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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1480


Senator SHORT(8.00) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This report is now somewhat dated. It was signed on 15 October 1986-almost half a year ago. Since then the Human Rights Commission has been greatly revamped, its roles have been expanded and its name has been changed to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. I should point out that the present Commission is living on borrowed time as the Liberal and National parties have already announced that when they become the new government after winning the next election-whenever that may be held-we will abolish the Commission.

Nevertheless, a few comments should be made about the Human Rights Commission's 1985-86 report. In the parliamentary debates last year on the Hawke Government's iniquitous, highly dangerous proposal for an Australian Bill of Rights, many Opposition speakers, including me, drew attention to the bias contained in the material in `Teaching for human rights: activities for schools' which was prepared for the Commission by Dr Ralph Pitman and which was made available to schools in 1984 on the basis of paying the teachers involved what virtually amounted to a bribe to use the material-$500 for one term's use and $1,000 for two terms. There were two main criticisms made of the material in that kit. The first was of the description of capitalism as being:

. . . predicated upon dishonesty and greed . . . has slaughtered uncounted millions the world over through the exploitation and misdevelopment of global resources. The US and other erstwhile `free market' democracies have much to answer for in this regard.

That is what Dr Pitman said in that teaching kit. I am pleased to note from the Commission's annual report that this scurrilous, Marxist communist propaganda has now been deleted from the revision of the text following the strongest possible objection from Opposition members. However, the revision does not answer the initial point of our criticism and that is: How on earth did the material come to be included in the first place?

The second part of the `Teaching for human rights' material to which many of us objected was a description under a section entitled `The Family' as having:

. . . a highly stratified class structure and a value system that is secular, racist, sexist and materialistic.

The material asserts that the Australian family reflects and promotes this fact. I and many other senators believe that this is a biased and totally distorted view of the Australian family and our family values. I regret that it appears from the Commission's report that this passage has not been deleted from the revised material although the actual situation is not entirely definite. If this offensive passage has not been deleted I trust that the new Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission will take immediate steps to rectify it.

I wish to comment very briefly on the Commission's community education grants program. In 1985-86, 25 grants were made under this program. Although most of these were relatively small-the largest being $5,000-there is a very important point of principle here. The grants were for a wide range of projects, from theatre productions to workshops to so-called education kits to services directories. I do not believe that the Human Rights Commission or its successor should be in a position to undertake such grant programs. These programs would be much better placed under the control and administration of specific government departments and Ministers so that hopefully more assessment could be made of their worth.

Finally, I welcome the announcement by the President of the new Commission, Mr Justice Marcus Einfeld, that the great Russian human rights crusader Andrei Sakharov and his wife Yelena Bonner have accepted the Commission's invitation to visit Australia later this year. It is to be hoped that the Soviet authorities will allow the Sakharovs to travel. However, I regret that the Press report that announced the matter in Australia also quoted Justice Einfeld as discussing human rights deficiencies in Australia. It would be as regrettable as it is absurd if there were any suggestion that Australia's human rights record-one of the best in the world-was in any way to be considered in the same light as the appalling record of the Soviets.