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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3391


Senator NEWMAN(4.33) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I must say what a terrible waste of time and money this report has been. The Human Rights Commission sat for three years and produced a camel. Two officers from the Human Rights Commission were sent to Alice Springs on 16 November 1983 to investigate 39 allegations of breaches of human rights made by the ladies from the so-called peaceful protest at Pine Gap. Three years later in December 1986, the report on these complaints has finally been made public. By the end of 1983 the two officers had made their report and listed the complaints. A number of meetings or hearings have been held in the intervening period. The Human Rights Commission was not the only public body investigating these complaints. The Northern Territory Ombudsman had an investigation and he managed to file his report by August 1984. The Commonwealth Ombudsman also completed his investigation by May 1986. Government employees in the Australian Federal Police, the Northern Territory Police, the Department of the Special Minister of State and the Attorney-General's Department all enjoyed a stimulating corres- pondence on the matter.


Senator Crichton-Browne —At what cost?


Senator NEWMAN —Yes, Senator Crichton-Browne; at what cost? Despite the exhaustive hearings of both ombudsmen, the Human Rights Commission could not bear to tear itself away from the matter. In this report the Commission states that it has not attempted to find out whether the particular complaints that it received were in all respects substantiated, yet it used the specific incidents complained of as though proven in order to report on what human rights principles should apply. In fact, the Commission restated the complaints, made comments on them, drew attention to the relevant human rights and then made pious suggestions. No comments were made about the availability of legal redress for the complainants and little attention was given to the provocation given by the women and to the difficulties faced by the police as a result of the isolation and the lack of facilities available where the women committed the offences with which they were charged. In fact, the human rights of the two police forces concerned in this matter have received no attention at all. A number of these ladies were back here in Canberra recently proudly exhibiting photos of their so-called peaceful protest at Pine Gap. They showed me their `battle photographs' in their so-called peace tent on the lawns outside Parliament House. This time their protest was clearly seen by the people of Australia on their television sets. They saw it for the dishonest exercise it was.

The three years delay in producing this report reveals the concluding sentence of chapter 1 of the report as pious humbug. Let me quote that final sentence:

. . . this report on the complaints arising from the Pine Gap protest may help to ensure that, in the future, those who have broken the law in the course of protesting are treated in accordance with the standards of human rights to which Australia is bound.

Before this report was issued these same women came to Canberra and protested again. They broke the law and trampled on the human rights of others, yet this Government was paralysed and they were treated with kid gloves.


Senator Giles —What absolute rubbish.


Senator NEWMAN —You know it to be true. Of course their human rights would be respected. All citizens have that right. We did not need a three-year investigation by a body costing $5.6m a year to tell us that. Neither should these women enjoy an immunity from arrest for breaches of the law. Is it any wonder that on attaining government, the coalition is committed to abolishing the Human Rights Commission? Australians should not be expected to pay for wasteful and bureaucratic exercises such as this. The human rights, which are the subject of this report, are already well protected by the courts. They are also well protected by efficient monitoring by the State, Territory and Commonwealth ombudsmen and the sooner this Commission is starved to death the better.