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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1482

Senator VIGOR(8.10) —Both the Human Rights Commission and its successor, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission which took its place on 10 December last year, have dealt with complaints made to them under the Racial Discrimination Act and the Sex Discrimination Act. Both have had the power to examine whether the Acts or practices of the Commonwealth and its statutory authorities are in keeping with international covenants or declarations. These particular declarations include the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Some major human rights problems have been brought to the Human Rights Commission and its successor. In fact, the report indicates that to December 1985 there had been 9,882 complaints from aggrieved people. The Human Rights Commission and its successor have had a conciliation and educational role. Sometimes it has been difficult to mediate and sometimes, as was shown in the recent Queensland sexual harassment case, the adjudication of the Human Rights Commission has not been accepted.

The annual report before us says that there have been 27 complaints about the rights of children who were born in Australia and, hence, were previously Australian citizens, but whose parents were prohibited non-citizens liable to deportation. The Human Rights Commission pointed out that 10 families in this category have been deported or have left Australia under threat of deportation despite the Commission's intervention. The Commission refers to its report to the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) on the complaints of the Yilmaz family which fell into this category. It says that the insistence upon parents leaving Australia meant that in practice the children had to go and their human rights were being denied. I believe that this is an extremely important matter. If the Australian Democrats have anything to say about it, we will not support Senator Short and his coterie in destroying this particular bastion against human rights abuse and so they will be answerable to the Senate. The Commission says in its report that it would be preferable to change the rule that birth in Australia constitutes citizenship under which situation those children could have appealed. I commend the Government because it in fact did this last June.

I believe that it is very important for governments to uphold human rights obligations which they have entered into. Whenever we fail to respect a human rights obligation, we lose the moral force that is needed when we call for the observation of human rights elsewhere in the world. One blatant example of this that has been drawn to the attention of the Human Rights Commission is the Government's failure to give the people of the Australian Capital Territory some say in the decisions which affect their daily lives. The Government still has not brought on its Australian Capital Territory self-government legislation for debate in the Senate. Last week Mr Scholes announced that the sham appointed advisory council proposal was being dropped. This leaves the Department of Territories and the National Capital Development Commission with supervision only at the level of Federal government. I remind the Senate that the Human Rights Commission did not have the time nor the resources to conduct a full scale inquiry into the absence of representative decision making in the Australian Capital Territory. However, Dame Roma Mitchell wrote to the Minister for Territories and said:

It seems appropriate that in the Australian Capital Territory-for which the Federal Government is directly responsible-everything should be done to avoid the suggestion that, by abolishing the single existing form of representative government below the national level, Australia is acting inconsistently with its human rights objectives.

I believe that the Government should take note of its own organisations. These words still remain unheeded by the Government, which refuses to bring on self-government legislation for debate in this place. I believe there is a duty to allow the merit of the NCDC planning changes to be tested in the public interest, especially as the people of Canberra are being denied a local voice and a way of electing people who can speak for them and represent them individually rather than having to rely on honourable senators and Federal members who are very busy.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! the honourable senator's time has expired.