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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1484


Senator PETER BAUME(8.25) —The Human Rights Commission has ceased to exist and in its place there is now a Human Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Part of its function is to give the administrative background to enforcing the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Racial Discrimination Act. Some honourable senators may have heard His Honour Marcus Einfeld speaking on radio the other night when he made the observation that he wished to convince Mr John Howard, my Leader, that the Human Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission should not be disbanded and that it should continue. He went further and said that if he could not convince him that it should continue he reckoned he would not be worthy of his job. Mr Marcus Einfeld, as honourable senators know, is not of my political persuasion but he is an eminent lawyer and a member of a family famous in Sydney for its contribution to public life, and I would hope that my Leader will take up his offer, will meet with Mr Einfeld and will let him put forward the reasons why he thinks the Commission should continue.

There is always a temptation, if one criticises a body and if one has valid grounds for criticism, as some of my colleagues have had, to move from there to decide that therefore there is some reason why the body should not exist. I would like to make it quite clear that I also have had some problems with some of the processes which were followed by the Human Rights Commission while it was in existence. I had complaints from some of my constituents; for instance, one constituent in the Illawarra thinks that she was not given a fair go. I have had complaints myself, when concerns which I expressed about the situation facing a white minority living in Eveleigh Street, Redfern, were not addressed properly by the old Commission. Certainly I have had complaints. Certainly there were complaints about some of the educational material, and certainly they should be addressed. But the approach proposed by some people-that because of these failings of detail or process the whole function should be junked-is foolish and dangerous and is simply wrong in logic.

There is no logically sound reason why the functions which this Commission is there to serve should be put aside. It is not in the interests of the Australian community that it should happen. Should the matter come up I would want to argue in my Party room-with my new-found freedom-that this should be the case. It is not enough to suggest that the Commission should be junked or discarded. I ask honourable senators: If that were done, how would we enforce the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act, the aims of which I would hope all Australians would support? How would we enforce the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act? Those of my colleagues who may wish to say `get rid of the Commission' had better tell us how they want to provide for the needs of people who have complaints to be met under each of those Acts.

I have never believed or argued that the previous Commission was perfect. I had very grave reservations about some of its processes and some of the things that it did. I had reservations about the competence or the performance of some of those who served in it. My first approach would be to sack them and to replace them with people who do the job better. I am never against judging people on their performance, but there is absolutely no logic in arguing that our experience either with the Human Rights Commission or with the Human Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gives us any grounds for recommending that they be junked and that the function be put aside. It simply is not logical and it will not do for this country.

Debate interrupted.