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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2816

Senator WALTERS(8.17) —I thought Senator Evans was about to answer Senator Durack's most reasonable question because that question would affect every single one of us in this chamber. I am quite sure that one of the first questions any of us, when employing new staff, would ask is: `Have you been or are you a member of a political party?'. The Democrats do not have to ask that question because they have no philosophy, but the rest of us have a philosophy, and we would only have someone on our staff who has a philosophy that could certainly work in conjunction with ours. I can quite understand why the Democrats do not have that problem. They do not have any philosophy and there is no reason for them to ask the philosophy of any member of their staff, so I do not think they need to worry about that question. However, I would very much like the Minister to answer that question because if Senator Durack had not asked I certainly would have.

Let me set the record straight. Senator Evans has been handed notes from the bureaucrats regarding the case I mentioned in Brisbane. I agree with him that the matter has not been settled yet because that doctor refuses to pay the amount he has been asked to pay.

Senator Gareth Evans —Asked to pay by the Commissioner or asked to pay by the applicant?

Senator WALTERS —Will the Minister let me finish? He has refused to pay the amount he has been asked to pay; he has refused to write a letter of apology and he has refused to write a letter to the medical journal. If Senator Evans wants a little more information, at one stage the Human Rights Commission threatened to go through all of the doctor's confidential medical files to see whether he had indeed designated his patients as Mrs, Miss or Ms. He refused to hand over those files and the Commission eventually backed off. The only reason that this matter has not been finalised is that the doctor, I believe quite rightly, is saying that this is a lot of rubbish. The Commission has wasted a tremendous amount of taxpayers' money. It is wasting its own time. It should be dealing with things in a far more responsible manner.

I did not suggest at all to the Minister that these new amendments would alter the situation. I was purely pointing out at the time that the Minister is being given open slather to bring in absolutely any sort of red herring that he may consider to be a discriminatory practice. The Minister did not understand that we on this side of the chamber do not trust him one iota. We certainly do not trust the Commission and I have just explained the reason for that. So I think the Minister might have a word with the Commission and check up on the facts that he was given.

It is true that our amendment in respect of exemptions is far broader than what the Minister is putting forward. It is not a case of exemption being given in the case of purely religious organisations. I think it is quite essential that there be other grounds for exemption. As Senator Durack said, all the purposes and objectives that the carrying on of a profession, business or occupation by a person or institution are designed to serve, including religious, moral and political purposes and objectives, should all be taken into account in determining the inherent requirements of a job.

It is ludicrous to say that the Minister can make his own decisions, whether they are in writing, whether they are gazetted or whether, indeed, they are brought in only as regulations, which is the Australian Democrats' preferred option. The problems in respect of this have already been pointed out. We on this side of the chamber believe that it is imperative that the description of discrimination be in legislation, that the discrimination be defined very clearly and that any alteration that is made must again come before this place to be fully debated so that the people of Australia can know very clearly the role that the Commission is playing in their private lives.