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Tuesday, 26 August 1980
Page: 724

Mr RUDDOCK (Dundas) - The matter that we have been asked to discuss as a matter of public importance is:

The failure by the Fraser Government to uphold the principles of human rights.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lionel Bowen) has asserted that proposition but the facts as I will recount them, I think, prove that statement to be patently false. I propose to demonstrate that in a positive way and not in the negative and carping way which I suggest that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has done. It was a most negative speech.

Mr Lionel Bowen - You tell the Aboriginal people that.

Mr RUDDOCK - I will come to the question of the Aboriginal people in due course.

Mr Lionel Bowen - You do not have any interest in them.

Mr RUDDOCK - I have a great deal of interest in them. I am pleased to see the Deputy Leader of the Opposition taking some interest after a long absence in that field. The Government's record on human rights, both nationally and internationally, is outstanding. I refer to the recent efforts of this Government to introduce the Human Rights Commission legislation.

Dr Blewett - You have made a mess of that one.

Mr RUDDOCK - We have not made a mess of it. It is this Parliament, in fulfilling its role of discussing matters, which has not been able to achieve agreement between the House of Representatives and the Senate and which to date has prevented this Bill from becoming law. But that Bill was introduced by this Government. Because of the delay, the Government has also moved to establish a human rights bureau within the Attorney-General's Department. That is a rather positive initiative to make sure that the work which would otherwise have been done by the Human Rights Commission will be continued. That is an interim measure until the other legislation can be proceeded with.

This Government has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, having had a long-standing interest in this matter, no doubt would recall the failed negotiations of the Whitlam Government to ratify that Covenant. The fact is that, after two years of negotiations, the Labor Party was not able to get the agreement of the States to the ratification of that Covenant. On 13 August this year, that Covenant was ratified. It guarantees a large number of human rights, including freedom of expression, fair trial and opportunities to participate in public life. Of course, ratification presents a very gratifying culmination to the activities of this Government in bringing about the circumstances in which it could in fact be ratified. That has been achieved by cooperation with the States and not by confrontation.

On 17 July, this Government also signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Of course, Australia has been re-elected this year to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. That affirms Australia's high standing as a country known internationally for its active commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights. Of course, human rights are monitored around the world and Australia's record, in world opinion, is unblemished. I think that has to be acknowledged. I do not think it does this Parliament great service for somebody as distinguished as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to make the sorts of allegations about Australia's record which can be used as the basis for condemnation of it when our record stands so high. The United Nations has consistently found satisfactory Australia's reports on the elimination of all forms of discrimination which we have had to make from time to time. Australia's record in reporting on its human rights situation generally is regarded by other states as exemplary.

The honour which has been bestowed upon the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and which he said quite clearly he regards as an honour for all Australian people is of considerable significance. The B'nai B'rith organisation - an international Jewish non-government organisation with half a million members - has recognised the Australian Prime Minister's entitlement to an award for his leadership in human rights questions. Past recipients of that gold medal include Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy of the United States of America. Mr Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir of Israel also received that award. Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands and King Christian of Denmark were other recipients of this award. I think it is of great credit to Australia in these difficult times that Australia's outstanding record has been so acknowledged.

One of the very distinguished organisations that report on comparative measures of freedom throughout the world is Freedom House. In its January-February comparison of events this year Australia recorded the highest points possible for any country. Whilst the time for this debate is short it should be acknowldged that in terms of political rights we have been given a number one rating. That states that we have a fully competitive electoral process and that those elected clearly rule. Most Western European democracies belong there, as does Australia. Relatively free states may also receive it. Other states get lower ratings, of course.

In the civil liberties area Australia also received a number one rating. That rating deals with a large number of matters, including the courts available to protect individuals, whether persons are imprisoned for their opinions, whether private rights and desires in education, occupation, religion, residence and so on are generally respected, and whether law abiding persons are in fear or otherwise of their lives because of their rational political activities. These sorts of criteria have been used as the basis for judging Australia. We have been ranked among the leaders of the world in that regard. It is worth looking, as I do each year, at whether Australia has been mentioned in the reports of Amnesty International. In the most recent report of Amnesty International - that for 1979 - the only mention of Australia is in terms of the various sections of Amnesty International that exist here and the wide-ranging interest of Australians in that organisation and its very important efforts throughout the world to look into questions of human rights breaches. As far as I am aware, Australia has never been mentioned in any disadvantageous way in the reports of Amnesty International. I think this reflects our very high standing throughout the world as judged by independent organisations, not governments.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has endeavoured to canvass at some length the situation as it pertains to Aboriginal people in Australia. He mentioned very negative matters but there is a large number of positive aspects of this Government's record which ought to be acknowledged. There is the significant purchase of land for Aboriginals. There are now nearly 60 pastoral properties throughout Australia which have been bought for them by the Commonwealth Government through the Aboriginal Land Commission. The property at Noonkanbah is one of those purchased by this Government in 1 977 for Aboriginal people and it is available to them. We have the situation in the Northern Territory where, as a result of legislation passed by this Government, some 345,000 square kilometres of land - approximately 26 per cent of the Northern Territory - is in the process of being transferred to Aboriginal people in their own titles. We have the significant contribution of more than 7,000 houses being purchased or constructed through the auspices of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and its programs for Aboriginal people. Aboriginals are now able to receive royalty-type payments as a result of negotiated agreements in the Northern Territory for mining on Aboriginal land. That question of negotiation is an important one which I wish to emphasise in the context of this debate. We have the facts that a significant number of low interest loans - some 1,200 loans - have been made available to Aboriginal families through the Aboriginal Loans Commission. That record can be elaborated on at length. I want to mention some of those matters. In monetary terms more than $1 billion has been made available to Aboriginal people through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs since 1972. A very significant amount has been made available for the benefit of Aboriginal people in a whole variety of programs.

