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Friday, 23 November 1979
Page: 2951

Senator MISSEN (Victoria) -This amendment is in terms identical with those of an amendment which Senator Bonner, Senator Puplick and I had proposed to move but, for reasons set out in a public statement- which I will seek to have incorporated in Hansard- we will not now move. We will neither support it nor oppose it. We will not vote on the amendment. If there is a division upon it we will withdraw from the chamber. I have set out our attitude in regard to this amendment and in regard to that which would insert a new clause 16a. I will not repeat what I say now if that amendment is presented by the Opposition. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard the statement which I and my two colleagues made explaining why, in order to get this debate on, we have been prepared to forgo offering these amendments.

Senator Mulvihill - Does that answer Senator Mason's criticism?

Senator MISSEN - No. I am not bothering about that.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows-

We refer to the current debate in the Senate on the Human Rights Commission Bill and to the amendments which we have supported to strengthen the proposed Human Rights Commission and, to ensure that it would operate effectively in compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

We note that, after debate on the Bill proceeded for limited periods on the Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, the Bill has been placed No. 22 on Thursday's Notice Paper, and its further debate during this session is now in doubt.

It has been made clear to us that the Government is concerned that an amendment proposed by Senator Missen and supported by us and other senators, providing for enforcement proceedings for human rights violations by way of civil proceedings, is likely to be pased by the Senate and will not be acceptable to the Government. The Government is likewise concerned with the proposed amendment to delete pans of Clause 1 S ( because of their freedom of information implications). The Government is accordingly not willing to permit further debate on the Bill unless it is assured that neither amendment will be made to the Bill.

We therefore have given serious reconsideration to that situation. We are firmly of the opinion that such amendments are necessary to ensure that the Human Rights Commission Bill has 'teeth' and will provide suitable and effective remedies for complaints.

However, we are also concerned that the Commission should be created at an early date and realise that it cannot be done in the face of such Government opposition which would be decisive, in any event, in the House of Representatives. We have already said, in the second reading debate, that we support the Bill and the establishment of the Commission, even in a limited form, and that we look for later action to strengthen the Commission.

We believe that the lack of enforcement rights is a grave defect and a limitation on the effective operation of the legislation.

In the circumstances, we will not, in the further debate on this Bill, proceed with the two proposed amendments, which the Government opposes and requires their omission as vital to the passage of the Bill. However, we will continue to press for the other amendments sought by us. We hope thereby to facilitate the resumption of debate on this Bil! before the end of this session.

We also refer to our initial amendments which proposed increased powers for the Commission to undertake investigations of human rights issues on its own initiative and also to widen the access and standing of persons to lodge complaints with the Commission. These proposals have now been agreed to and are picked up in the Attorney-General's tabled amendments. 16 November 1979 Canberra

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