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Government muzzles its human rights watchdog

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John Hewson Leader of the Opposition M e d i a R e l e a s e

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28 May 1991


The Government is once again relying on bureaucratic advice to justify an untenable position.

Just as the Prime Minister hid behind bureaucratic advice in not standing down Brian Burke, he is now relying on the bureaucracy to try to fend off criticism of his undemocratic move to ban political advertising.

In accepting the advice of the Attorney-General' s Department, the Prime Minister is rejecting the strong and forthright advice of his own Human Rights Commissioner, Brian Burdekin.

Mr Burdekin' s advice could not be more clear cut. He has

concluded that the Government's proposed advertising ban :

- is in contravention of the International Covenant on CiVil and Political Rights to which Australia is committed (Mr Burdekin speaks of the "destruction of rights" as a result of the legislation);

- discriminates against people with sensory disabilities or yzho are functionally illiterate;

- has a scope and potential impact that is not

proportionate to the reasons for the legislation which the Government has put.forward;

- provides a number of exemptions from the advertising ban for legitimate public purposes (including

government advertising) but does not make the same exceptions for legitimate private purposes;

- may limit advertisements about public health issues;

- extends the ban to broadcasts of unpaid political


- may limit some documentary programs;

- may restrict the ordinary fundraising activities of charities;

- ·’ is inconsistent with the trend of overseas practice.





Mr Burdekin has highlighted the very real dangers which the Government's advertising ban presents to basic social, political and economic rights. His exhaustive analysis cannot simply be ignored by a Government which-wants to rely on other advice more acceptable to it.

The Prime Minister needs to get out from his hiding place behind the bureaucracy. He needs to tell the Australian people why he thinks Mr Burdekin is wrong and he needs to do so now.

The fact is the whole ad ban/disclosure bill is no more than a cheap political stunt by a desperate and distracted Prime Minister.

He has no genuine interest in full disclosure, and is just

embarrassed by his own past actions.

His only justification for the ad ban is that the ALP is in debt, and has little or no hope of raising any money for the next

Federal election campaign.

And if it takes a breach of a basic right like free speech to do it, "So what" says our unprincipled Prime Ministert He sees his survival as more important than a basic right of all Australians.

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