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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3431

Senator HARRADINE(10.15) —I move:

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Harradine moving the following amendments to the Bill to provide for the insertion in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 of new sections:

(1) Page 1, after clause 1, insert the following new clause:

``1A. The Principal Act is amended by adding after Section 43 the following section:

Conscientious objection

`43A. (1) Nothing in section 23 or 24 renders it unlawful for a person to decline to perform or participate in the performance of any act the performance of which would be contrary to genuinely held conscientious beliefs of that person.

`(2) In sub-section (1), `conscientious beliefs' means any conscientious beliefs, whether the grounds for the beliefs are or are not of a religious character and whether the beliefs are or are not part of the doctrine of any religion.

`(3) For the purposes of sub-section (1), the performance of an act shall be taken to be contrary to the conscientious beliefs of a person if, and only if, that person has a deeply held conviction that the performance of that act would be morally wrong, and that that person is morally obliged not to perform that act regardless of any considerations of personal advantage or disadvantage to that person or other persons.'.''.

(2) Page 1, after new clause 1A, insert the following new clause: ``1B. The Principal Act is amended by inserting after Section 43A the following section:

Weights to be lifted by females

`43B. Nothing in Division 1 or 2 affects anything done by a person in direct compliance with a provision of a law of a State or Territory which provides that female employees may not be required to lift objects having a mass greater than a specified mass.'.''.

I apologise for reading that motion, but I did so deliberately because Senator Powell of the Australian Democrats, by way of interjection, asked me what I was moving. She obviously did not know.

Senator Georges —You had me tricked too, as a matter of fact. Who allowed this procedure-

Senator HARRADINE —It has been on the Notice Paper for about two months. Senator Powell did not know about it, yet was able to say on behalf of the Democrats that they were opposing it.

Senator Haines —She never mentioned it.

Senator HARRADINE —She did. She interjected: `What is your amendment?'. So I am giving the Democrats the opportunity to consider it. That is why I have read it in full. I believe it is one of the most important amendments that have come before this chamber.

Senator Haines —It is one of the silliest.

Senator HARRADINE —Senator Haines has said that it is one of the silliest. It deals with a fundamental question of the rights and the individual consciences of the people of Australia. Senator Haines has said that it is one of the silliest amendments to come before this chamber. Obviously, Senator Haines has not considererd the proposition that I put forward during the second reading debate, when I stated that the upholding of the individual, properly formed conscientious beliefs of Australian citizens is fundamental to the principles of democracy.

Senator Haines —Who decides that, might I ask?

Senator HARRADINE —Senator Haines asked: `Who decides that?' I suggest to Senator Haines that she wait and read in the Hansard what I said. We are talking about a conscience properly formed. We are not talking about what Senator Haines thinks conscience is.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The motion before the Chair is for the suspension of Standing Orders, and the purpose of the suspension of Standing Orders is so that Senator Harradine can move his amendment at the Committee stage. At the moment, the debate should be confined to the reasons why Standing Orders should be suspended to permit Senator Harradine to do that.

Senator HARRADINE —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. I am happy to respond to interjections, but I know that I will be picked up by you if I do.

Senator Georges —You will be picked up by me as well. Why don't you move the amendment instead of disturbing the proceedings of the Senate?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Georges, I think Senator Harradine can do well enough on his own. Senator Georges will cease interjecting.

(Quorum formed)

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Before I call Senator Harradine, I want to make clear again what the Senate is doing. We are debating a motion for the suspension of Standing Orders to permit Senator Harradine to move an amendment at the Committee stage. The question before the Chair is the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders. I call Senator Harradine.

Senator HARRADINE —My motion for the suspension of Standing Orders-for those who have just entered the chamber-relates to item number 27 on page 11145 of the Notice Paper.

Senator Georges —I have been listening for a couple of hours and I am absolutely confused.

Senator Gareth Evans —That's because he's on the wrong Bill.

