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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 12470


Ms REA (11:19 AM) —I too am very proud to stand in this chamber this morning to support the Prime Minister’s motion commemorating and celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was developed by the United Nations 60 years ago next week. The day of 10 December will certainly mark a significant anniversary for us as Australian citizens and for many around the world who have benefited directly from the incredible power of those 30 articles which have already been referred to by previous speakers. I once again congratulate the Prime Minister for coming into the House yesterday and moving a motion on the universal declaration. It showed how significant the issue of human rights is for the Rudd Labor government that the Prime Minister himself came into the chamber and took the opportunity to move that motion. I cannot think of anybody else in the chamber or any other member who, in a sense, has a greater knowledge, understanding and passion for the United Nations, for international events and indeed for support across the globe of the protection of human rights than our current Prime Minister. I think it is very fitting that it is he who has the opportunity to celebrate the 60th anniversary in such a prestigious way.

The RSL, as we know, is an organisation that exists to support and protect the rights of returned soldiers in this country, many of whom are victims or indeed survivors of World War II, the war which led to the development of this particular declaration. The RSL’s motto is: ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.’ Whilst many see that in a military context, I think it is just as important to apply it to the protection of human rights. I had the opportunity on Monday in the grievance debate to talk about the 60th anniversary. I did not know then that the Prime Minister was going to move a motion on it. As Chair of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I felt it was important not only to highlight this anniversary on Monday evening but to once again talk about this very significant event as a result of support for the Prime Minister’s motion.

The RSL’s slogan—the price of liberty is eternal vigilance—is one that is perhaps highlighted more today than when it was first drafted. As I said on Monday night, the random and irrational violence, terror and cruelty that we see occurring, no less recently than last weekend in the city of Mumbai, highlight how significant the challenge is for governments across the world to try and ensure that balance exists between protecting national security and at the same time ensuring that we also protect the rights and individual freedoms of individual citizens. To try and find that balance in law and government policy is a real challenge and I think it is one that highlights more than anything else how significant this declaration is and how, as the previous speaker, the member for Fremantle, said, important it is that we as a country engage in a debate and a discussion about how we can enshrine human rights and individual freedoms in some form of law to protect all of us.

I also think it is timely when we are considering this anniversary to focus on the human rights of our own citizens within Australia. We often pride ourselves on being a very free, progressive and civilised democracy and therefore tend to discuss human rights in the context of other countries where unfortunately their citizens do not have the same rights and freedoms that we enjoy here. But we must be very careful and ever vigilant about our own backyard as much as others’. I am very pleased that this year the Rudd government has acknowledged that there are still people within our own country whose human rights are not ‘as equal as others.’ We have seen the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which I do want to mention specifically today as it is, in fact, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. I think it is quite fitting that we should acknowledge that today.

Australia also supports the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and we are doing work on the convention against torture.

 Of course, the reason we are having this debate here in the Committee is that many people are in the other chamber debating the fair work legislation that this government introduced which restores the individual rights and freedoms of people to work in a workplace without exploitation and to have certain legal rights, and ensures that they are the beneficiaries of a fair industrial relations system. The legislation introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister goes a long way to ensuring that the rights of working people in this country have once again been restored after having suffered under such extreme and terrible legislation from the previous government.

I encourage everybody over the next couple of weeks, particularly members of this parliament, to go back and read the universal declaration and the 30 articles that it contains. It is a beautifully written document. It also goes far in its wording, to really make it hit home how important individual rights are, to describe the various ways in which people can suffer if those rights are not protected. It not only talks about what those rights are—the right to freedom of association, the right to education, to right to equality, the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of religion or culture and other factors—but also talks about the causes and the reasons that often exist which deprive individual citizens in many countries of very basic human rights.

It talks about the issue of poverty and it talks about the need for education as being not just a means to enable people to fend for themselves or seek a livelihood but important to give individual people the understanding and the self-knowledge to fight against possible oppression and the deprivation of their own liberties and those of others if ever it does occur. It talks about legal freedoms and how important it is in any democracy for people to not just have the right to vote in an election and elect their representatives in their government but have an independent judiciary, and how important it is that the rule of law is there to protect the individual rights of citizens and that everybody has access to that.

The Prime Minister referred yesterday to the Millennium Development Goals. In the context of addressing the reasons why many people are deprived of human rights, it is nowhere more poignantly evident than when looking at the Millennium Development Goals that we as a nation and indeed as a global community must strive to see those goals reached. They are the ways in which many individual people throughout the world will in fact be able to not just achieve the human rights that we enjoy but have the knowledge and the resources to protect them.

By way of closing I suggest that all members in the House read article 24 of the declaration, which says:

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

As members of parliament, as we count down to the end of the year, I suggest we all familiarise ourselves with that very article and remember that we have families, friends and holidays to enjoy over the Christmas season. We should, first and foremost, see that article in our minds every day and ensure that we always keep that balance between leisure and our commitment to our parliamentary duties.