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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6882


Senator HARRADINE (7:40 PM) —That is totally incorrect. As I said when I outlined the issue before the chamber, and as has been said by Senator Brown, these guidelines are just that—guidelines. No dinkum trade unionist would cop the suggestion, `These are guidelines,' when they are not requirements. Where in the Workplace Relations Act have you got protection for conscientious objection?


Senator Chris Evans —In the union membership section.


Senator HARRADINE —You certainly do not have this type of conscientious objection there. This is an opportunity for the chamber—I insist, for the chamber—to do the right thing by workers and students. Senator Evans spoke about the guidelines and said that federal science has been dealing with this for many years. We have a situation here which is occurring for the first time. Doesn't Senator Evans understand that we are, for the first time in the federal parliament, proposing a licence to kill? For the first time we are proposing a licence to take the life of a human embryo. That is what we are doing. That is very different from what you are saying. There has not been such a regime before in this country. Yet Senator Evans says, `This has been happening for many years; why are we introducing it now?' We are introducing it now precisely because it has not been faced for many years. Around the chamber people are saying, `This is very good.' I congratulate those who have stood up on the matter and have not succumbed to what the minister has been saying, on advice.

Let me deal with these questions. Everybody, including the minister, has had this amendment for two or three weeks. If these matters are of concern, let us have a look at them. But they are not of concern. The statement by the minister uses the word `victimisation'. According to the minister, that has doubtful connotations. If it has doubtful connotations, what about the Commonwealth legislation where the word `victimisation' appears and where there are proscriptions of victimisation?

For example, the Parliamentary Services Act has a provision in respect of victimisation. The Complaints (Australian Federal Police) Act has an offence of victimisation. The Disability Discrimination Act also has an offence of victimisation. The minister should know this one: the National Health Act has a provision in relation to an act of victimisation. The Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 has a provision whereby `a person must not intentionally or recklessly commit an act of victimisation'. It goes on. I am not going to waste the time of the committee by reading more of them, but it is all there. There is precedent. So scratch `victimisation' off your list, Minister— through you, Mr Temporary Chairman.

I was aware of the concerns of the minister, so I put belt and braces on. You will see it in my amendment, which reads:

12A Offence—disadvantage or victimisation of persons conscientiously objecting to conducting research on human embryos

A person commits an offence if the person:

(a) disadvantages, victimises, threatens or discriminates against another person in the course of his or her employment ...

If the minister had qualms about this matter, that has hopefully satisfied those qualms. The minister said it was not certain how this would operate in relation to other laws. What other laws? As I said, the minister and her advisers had this amendment for some considerable time. The minister started up by saying that she did not disagree with the basic premise. Even if she does not disagree, this very serious matter is not going to be dealt with over some time. The guidelines of the National Health and Medical Research Council do not help—unless, of course, the institution is receiving specific grants from the NHMRC, which would then be in the contract. So it is not covered. There is a real problem here, which is the possibility of persons with a conscientious objection being victimised.

The minister says that she has a problem with the word `if'. If she has a problem with the word `if', just change `if' to `because'. There is no problem in doing that. I will ask the minister to spell out again the problem if the word `if' is retained in the amendment.