Senator HARRADINE —I thank Senator Gareth Evans. I am glad that he has wised up Senator Georges.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Georges will cease interjecting.

Senator Georges —How can I help it?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Georges will cease interjecting. Senator Harradine has the call.

Senator HARRADINE —I am glad that Senator Georges has been wised up. My motion is to suspend Standing Orders for the purpose of moving the propositions that are outlined on page 11145 of the Notice Paper.

Senator McKiernan —The Government has moved it. Sit down.

Senator Grimes —The Government agrees.

Senator HARRADINE —I am proposing that the Standing Orders be suspended--

Government senators interjecting-

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections.

Senator HARRADINE —Am I to understand that the Government agrees?

Senator Coates —No.

Senator HARRADINE —Does the Government agree or does it not agree?

Senator Georges —No, we are not agreeing.

Senator Gareth Evans —We are not agreeing to suspend the Standing Orders-because he is on a different Bill, for God's sake! I do not want him to be under any illusions.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Harradine has the call.

Senator HARRADINE —I am sorry, Mr Deputy President. I have had two advices from the Government. One is that it agrees with the suspension of Standing Orders and the other is that it does not agree with the suspension of Standing Orders. I am afraid that if it does not agree to the suspension of Standing Orders, it is refusing to discuss one of the most vital subjects to come before this particular chamber-that is, the rights of an individual in this democratic society to follow a properly formed and understood conscience. Indeed, the second part of the motion deals with the question of the lifting of weights by women. The sex discrimination legislation requires--

Senator McKiernan —Ha, ha!

Senator HARRADINE —It is no joke, Senator McKiernan; it is a very important subject in the industrial arena. The sex discrimination legislation requires women to lift the same weights under the same conditions as men. The women in my union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association-of which I was just re-elected President for another four years-are concerned about this, particularly women who work in small estabhlishments. Prior to the sex discrimination legislation State industrial tribunals or State labour and industry Acts or their equivalents provided for a limit to the weight women were required to lift. Since the introduction of the sex discrimination legislation that weight limit has been lifted for women employees.

Senator Georges —No, it is the weight the men have to lift that should be reduced. They should have reduced the weight a bloke could handle.

Senator HARRADINE —That is what we say but that is not what the Government has done. Mr Deputy President, Government members do not even know what they did and we now have out of their own mouths--

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Harradine, you must not go too far in debating the merits of your argument. If the motion to suspend Standing Orders is carried you will have the opportunity to debate the matter at the Committee stage. I know the dividing line is narrow but at the moment you must confine yourself to why Standing Orders should be suspended to allow these matters to be debated in the Committee stage.

Senator HARRADINE —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. I am concerned about shop assistants, and about nurses who now, at this moment, in hospitals--

Senator Haines —There are none in the hospitals.

Senator HARRADINE —Not in Victoria. They were previously protected in relation to the weights that they had to lift. Under this legislation they are now open to being required to lift any weight at all. Is that for the benefit of the women of this country? Do we recognise in this chamber the need to suspend Standing Orders in order to eliminate the danger to the health, safety and welfare of those women? Is every member of the Government going to oppose the suspension of Standing Orders to protect the health, safety and welfare of those women? Of course what is being suggested is that at the moment there are regulations which would cover--

Senator Gareth Evans —Those regulations were extended at your request, and they are perfectly effective.

Senator HARRADINE —They are stop-gap regulations.

Senator Gareth Evans —Yes, but they are stopping a pretty good gap at the moment.

Senator HARRADINE —Yes, they are stop-gap regulations at my request, I acknowledge that. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that those regulations are given proper legislative recognition by substantive legislation. Might I say that the proposal was put forward only after a large number of petitions were taken up and after the Government was pressured by the union movement and the Australian Council of Trade Unions to do something about the matter. I appeal to Government senators to support the suspension of Standing Orders. I take the opportunity of apologising for saying that Senator Gareth Evans was intellectually dishonest. I believe that he has not understood the propositions that I have been putting forward. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Debate interrupted.