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Tuesday, 21 June 1994
Page: 1799

Senator CAMPBELL (11.33 a.m.) —I want to speak about the national action plan. I support the comments of my Senate colleagues. The broad thrust of their arguments has been that this really is a glossy picture of Australia's human rights record. It has been put together very quickly. It is a monument to the federal government's international posturing on human rights and its ignoring of them at home in Australia. I will pick out three examples in the report in the short time available to me.

  I would also like to refer to the very process, to which Senator Harradine has just referred, of putting the report together. We see in the tabling statement of Senator Gareth Evans that the national action plan was put together by the Australian federal government and that there was effectively no consultation with the states. One of the things that we have to do in a democracy, if we want to protect human rights, is to ensure that power is kept close to the people. Australia has chosen to do that by having a federal system of government. That is something that we will celebrate in the years leading up to the centenary of our federation, but it is something that has been undermined by this federal government in particular over the last 11 years. It has sought to centralise more power here in Canberra away from the state and local levels of government and to concentrate more and more power in the hands of the executive.

  It is a great pity that Senator Evans was so keen to rush off and have this report tabled in the United Nations on 22 February when on 21 June it is being tabled in the Australian Senate. In other words, the government goes off to the United Nations and tables our national action plan before it is considered by a joint committee of the parliament and before it comes into the Senate. This is a classic monument to the way this arrogant, tired government treats the Australian parliamentary process. So it is a bit of joke that here we are saying what a great democracy we are.

  There are a couple of other points in this report. There is a chapter on labour relations, which Senator Abetz will not be surprised to hear. I will leave it to him to make some comments about that. The plan goes through all the high sounding principles in relation to ensuring that people have the right to just and favourable conditions of work and the right to form and join trade unions. I hope that our international friends who read this report will recognise that nowhere on all the pages regarding people's rights to join unions is there any mention of the right for Australians not to join unions if they so choose.

  That is a freedom that this federal government denies people in industrial trade unions. It is also a freedom that this government specifically seeks to deny students on campuses. This government uses its coercive financial powers to force young Australians to join unions and pay hundreds of dollars in membership fees against their will. It needs to be highlighted to the international community that this government is not far dinkum about giving Australian citizens the freedom to choose not to join unions. They are coerced into joining unions.

  Another section of this report goes to the government's credibility in relation to strengthen democratic processes. Page 71 says:

These mechanisms include the scrutiny of government by parliamentary committees and administrative processes which provide for access to information and review of decisions.

It is interesting to note that the Senate passed resolutions on 5 May and 10 May asking that the Minister for Administrative Services table documents in relation to his portfolio. He held this parliament in contempt and continues to do so. That is how fair dinkum the government is about accountability and democratic institutions. If it does not suit the government, it does not give the parliament the information.

  Equally, a commitment was given by this government in March to increase the powers and financial resources of the Auditor-General, yet in last month's budget it cut the resources of the independent Auditor-General in Australia by 17 per cent. This is a great commitment to accountability. The Auditor-General has said publicly that his office cannot carry out its statutory obligations. That too should be recognised by the international community when it sees Senator Evans trying to win a Nobel Peace Prize for human rights, or become Secretary-General of the United Nations, or whatever else he is trying to do with this document. He is not fair dinkum and his actions do not match his words. (Time expired)

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Calvert)—The time for taking note of this document has expired.

  Motion (by Senator Abetz) proposed:

  That the debate be now adjourned.

Senator Panizza —When Senator Schacht gave leave to discuss this document I thought we were not limited to half an hour. Could you give me some advice on that?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —My understanding was that the time limit was 30 minutes and it expired at 11.38 a.m.

Senator Panizza —Where has that understanding come from? Is it in the normal standing orders? I thought it was open.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Leave was given under the normal conditions which would allow half an hour.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.