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Thursday, 6 September 1984
Page: 566

Senator HARRADINE —My question is directed to the Attorney-General and relates to a speech to the Media Law Association made at his request by Gae Pincus, the convenor of his departmental task force which is formulating the Bill of Rights. Does the Minister stand by the assertions made in that speech that the Bill of Rights will be a dynamic social document raising the consciousness of and intended to affect people, influence them and shape their ideas and behaviour? Does he stand by the assertion in the speech that the Commonwealth has no obligation to provide for the full limits to the rights permitted by the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights and the subsequent inference in the speech that the task force, in drafting the Bill, has not departed too far from the Covenant. Just how far has the draft departed from the Covenant? Do the operative sections of the Bill omit the principle contained in article 23 (1) of the Covenant, namely, that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state? Will the Minister give an assurance that that provision will be in the new Bill, because it was not in the Murphy Bill introduced into this place in 1973? How does the statement of the task force convenor that the Bill will be introduced in 1985 square with Senator Evans's statement earlier this year that his major single objective for 1984 is the enactment of an Australian Bill of Rights?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The proposed Bill of Rights will be a dynamic document, provided that Senator Harradine and those who tend to be a bit obstreperous about these things do not make life too difficult when we get to the stage of getting it through the Parliament. That will occur, on present indications, early next year because of the quite extended consultative process we are going through at the moment and on which I have had occasion to report to the Senate in answer to questions from Senator Durack, I think, on a number of previous occasions. I do not think it appropriate under those circumstances to canvass any of the proposed detail about the content of the Bill, nor did Miss Pincus, as I recall it, in the terms of her speech.

What she was doing, as I recall it, was simply making the obvious point that there is room for a degree of flexibility in the implementation of an instrument such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, provided that one retains a sufficiently close adherence to it to ensure its constitutional validity. One would not, for example, necessarily want at all to allow the full range of permissible derogations from the basic rights that the Covenant allows in a number of key areas, such as freedom of speech, assembly and so on, where obviously the international instrument was compiled in an environment of the lowest common denominator for the protection in question. There is room for some variation of that kind and, no doubt, there will be in the final language of the Bill. As to what is proposed in relation to the particular article to which Senator Harradine refers, I must confess I cannot recall at the moment how that area of the Covenant is transcribed into the Bill of Rights, but I do not believe that Senator Harradine will be too disappointed when he sees the final version in that respect.