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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1935

Senator ROBERTSON —Has the attention of the Attorney-General been drawn to the statement by the Queensland Government concerning disciplinary action to be taken against Queensland teachers who play Advance Australia Fair as Australia's national anthem at school ceremonies? What protection can the Attorney give to those who are threatened in this unusual way?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am not sure what protection I can give them. There are limitations on the scope of even the most adventurous Commonwealth Attorney- General when it comes to protecting people in the State systems. One of the limitations of our present legal system is that there is no systematic protection of human rights and there is a capacity to discriminate against people on the ground of political beliefs, which I assume would be the kind of thing that would be in issue here, in the absence of the national anthem requirement having any legal force, to the extent that sanctions could apply against someone who refused to play it. What we are reduced to is a situation in which, as Senator Robertson postulates, people are likely to be seriously prejudiced in their careers because of what most people would regard as a highly defensible, not even political, statement but simply a statement of nationalist sentiment in accordance with what is the accepted practice and indeed the proclaimed law elsewhere in Australia. It will not be until we do have some national protections of the exercise of political rights of this kind, of the kind that may prove to be contained in a Bill of Rights, that there will be any such protection available.

Senator Chaney —Why don't you introduce the Bill? Where is the Bill? Hurry up.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am delighted to hear that one of the abominable snowmen opposite is yelling for the production of a Bill of Rights, demonstrating a willingness and a keenness to go down that particular policy path. In the absence of any other visible policy paths to go down, come the end of the year, in the words of Richard II, they will be wallowing naked in the December snow. However, in the absence of, yet, any such legislation being in force, it would not be possible for any complaint to be registered to the Human Rights Commission that would be able to be enforced, either there or through the courts . That must be a matter for the future. Whether there is any other possible legal avenue that could be pursued by people on the receiving end of this absurd exercise of overweening State parochial power by Mr Bjelke-Petersen is something to which I will give further attention.