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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2808

Senator WALTERS(5.50) —We have just heard from Senator Evans the Government's excuse for allowing the Minister to come up with absolutely anything he may care to choose and, in writing, publish it in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. He has said that he will move a little way and support the Australian Democrats' amendment but that he will still allow the Minister to come up with anything he likes. He says that it is in line with the Convention Concerning Discrimination in respect of Employment and Occupation contained in Schedule 1. Article 1 (b) states:

For the purpose of this Convention the term `discrimination' includes-

(b) such other distinction, exclusion or preference which has the effect of nullifying or impairing equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation as may be determined by the Member concerned after consultation with representative employers' and workers' organisations, where such exist, and with other appropriate bodies.

If the Minister could possibly tell me that a Minister making decisions after consultation-which I presume it would be-with the Human Rights Commission only is the same as what I have just quoted I would be most surprised. The Minister says he is forced to include the provision to keep in line with the Convention. He does not tell us where in the Convention it makes exemptions on certain grounds for discrimination in regard to religious bodies. He is prepared to go along with exemptions for religious bodies, which I presume is out of line with the Convention, but he says that he must give the Minister open slather to keep in line with the Convention.

I do not think the Minister realises that, frankly, we do not trust him or the Human Rights Commission to stick to a reasonable approach. It has already been said here today that we believe that unreasonable actions have been taken. Again I give an example. A medical practitioner asked one of his patients, while routinely taking a history of the patient, whether she was married. She refused to answer. He then said that if she was not willing to give him an accurate history he would exercise his right not to treat her. The Human Rights Commission intervened and said that the doctor must pay the patient damages for the dreadful and insensitive question he asked her, that is, whether she was married. The doctor was fined $1,000 which to date he has not paid. He was told to write her a letter of apology and write to a medical journal explaining to all the other doctors that they must not ask their patients that very sensitive question which could cause the patient so much harm. Such are the idiotic situations which have occurred with the Human Rights Commission.

The Minister has to realise that we no longer trust him or the Commission to make responsible decisions in regard to infringements of people's rights. We want those rights defined. If the Minister finds, as he well may, that an area has been overlooked, it is a very simple procedure to come before the chamber again and move an amendment to amend the definition of `discrimination' so that it can be fully debated in this chamber. As Senator Harradine has just said, when one puts an amendment through the Parliament in a way that is not debated fully, as the Australian Democrats want to do, honourable senators may rise on the spur of the moment with no fore knowledge of what has occurred and guidelines can go through. That is not the way we want it done. We want it done using the legislative process. The Minister must realise that there is considerable opposition to this provision.

The other part of the legislation the Opposition seeks to amend concerns the exemptions for what is considered to be discriminatory employment. Senator Gareth Evans has said that the Government will go along with exempting religious bodies. But he has stopped there. The amendment the Government has put forward is very narrow. The Opposition makes the exemption far more broad. The Democrats have had their own little dash at it, but it is not very effective. We believe that if there is a broader exemption there will not be the troubles which the Human Rights Commission has already found itself in. Exemptions will be made for people in a very just fashion. This will inhibit some of the stupidities which have been carried on under the name of the Human Rights Commission.