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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 73

Senator GREIG (1:20 PM) —I rise to speak very briefly on the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill 2005. While we Democrats acknowledge and support the need for strong safety measures within civil aviation, and to that end support the intent of this bill, we are also proud of our history in maintaining and defending the strength of antidiscrimination measures in this country. For this latter reason, the bill raises a number of concerns for us, all of which were discussed in detail as part of the committee inquiry into the bill, the report for which was tabled on 30 June last year.

We shared the concerns of a number of participants to the inquiry and joined with them in questioning the need for the bill. It is our view that existing provisions in both the Disability Discrimination Act and the Sex Discrimination Act already provide adequate scope to deal with many of the issues the bill seeks to address and that both acts have successfully achieved a balance between individual rights to freedom from discrimination and airline safety for well over a decade.

We also raised our longstanding concerns regarding legislation that operates retrospectively or grants wide-ranging exemptions to antidiscrimination legislation. This is especially the case given this government’s long history of attempting to undermine and water down the strength and effectiveness of existing antidiscrimination legislation through a variety of means, as well as the gradual erosion of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s capacity to properly fulfil its role. Its funding has been cut significantly. Another concern we held in relation to the original bill was the lack of any consultation requirement for the granting of exemptions beyond those that may occur within the human rights branch of the Attorney-General’s Department.

While we acknowledge the committee’s recommendations regarding consultation and the fact that they have been adopted in this bill so that HREOC must now also be party to those processes, we believe that this requirement, as currently worded, is far from guaranteed. The current wording requires that, while HREOC must be consulted about any regulations to be made, any failure to do so will not affect the validity of regulations so made. Does HREOC need to be consulted or does it not? Clarification from the minister on this point would be appreciated.

As I began by saying, the Australian Democrats support efforts to ensure the safety of airline travel in Australia and so we will support the passage of this legislation but, equally, we also believe it is important that our reservations about the bill be noted. We consider that the gradual erosion of the rights and protections afforded to the most vulnerable people in our community is an issue of serious concern and that all steps must be taken to ensure that nothing unduly impinges on those rights.