevant section of that letter stated:

Specifically I confirm that the Government will ask the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to inquire into existing State electoral laws-

not just Queensland-

. . . Should the Commission find that Queensland's electoral distribution contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and should the Queensland Government not agree to reform that distribution, the Commonwealth will legislate pursuant to its external affairs power.

The letter then referred to what the Attorney-General stated and continued:

You should be aware that that commitment by the Government has also been confirmed by the Attorney-General in a letter to all State Attorneys sent on 4 March this year.

I refer Senator Evans to the substance of this commitment which firstly seems to be a reference by the Government to the Human Rights Commission in relation to all State electoral laws, not just Queensland's electoral laws. Is that the commitment? Does it still stand? Secondly, if the Commission finds that the Queensland electoral distribution contravenes the international Covenant will this finding be confined to Queensland? What about Western Australia? What about any other State law? Does this commitment apply to any State law that is found to conflict with the Covenant? Thirdly, presumably the State Government concerned will be given the first option to bring its laws into conformity with whatever is the Human Rights Commission's interpretation of this Covenant. Fourthly, if it does not, the Commonwealth will then legislate pursuant to its external power to override the wishes of the State. That seems to be about four specific commitments that the Prime Minister has made. I would like to know whether they all still stand as firmly as they were stated to stand in the letter that the Prime Minister wrote to Don Chipp on 12 March.

I was not very impressed, frankly, by Senator Evans's answer to Senator Macklin. Senator Macklin may be more impressed with its firmness. One reason which would lead me to believe that that is not the Government's view today is that a day or two after the Queensland election on 1 November last, which is a good deal more recent than 12 March last, the Attorney-General, Mr Lionel Bowen, whose statements in fact are really being relied on by the Prime Minister in this letter, is reported as having said that the Queensland electoral system is a matter that should be left to Queensland and decided within Queensland. Did Mr Bowen say that? If he did say that, is he now being over- riden by a reaffirmation from Senator Evans, who only represents Mr Bowen in this place? It has not come from the Prime Minister. Is Senator Evans here overriding what Mr Bowen has said in the last few days? I would like to be assured on just what the position is. I would also like to know whether these commitments by this Government, by Senator Evans on behalf of the Government, repudiate the very firm statements made by the Premier of Western Australia, Mr Burke, in relation to Western Australian electoral laws that as far as he is concerned these matters are to be decided in Western Australia alone and not by the Federal Government.

I put those six questions to Senator Evans-or to the back of Senator Evans, who is more interested in chatting to somebody else than in dealing with these matters. Perhaps he will be able to answer them. If he cannot answer them now, I think we should hold up the final resolution of this matter until he does.