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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 632


Senator HARRADINE(6.05) —We are addressing a motion for the suspension of Standing Orders in order to enable a further motion to be moved for the reference of media ownership to a committee. Of course, the Standing Orders are fairly strict and one needs to keep within the bounds of the Standing Orders and not address the issue of whether or not the matter should be referred to a committee. That is for a subsequent motion. I intend to vote for the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders because I feel that it is the duty of Parliament to address questions that are vital to our human liberty, to our society and to democracy, when these issues impinge upon the rights and responsibilities of the community and of individuals in the community.

Clearly, the question of media ownership is of importance to democracy in our society. In agreeing to vote for this motion to suspend Standing Orders, I remind honourable senators-the Australian Democrats in particular-that in December last I attempted to move for the suspension of Standing Orders to deal with a matter that was absolutely vital to human liberty, to our society and to our democracy. In fact, notice of that proposition had been put forward by me as far back as 5 May 1986. The proposition was to reverse the situation in which this Government's legislation on sex discrimination had been designed to compel Australians, under pain of penalty, to treat de facto or cohabiting couples as though they were legally married. That action denied people the freedom to follow their consciences when formed in good faith. It was an attack on the very keystone of human liberty. If one were setting out to create a totalitarian state, it would be mandatory to begin by denying the authority of conscience. That was the issue that was under consideration in December of last year.

Of course, this current issue is one to suspend Standing Orders. I agree with what has been said. The opportunity to zero in on matters of such vital importance and to have them properly determined, as distinct from a gas-bag session, is not always available. On this occasion, I think it quite justified for members to vote for the suspension of Standing Orders so as to enable the debate to take place. People may have different views on the subject, as presumably people had different views on the subject of placing de factos on the same basis as married people. I was denied, by a vote of all of the Democrats and all of the members of Australian Labor Party, the opportunity to bring that matter forward on 4 December last year. However, I do not take a dog in the manger attitude; I take a consistent attitude on these particular questions. I think the case that has been made out today for a suspension of Standing Orders is quite a valid case, and I intend to support it.