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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 1343

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (10:36): I rise to oppose this bill, the Commonwealth Commissioner for Children and Young People Bill 2010. That is not because I do not support the protection of children—I think I share with many in this place a firm commitment to the protection of children, their welfare and rights, and the obligations that the community, including the parental community, has to them—but, in fact, quite the opposite: I am a steadfast defender of these rights, right from conception through to adulthood. However, I do not support the expansion of government to replicate functions that in effect are already fulfilled by state and territory bodies as well as in part by the federal government. Senator Pratt, Senator Fifield and a number of others have articulated where this bill seeks to duplicate those services. Creating this body, while well meaning, would do exactly as has been outlined. Further, it would require an annual appropriation which would entail staffing and resources; it would create increasing bureaucracy. These are things that this country can ill afford at the moment, no matter how well meaning this bill may be. I do not support gestures of good intent, which is what I consider this bill to be.

Senator Hanson-Young, in introducing the bill, makes some very good points. I would like to quote from Senator Hanson-Young. She said:

Advocacy for children and young people should be a national priority.

I happen to agree with that.

The rights of children and young people must be taken seriously by their elected representatives …

I agree with that also.

For too long the rights children and young people have been swept under the carpet, put in the too hard basket …

I agree with those sentiments as well. But unfortunately I find those words ring very hollow when you compare them with the voting record of the Greens and Senator Hanson-Young on protecting children.

I refer specifically to a bill that I introduced in this place on child sex tourism. It was meant to address the issue of Australians grooming children overseas online and then travelling overseas and behaving in a sexually predatory way to these children. It was my belief that these Australians should be held to account. It was my belief that, in some countries where the government did not adequately protect these extremely vulnerable children, we should be doing all we could to stop Australian citizens from getting involved in this awful, degrading and vile trade.

My bill sought to expand and contemporise the powers available to police to stop and prevent these predatory actions taking place—which, as I mentioned, were grooming online, travelling with intent and actual sexual activity with children overseas. It was a very sensible bill. It was a bill that had the bipartisan support of the Labor Party and the coalition in the government prior to the 2007 election, but it lapsed before it could go completely through the Senate.

When I reintroduced it I was, frankly, appalled that petty politics got into it and that neither the Greens nor the Labor Party supported it. But, with continuing pressure—and I accept the fact that he did—the then minister, who was, I think, Senator Ludwig, pursued it through the Senate and introduced a bill of his own and it was passed, and I think that has gone a great way towards satisfying the international obligations that we have. So the Labor Party did indeed see the light in this respect.

But that is why I find this bill quite amazing: we already have many existing bodies in this country that provide the types of services and the advocacy that Senator Hanson-Young wants and yet Senator Hanson-Young herself refused to support a bill that would stop Australians from taking—

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

Senator BERNARDI: Excuse me—are you saying it did not get to the Senate? Senator Hanson-Young, you refused to allow it formality. You voted against it with Senator Fielding.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Moore ): Senator Bernardi, I remind you that you are actually talking to the chair.

Senator BERNARDI: Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I was just reminding Senator Hanson Young—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you for that.

Senator BERNARDI: that she has clearly forgotten her own voting record; she does not like it being talked about and displayed because, quite frankly, it is appalling. My bill was refused formality with the votes of the Greens and Senator Fielding, and I find that appalling. For someone to come up here and put in a private senator's bill, I applaud; I think that is great. But for that person to put in a bill that is going to duplicate services that already exist, in the name of protecting children, when that same person was prepared to turn a blind eye to the activities of Australians doing disgraceful things overseas, I find appalling.

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

Senator BERNARDI: You may swear, Senator Hanson-Young. I do not find your swearing becoming in this chamber. So please do not do that. You can interject if you want to—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Bernardi, if that is a direct allegation about Senator Hanson-Young swearing in the chamber—

Senator BERNARDI: Well, it is true. I heard her swearing.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I am sorry, Senator, I did not. But, as you put it on record, I felt I had to draw your attention to it.

Senator BERNARDI: You might like Senator Hanson-Young to withdraw. If you want to swear, Senator Hanson-Young, you can withdraw. I think it is appropriate that you do.

Senator Hanson-Young: Are you speaking through the chair or are you speaking to me?

Senator BERNARDI: I will speak through the chair. I heard Senator Hanson-Young swear, Chair, and if she would like to withdraw, she can.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I did not hear it. So I will ask you to continue.

Senator BERNARDI: Indeed I will. I agree with the sentiments that many in this chamber have expressed in speaking on this bill. We do need to do all we possibly can to help children. We recognise that they are, after all, the future of our nation: our doctors, nurses, teachers, plumbers, electricians and, indeed, our generational successors in this place. But we should be delivering to those successors a system of government that is lean enough to function efficiently and effectively, one that understands and advocates that the state governments, too, have an important role to play by doing whatever is possible within the separation of powers and undertaking their responsibilities effectively. And we should not be unnecessarily duplicating these services. Unfortunately this bill does not satisfy the criteria and, accordingly, I endorse the decision of the coalition to oppose this bill.