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Monday, 20 September 1999
Page: 8349


Senator HARRIS (12:50 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1999 . It is necessary following the High Court's decision in Brandy v. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in 1995 that a means be found to ensure that parties can gain direct access to the Federal Court. I am concerned that cheap justice in the form of mediation and conciliation will not always equate to real justice. I would further support the development of a federal magistrate's court to enhance a cost-effective approach to dispute resolution. Access should be timely, affordable and enforceable.

I support limiting the role of the commissioners and think it is most unfortunate that we cannot also limit their pay packets to match. Tony Smith, a previous member of the House of Representatives for Dickson, said in his speech on the second reading debate:

Why couldn't the Brandy case have been dealt with in the magistrate's court? It could have been dealt with simply and summarily and disposed of once and for all. Instead, we had an exhaustive process that took it through the Federal Court and the High Court, and an enormous amount of money was spent.

I stress again that I welcome any approaches regarding the creation of a federal magistracy to deal with these issues. However, in supporting the bill, I also have enormous reservations.

Let us face facts: the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is not treating the causes of the problems within this country but treating the symptoms. It is well known that economic freedom buys political freedom. With economic freedom comes our dignity and our self-esteem. When we have access to housing, health, education and employment opportunities for all Australians we have armour to deal with unwarranted and unwelcomed infringements on our rights—rights that we earn through being responsible citizens.

When people in this country talk about human rights and about discrimination and tolerance, many of them are fond of apologising for Australia. I am not one of those. I think Australians have an outstanding record on human rights. I think we are outstandingly tolerant people. One of our great characteristics is that we have welcomed millions of people here from all over the world. By and large, they are treated with dignity, with great decency and great respect by the majority of Australians. I hope that that will always continue to be the case. These are the sentiments of not only One Nation but also our Prime Minister on 10 December 1996. Pauline Hanson's One Nation knows that the majority of Australians are decent people who are only too willing to give another Aussie a fair go. Yet here we are spending $15 million in the 1999-2000 budget on this commission to deal with a problem that the Prime Minister himself tells us is a small issue.

The funds would be better expended in our health system on cancer, diabetes, asthma or dermatitis research and treatment facilities. These areas require funding to save and support the lives of thousands of ailing Australians. Our politicians act as if they have a bottomless pit of money to direct to the social elite and to their cosmopolitan ideals. In her new book, The Great Divide, Katherine Betts discusses that liberal cosmopolitans have a sincere concern for international humanitarianism. They delight in travelling to Paris, New York and Bangkok and in impressing their neighbours with their new found sophistication. They distance themselves from their own origins by attributing selfishness and racism to the parochials. Katherine Betts asks the following question:

. . . how many times have we felt obligated through social pressures to watch our language or change the subject to avoid taboos that the new class have constructed around the questions of immigration and race?

Like most of the working class—that is, the new working class poor and those on support benefits—it is a desperate struggle to prioritise their most finite resource—cash. Mainstream Australians are hurting badly and every householder knows the necessity to prioritise their spending. There are many members of our community having difficulty affording school uniforms and shoes for their children or new tyres for their old cars. There are many homeless Australians who cannot find support accommodation and who are forced to suffer intractable poverty, yet politicians are still spending millions of dollars of taxpayers' money on this bureaucratic, top-heavy instrument of government.

Hasties Law, named after a British socialist, states:

The incidence of alleged racism in a given society will vary in direct proportion to the number of people handsomely paid to find it.

I suggest that Australian taxpayers are spending an inordinate amount of money through the commission to address a small percentage of our population who, regardless of legislation and the efforts of those commissioners, denigrate those they perceive to be weaker and inferior to themselves. I often reflect on the diggers who came back from World War I who were proud of their country and their achievements but were nicknamed `Hoppy', `Wingy' or `Hooky', depending on whether they had lost a leg, an arm or had makeshift surgery on their face. This ability of Australians to relate in an abstract way to their adversity has in fact contributed to their ability to cope with those adversities. Thank God the commission did not exist in those times, as a victim mentality may have overshadowed what has been a part of Australian life since settlement.

Australians have and always should enjoy freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of association. This has led to our uncanny ability to form enduring relationships—mateships—in times of extreme hardship. We have always enjoyed an ability in the past not to take ourselves too seriously. If the commission is to pursue the occasional discriminatory person in our society, then it should also pursue the matter in which our monopolistic, overseas controlled media frequently behave in their desire to pursue profits. These entities have ignited and poured fuel on racist stereotyping in the interests of sensationalism, of selling newspapers and of making profits. These international conglomerates, with an aim to gain market dominance, affirm in headlines across the country that the accused are guilty until they prove their innocence.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is not supporting the Australian people but creating a victim mentality and industry. The greatest threat to individual freedom of thought and speech has been the dominance of this legislative machine. I welcome the changes that dilute the power of this commission. Put decision making processes into federal magistrates courts to more thoroughly ensure that real justice can be achieved. I do not support the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission as I believe the funds currently allocated to this body would be better spent saving lives, not fragile egos.

In conclusion, I will support this bill but believe that it has not gone far enough. It does not solve the problems facing Australia, rather it merely sticks a bandaid over a festering sore. Economic rationalist policies have denied economic and ultimate political freedom to Australians by denying them the opportunities to secure worthwhile employment, health, housing and educational opportunities. If the government and the opposition work towards rectifying employment, health and housing, they will go a long way towards not needing the human rights commission. Solve the problems rather than treat the symptoms.