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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 498


Senator TAMBLING (3.31 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Senator Bolkus), to a question without notice by Senator Tambling this day, relating to the consideration by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission of a case of alleged sexual harassment.

The case of a Northern Territory union leader facing four allegations of sexual harassment is nothing short of a scandal in the way in which it has been handled by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in Darwin. The four cases, comprising two official complaints and two written statements to the commission, make serious allegations against Mr Hugh Crawford. Mr Crawford is the president of the Northern Territory Trades and Labor Council. He also works as an organiser for the Automotive, Food, Engineering and Metal Workers Union in Darwin. It is important to point out that Mr Crawford emphatically denies any allegation of impropriety and intends to defend his name.

  The decision to raise this matter publicly was made by one of the women involved. She is so concerned about her welfare and safety that she specifically requested that it be raised in federal parliament. She believes that the publicity will protect her and her family. Two of the women making allegations are members of the Australian Services Union. Earlier this year the branch secretary of that union, Mr John Gazzola, wrote several letters on their behalf. The first letter, on 8 February 1994, was addressed to Ms Jill Huck of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in Darwin. I refer to the following three quotes. In the second paragraph it says:

Our Union writes officially to inform you that our NT Representative, Lucio, and our member, Dianna Lothian, are concerned about their welfare and safety. The ASU is also concerned for their welfare and safety.

In the third paragraph it says:

Lucio has been receiving nuisance calls at his home and our member Dianna Lothian has informed the Union that she has received calls asking for her to drop her case or an accident may happen to her children.

In the final paragraph it says:

We are extremely concerned for the welfare of Lucio Matarazzo, and our member Dianna Lothian.

The second letter dated 25 February 1994, again to Ms Huck, pleads for hearing dates to be set as soon as possible. Mr Gazzola highlights the urgency of the case, saying:

. . . the Commission must recognise that while the matter remains unheard it is having a detrimental effect on the health and welfare of those involved.

The third letter of 27 April 1994 to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner in Sydney again pleads for the complaints to be heard at the earliest opportunity. In this letter Mr Gazzola expresses concern that the Northern Territory regional director of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Ms Jill Huck, is—

currently considering whether to exercise her power to decline the complaint—

He also notes that Ms Huck failed to reply to his letters. The Australian newspaper of 11 April this year reported the resignation of a female trade union leader in Darwin.

Apparently Ms Cathy Richardson, the technical branch president of the Automotive, Food, Engineering and Metal Workers Union, resigned in protest at her union's federal executive which had decided not to investigate an allegation of sexual harassment against Mr Crawford.

  She added that she was `unhappy and disillusioned' and that the union's federal secretary, Mr George Campbell, had ignored human rights guidelines and compromised union efforts to negotiate grievance procedures with employers in cases of sexual harassment. She told the paper:

To see absolutely nothing being done by an employer, which in this case happens to be a trade union, makes me wonder what chance we have in dealing with other employers.

I would like to place on record my concern that these cases against Mr Crawford have been caught up in unsatisfactory and unresolved administrative delays of the human rights commission in Darwin. I urge the commission to resolve the matters as soon as possible—I remind the Senate that the matters go back to January of this year—for the women's sake and for Mr Crawford's sake.

  I am also concerned that the senior staffer of the commission is a person closely associated with the hard-core Left and with senior members of the Labor Party in the Northern Territory. We also need to acknowledge that this is an election year in the Northern Territory—a year in which political parties come under close scrutiny. The Australian Labor Party does not have a proud history. On this occasion the party has again revealed its darker side, ranging from union thuggery and manipulation to threats of physical violence against women and children and, finally, the denial of justice.

  I sought earlier from the minister permission to table the correspondence that had been made available to me. He replied that he would be happy to do so except for the first letter, from which I have now quoted. I therefore seek leave to table the correspondence dated 25 February and 27 April to the human rights commission, the letter of 4 February from a lawyer to Mr Matarazzo, and an article from the Australian of 11 April. The minister has denied me the right to table the letter dated 8 February from the union to the human rights commission.

  Leave granted.