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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3448

Senator NEWMAN(12.12 a.m.) — Earlier this evening, I suppose an hour ago now, I chanced to hear Senator Giles mention my name.

Senator Aulich —She tries to avoid it.

Senator NEWMAN —I wish she would avoid it more often because she did not do me the courtesy of letting me know tonight that she was intending to use my name in this place. I have been here only nine months but I have already been instructed that that is the courteous thing to do. I am concerned that not only was she mentioning my name and the names of my colleagues but also she was reading from documents which are completely and utterly misleading and false. I believe they have been brought here for very suspect motives. I would very much like to know just what was intended by this action, and I certainly find the procedure of scratching out names on documents that are purporting to be statutory declarations to be totally and utterly offensive, and the Senate should reject them utterly. They have been described as statutory declarations. None of us has the opportunity to see whether they are or not. It is a disgrace that any honourable senators could bring them to this place, quote from them-I heard them described by Senator Giles as statutory declarations-and then prevent honourable senators from scrutinising them and being able to answer them in detail, as Senator Vanstone said. I condemn this attempt by the Government not to allow these documents to be tabled. This is typical of the way in which the Government, which is making it increasingly difficult for the average citizen to make use of the Freedom of Information Act, is trying to close up shop. It has a lot to hide.

As it happens, I too, have a statement. My statement is not a statutory declaration, but it is the word of an honourable senator and I trust that it will be received as such in this place. I made it on the day in question, the date when the women were demonstrating over on the lawn, on 20 October:

At approximately half past twelve, Senators Vanstone, Knowles and I, accompanied by a male staff member from Senator Vanstone's office, went down to the lawns opposite Parliament House with pens and notebooks to have a look at the peace camp and to talk to the women who were camped there.

We were challenged by a woman who refused to allow us to pass in the company of a man. We pointed out that this was public land and should be accessible to all Australians and we intended to proceed. One woman told me that they had been given permission by `the authorities' to camp. I asked her who were `the authorities' but she refused to answer me.

The women then formed human rings around us linking arms and humming. We tried to move forward but without using force were unable to do so. We then stood our ground and argued that we had a right to walk on that land and that they should allow us to do so. They said it had been designated women's land and that men could therefore not pass. A camera crew came down from Parliament House after we had been there about 10 minutes and filmed what was taking place for approximately 5 minutes. The women continued to argue with us and we then returned to Parliament House at ten to one. We decided to give notices of motion on the subject.

These notice of motion were then given to the Senate and Senator Margaret Reynolds gave notice of a motion praising the protestors for their stand. Senators Knowles, Vanstone and I, again in the company of the staff member concerned, but also with Senator David MacGibbon, returned to the lawn during question time and advised the women that we had placed those motions on notice in the Senate and urged them to allow us passage as we had urged before.

Once again the women formed circles around us and started to push and shove. I managed to slip through the ring by talking to one of the women and attempting to convince her that we had genuinely tried to talk to them. She accused me of being a spy but I pointed out that a fifth of the Senate was female, that they had been camped there for over a week and that in that time none of them had approached us to discuss the issues on which they were demonstrating. In the light of that we had decided to visit them.

She then agreed to allow me to see what I could and while the remaining Senators were being jostled, pushed and punched in the circle, I asked her to show me the lavatories which she did. There were six and apparently clean. I asked her how many did they service. Her answer was approximately 400 including children, that they had come from all over Australia and that she herself had come from Lismore. She said that they had come in peace and accused us of being aggressive. I denied this but pointed out that I was very angry because during my first visit earlier in the day an unknown woman, in encircling me, had drawn a feminist symbol with a felt pen on the collar of my white shirt. She had a look at this and sympathised with me and told me that in fact there were some very violent women in the camp.

I assured her that my Party was very committed to peace but that we believed in peace through strength and it was in that area that we diverged from their approach.

I also pointed out that I had been a foundation member of WEL and two shelters and that my credibility in the Womens movement was strong, but that I felt their actions damaged their cause. She agreed that there were extremists in the group. She then offered to show me the peace tent and we went together to inspect it.

There I was cornered by three women who shrieked and yelled at me and after a short discussion, I left the peace tent and returned to the steps above the lawn where there were a couple of TV crews filming the other Senators who were still being pushed and kicked.

Police by this stage had arrived and allowed us to return without further incident to the Senate.

I understand that the police were the same police who were watching the proceedings from the front steps of Parliament House. I understand also that they only intervened after a request from Senator Michael Baume who had seen the melee from Parliament House windows.

I do not intend to delay the Senate further except to say that I understand that the Australian Federal Police also made a written report. I simply say once again that I condemn the Government for refusing to allow those suspect documents to be tabled. I have no fear in putting my facts before the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 12.19 a.m. (Friday)