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Friday, 25 November 2011
Page: 9675

Senator MASON (Queensland) (13:42): The Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Bill 2010 is an important bill because human rights are important. Senator Brandis said today that perhaps at times the coalition has been a bit reluctant in their prosecution. He might be right. We should never forget that the rights of individuals—those rights against the state and against molestation by the state—are what founded the Enlighten­ment and modern liberal democracy. It is those rights and that revolution that changed the face of our world. We liberals and conservatives, sir, invented human rights; collectivists did not. In the battle between the individual and the state about where the prejudice should lie, liberals and conservatives always go with the individual. That lot opposite do not. If you ever need a better example of how important this battle is, the battle for human rights, to save individuals against the depravity of the state, one need go no further than look at the history of the 20th century. The 20th century was a slaughterhouse, with mechanised brutality, slaughter of individuals by the state and by governments. It was deliberate, it was intentional and it was disgusting. The greatest loss of life in human history happened last century, when everyone in this parliament was born. As the great English historian Paul Johnson said:

We have learnt that the destructive capacity of the individual, however vicious, is small; of the state, however well intentioned, almost limitless.

If anyone wonders why Senator Brandis and Senator Cash and liberals and conservatives take human rights seriously, it is because of that. We have seen with our own eyes, with the history of the 20th century, the depravity and the power of the state to destroy individuals on a scale never seen before in human history. That is why human rights are important. Of course, the Left have changed the conversation. We talk about rights against the state—rights of nonmolestation, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, as well as property rights, due process and the rule of law. In effect, they are all rights against the state, but the Left now talks about entitlements. We take our heritage back to the Magna Carta at Runnymede and the Enlightenment. The Left, post-Second World War, talk about economic and social rights—health, education and welfare. I am not saying that is not important, but in the battle of the individual versus the state I side with the barons on the meadow at Runnymede, the Enlightenment and liberal conservatism against the 20th century collectivists.

One of the problems with the language of the Left is that they have debased rights. In the end, all rights are not equal. In the same way, political systems are not equal. I ultimately do not trust the Left with saving and protecting our human rights. Many of us would agree with many of the economic and social rights that the collectivists talk about. But, while the Left was busy promoting economic, social and cultural rights after World War II, it did not care too much that half the world did not enjoy civil and political rights. As a columnist recently said, and I urge the Senate to listen to these words: 'Wherever there is a jack boot stomping on a human face, there is always someone to remind us that at least the face had free health and dental care.' You get this line in Cuba, you had it in the Soviet Union and you would have it in the People's Republic of China: 'We can slaughter people, we can mechanise the slaughter and, in fact, we can make it de rigueur for the state, but it is okay because there is free education.'

When it comes to the battle between collectivists, social rights and individual human rights, we have got it right. All political systems and all rights are not equal, because in the 20th century the worst thing from the Left, particularly after World War II, was not the great economic failings—though with enforcing socialism on much of the world they impoverished hundreds of millions of people, and that was disgraceful; that was a failure and it was disgusting—but, far worse, that they believed and they prosecuted the case that all political systems and the rights they accord are equal. In a sentence, that says it all. This lot prosecuted the case that all political systems and the rights they accord are morally equal. As for liberal democracy they say, 'That was just one example of government and just one example of human rights.' But human rights differ. We might talk about right to trial, but what does that matter? Apparently, to the Left all rights are equal. They are not, and none of us on this side ever believed that. I do not agree with that. Rights, just like political systems, are not all equal.

In the end—and perhaps I am showing my conservatism—like Senator Cash and like Senator Brandis, I prefer John Locke and Thomas Jefferson to the 20th century collectivists. In the end, I prefer the parliament of Australia and our courts to the international bureaucrats. Hear this, Mr Acting Deputy President: in the end it is the liberals who are the greatest defenders of human rights, and they have been throughout Western history. (Time expired)