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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2832

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(10.14) —I want to refer to the matters raised by Senator Durack and to ask a number of specific questions of the Minister. By answering those questions, this matter can be cleared up. We have evidence before us from the Human Rights Commission relating specifically to the powers and lack of powers of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That evidence is quite specific. It shows that on investigation of the working discussions, the travaux of that Covenant prior to its actual signing, it became clear that there would not be significant signatories to the Covenant if the principle of one vote one value were included.

Indeed, countries such as the United Kingdom said they would not be signatories to the Covenant if it included one vote, one value, Either the evidence before us from the Human Rights Commission is right or wrong. It can be found within hours to be right or wrong. Either the Covenant was built on the specific understanding that it would not include one vote, one value or the evidence given to us by the Human Rights Commission is wrong. That fact can be secured quite easily. I ask the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) to tell us the fact. Is it true that, in the formulation of this Covenant, a series of debates took place on the method of voting and that the concept of one vote, one value was put aside because the Covenant could not be achieved and the signatories gained if it were incorporated? The only principle that was incorporated was one person, one vote. Indeed, the Human Rights Commission has told us in evidence that the right of different countries to have different electoral systems was recognised by the Covenant. That is either right or wrong.

It ill becomes the Minister to come here tonight and to tell us that perhaps there might be a power in the Covenant and perhaps there might not, that perhaps we could refer the matter to the Commission, when he must know that the evidence given by the Human Rights Commission to the Senate is that, in its view, the Commission has no such power at all. The Minister must know that, in constitutional law, there is ample documentary evidence in text books on this particular Covenant that that right does not exist. I rise simply to ask the Minister what the fact is. Before we settle this matter, let us have the facts. Is it true or is it not that in the travaux, the working papers, there is a specific denial, a setting aside, of one vote, one value? Is the evidence before us from the Human Rights Commission factual or not? We are entitled to know this.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Senator Evans knows already.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Of course he must know already. After all, this information was sought in Estimates Committee E, of which the Minister is the substantive Minister at the table. He should know the evidence that comes before us on this. In any case, he could find it out by making a simple telephone call. The papers are available. The evidence given to us by the Human Rights Commission is that there is no power under the international Covenant to uphold the principle of one vote, one value. In fact, in the signing of the Covenant that was specifically put aside because the signatories would not agree to sign it if it enshrined the principle of one vote, one value. But the signatories, in signing the Covenant, admitted that different countries could have different electoral systems. The Minister knows that, the Government knows that and the Human Rights Commission knows that. Yet the Minister has come here tonight trying to use every kind of euphemism and ambiguity in order deliberately to mislead the Senate. He has suggested that perhaps the matter could go before the Commission so it could test the powers. Within the Attorney- General's Department and within the law libraries of this Government there lies factual evidence. The only question to be answered is this: Has the Human Rights Commission informed the Senate correctly on this matter in saying that there was an explicit exclusion of that principle or has it not? I ask the Minister explicitly to tell us whether the advice given to us by the Human Rights Commission is accurate. Was there an exclusion in the travaux, in the working discussions and working papers? Is it a fact that the signatories would not agree to sign if one vote, one value was included? The Minister must know that. If he does not know he can find out with one telephone call. The evidence was given in writing to the Senate by the Human Rights Commission, the very body which he now says he will refer this issue to, a commission which has said that it has no powers to consider the issue. What kind of mumbo-jumbo is it when a Minister gets up, knowing-because he must know-that according to the Commission the power does not lie with it, yet saying to us that it is going to make that reference? I ask the specific question: Was the Human Rights Commission's advice to the Senate correct?