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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 485

Senator TAMBLING —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General on matters affecting the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the Australian Federal Police. I refer to a number of unresolved and controversial cases—outstanding since January—before the human rights commission in Darwin involving four allegations of sexual harassment against a Northern Territory union leader, Hugh Crawford. I ask: is the minister aware that this matter has attracted media attention and there has been correspondence to the Attorney-General and Senator Collins? Can the minister explain: firstly, why the human rights commission is reluctant to proceed with this case, even though one of the women has sought police protection after receiving threats of violence against her children; secondly, whether senior figures in, or associated with, the Australian Labor Party have conspired to delay the hearing of these cases until after the Northern Territory election this year, so as not to embarrass the ALP; and, thirdly, whether this scandal reveals the darkest side of Labor—ranging from union thuggery and manipulation to threats of physical violence and the denial of natural justice?

Senator BOLKUS —Someone at home watching this today will get the stark contrast: on the one hand, a government concerned about issues of the day and, on the other hand, an opposition right in the gutter. Day after day we come in here to address major national, international and domestic issues of great moment to all sorts of people. What happens today? Senator Tambling comes in here, prejudices whatever investigation might be going on, and makes the statement that HREOC has been sat on by members of the government.

  Anyone who has been in this place for a moment, let alone the time that Senator Tambling has been in here, would understand the independence of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. I understood it full well when I was trying to get legislation through this place and everyone from the other side of the parliament had access to that body.

  The commission is independent; it is not sat on by government. Those opposite know that very well, but they come in here trying to throw slurs at the government.

Senator Collins —Is that the one they wanted to abolish?

Senator BOLKUS —As I am reminded by my colleague on my right, we should not look for consistency from the opposition when it comes to these sorts of issues. It has no consistent line of belief in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The opposition's initial Fightback document want-ed to do away with HREOC. We did not want to sit on it; the opposition wanted to squash it and quash it. There is autonomy for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and Senator Tambling knows that. If Senator Tambling were responsible about the rights of the people involved, there are different ways in which he could have raised this matter. He would not have come in here throwing unsubstantiated slurs at this side of the parliament.

  Mr President, I will take this particular question with the dignity with which it was delivered—none at all. But to the extent that there is any issue arising from the question and there is any answer that can be given, I will try to get one. But I must say to Senator Tambling that it does him or his side of parliament no good to throw unsubstantiated slurs at this side of parliament, at the same time doing something that is quite objectionable, that is, reflecting on the integrity and independence of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Senator TAMBLING —After question time I will certainly seek to table some correspondence that will establish the dates. Mr President, I have a supplementary question. Given the need to resolve the complaints against Mr Crawford and the perception that the human rights commission has been compromised, will the Attorney-General order an investigation into the commission and the involvement of a number of Labor Party members and officials associated with the forthcoming Northern Territory election as a matter of urgency?

Senator BOLKUS —That is the point. If it was not for the forthcoming Northern Territory election, Senator Tambling would not care about this. He would not have raised it at all. He would not have come in here and made a real goose of himself by throwing unsubstantiated slurs. Senator Tambling has made an allegation of interference. We look forward to seeing whether he can substantiate that. What about the other element of hypocrisy? There is icing on the cake here. On the one hand, Senator Tambling has accused us of interfering; on the other hand, he comes in with his supplementary question and wants us to interfere. Come on, get it straight.