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Wednesday, 15 March 2000
Page: 12810


Senator BROWN (12:18 PM) —I concur with the point of view that Senator McKiernan has just put forward. But the ultimate answer to Senator Harradine's amendment comes from the prime ministerial office, where this morning the decision has been made to stomp on the move by the member for Hughes to bring in a minimalist piece of legislation to override Northern Territory laws so far as they would save children from being locked up under mandatory sentencing.

The Prime Minister stands indicted for this attitude. This is the Prime Minister who will be remembered for his success in bringing in the GST for the big end of town and for his failure in being even able to stand up for the rights of Aboriginal kids facing jail for taking biscuits. When he takes biscuits to have with his tea, he might remember that those kids are behind bars because they wanted to take biscuits for hunger. There is one prime ministerial dictum for the big end of town and one prime ministerial dictum for the rest of Australia but, in particular, for those who are not advantaged and for the indigenous Australians of this nation.

I would measure a Prime Minister, as any democracy is measured, by the way he or she looks after minorities and, in particular, disadvantaged minorities and especially the children of the nation. This Prime Minister has failed on all counts. This Prime Minister does not add to the dignity of this nation; he steals from it. He does not add to our international reputation; he takes away from it. He can rise to the occasion when the big end of town wants to invoke the World Trade Organisation and international law as far as economics is concerned, but he is a failure when it comes to international law, which we have signed up to, to defend the rights of citizens, including children. These are basic human rights--not in China, Brazil or Iran but here in Australia.

Prime Minister Howard, this nation wants better. Prime Minister Howard, this nation deserves better. Prime Minister Howard, you will be remembered by your attitude to those children being locked up in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. That is the measure, and you are a failure. It is a terrible indictment of his prime ministership that he could not rise to the occasion for a few kids who deserve not to be behind bars.

Remember this: this Prime Minister did vote on the sexual privacy legislation less than a decade ago in this parliament, even though, on that occasion, it involved adults and the law enforcement authorities in Tasmania said that nobody had been indicted for a decade. But now he is in the position of power to do something for children who are being locked up by the dozens, and he drops his moral code, his ethical code of opposition and says, `I wash my hands of it.' Moreover, he says, `I will actively intervene to see they are not protected.' When there are courageous people within the ranks of the coalition itself who say publicly, `We will move to, at least, address the minimalist point of view here to fix it up a bit,' he stomps on that as well.

It is a sad day for Australia. Let me say this to Senator Harradine. We in this Senate ought not ever take our directions from the executive. We are an elected house of parliament, more democratically elected as far as voting systems are concerned than the other place. We have a duty not only to review the laws coming from the House of Representatives, but to instigate law where the executive through its numbers in the House of Representatives is failing Australians, and that is the case here.

I am proud of this legislation. I am proud of the Labor Party and the Democrats who conjointly host this legislation. I am particularly proud of the position taken by the Labor Party, and I commend them on it. They have a state component of their party in Western Australia that has tried to stop them from standing on the principle that they have in this place in their cohosting of this bill. What a difference between the leadership of Kim Beazley in this matter and failed leadership of John Howard. What a difference! May people remember that when it comes to the next poll in this nation. I will be doing everything I can to help their memory on that occasion.