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Tuesday, 27 March 1984
Page: 694

Senator CHANEY —I preface my question to the Attorney-General by referring him to the policy speech delivered by the Prime Minister on 16 February 1983 in the Sydney Opera House. The Prime Minister said, under the heading 'Law and Justice' :

Among the measures we will vigorously pursue are a national Bill of Rights.

I ask the Attorney-General: Is the Government vigorously pursuing this matter or have the realists in the Caucus again overruled the Attorney-General's proposal? If the decision has been taken not to proceed, is it intended to resurrect the proposal after the next election?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Government is vigorously pursuing the Bill of Rights initiative. It is just that it will take us a little longer to vigorously pursue it than was originally anticipated. The short explanation for the Government's decision to defer the introduction of this measure, whilst still approving it in principle, is this: The measure makes sense only in the context of a package of legislation including reforms to the restructuring of the Human Rights Commission because the Commission will have a very substantial role in relation to the implementation and, in a sense, the enforcement of the Bill of Rights as well as, of course, having its responsibilities under the Racial Discrimination Act and the new Sex Discrimination Act. It was believed originally that it would be possible to introduce this whole package of measures this session. The Bill of Rights part of the package is very close to fruition, although I was hoping for more substantial consultations with the States and other relevant interest groups before actual introduction. That part of the package dealing with the restructuring of the Human Rights Commission, however, was, because of the complexity of some of the issues that revealed themselves, lagging somewhat behind.

It became apparent that the whole package, including the machinery part of it, would not be ready for introduction until well into the Budget session. We would then be confronting a situation of an election year, albeit, perhaps, an election for only half the Senate. But it would be a context in which passions could be expected to rage fairly high. In that anticipated hothouse atmosphere it was thought unlikely that here in the Parliament, let alone in the community at large, it would be possible to have a calm and rational debate on this measure that its significance and importance justifies. We will be certainly pursuing this measure because we regard it as being of quite fundamental importance for the liberties of individual citizens. But we will be doing so at a later time than was originally anticipated.

Senator CHANEY —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. The Attorney- General appears to be saying that a decision has been taken not to introduce this legislation until after the next election, whenever that might occur. Is that correct?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Senator Chaney is entitled to draw whatever conclusions he likes from my remarks.