I think it would do the Deputy Leader of the Opposition good to read the speech that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) made when Parliament. resumed last week as it would expand his knowledge of Aboriginal matters. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has sought in this debate to embarrass the Fraser Government in a political sense - nothing else. He was not seeking to judge our record on human rights issues in relation to Aboriginal people other than in terms of embarrassment. He says that there is to be a meeting in Geneva and the Prime Minister is to be given an international award in recognition of his contribution to human rights. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is seeking to use this opportunity to embarrass the Australian Prime Minister. The only way in which Aboriginal interests can be served in this country, as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and I have said, is through negotiation and compromise. It can never be achieved by confrontation between governments in which Aboriginals are used as pawns in the games that white men so often want to play with them.

We have seen a cynical exercise by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the use of Aboriginal people for the purpose of exploiting an issue on which Aboriginals ought to be encouraged - as the Court Government in Western Australia ought to be encouraged - to negotiate to find a reasonable solution. The area of difference is not so very large. If honourable members read Professor Berndt's report on the significance of the Aboriginal sites at Noonkanbah they will see that there are sites of various significance to Aboriginal people. Professor Berndt makes it clear that if drilling were to begin at Pea Hill - a very significant site - it would be totally abhorrent to anybody, including the Western Australia Government. Professor Berndt also makes it clear that even from the point of view of the Aborigines concerned drilling on other sites is negotiable. The whole station site cannot be ruled out from the point of view of its absolute significance. It is one which has various degrees of significance. That is the important point.

I want to mention briefly the question of the situation at Aurukun and Mornington Island, which was also mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The fact is that lease arrangements were concluded in a situation in which the Labor Party would have had us in confrontation. There are elected councils in operation there and there is in a real sense peace between the Aboriginals and the rest of the Queenslanders at this time. The continued fighting which was an embarrassment to us all and in which Aboriginals were pawns is not a situation which is progressing. A Labor government would have had us continually in a situation of confrontation and would not have wished for negotiation which could achieve a reasonable settlement. That is the real test in this situation. We want a situation to exist in which Aboriginals are consulted and negotiated within relation to these matters. That is the point which has to be understood clearly by all Australians. The position between the Government of Western Australia and the Aboriginals is not one that is so far apart that if reasonable men sat down together it could not be worked out by negotiation. The Government's record in terms of the arrangements that have been established in the Northern Territory for settling Aboriginal land rights claims proves beyond doubt that governments can sit down and negotiate and conclude a settlement with Aboriginals under which mining can proceed. I believe that that result can be achieved in Western Australia.

I would like to make some brief comments on one other matter. There has been an attempt by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to suggest that this Government had no concern about the human rights record of Pol Pot.

Mr Lionel Bowen - That is quite right.

Mr RUDDOCK - That was the Deputy Leader of the Opposition's suggestion. I very much regret that in a Parliament in which we have seen over a period much greater unanimity on the matter of human rights and a preparedness to work in organisations like the Parliamentary Amnesty Group the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would raise this question in this way. I know of no situation in which any Australian Government has accorded recognition to a country on the basis of that country's human rights record. I do not recall members of the Opposition ever asking for the withdrawal of diplomatic recognition of, or refusing diplomatic recognition to, the Government of Uganda on the basis of human rights questions. I do not recall their saying that we should not, on the basis of the human rights record of the Soviet Union, withdraw recognition of the Soviet Union. The fact is that human rights records have never been the determining factor.

Mr Lionel Bowen - They have so.

Mr RUDDOCK - They have never been the determining factor. It was never Labor's basis for determining recognition. The fact is that it was the Labor Party which negotiated recognition of the Pol Pot regime and accorded it recognition. The latter question of diplomatic relations was dealt with by the present Government. That has to be acknowledged. It is not a situation in which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, on the facts, has proved his case. The record of the Fraser Government on human rights questions is exemplary and deserves to be admired by all Australians, including the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Labor Party.

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