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Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 214

Senator BOSWELL(8.19) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The annual report of the Human Rights Commission for 1983-84 is a fairly innocuous document. It does not cover the activities of this year. I believe the Human Rights Commission has been lowered so much that it is now a thoroughly discredited body. It is costing the taxpayers of Australia $6m. The Commission went out the back door as a serious, impartial body concerned with the ordinary Australian's everyday rights when it allowed itself to be used as a political puppet of the Federal Government in the Queensland power dispute this year. We saw the amazing spectacle of the Commission, despite constant cries of how busy it was, drop everything, scurry to Queensland and take a quickie reference from the Hawke Government to inspect the Queensland industrial laws. The report which came out defied rational thought. Some clauses in an obscure international treaty were tried out and the Commission even said that the slavery treaty was being invoked in Queensland. I am sure that everyone in the Senate would agree that was absolutely ridiculous.

Any vestige of respectability which the Human Rights Commission retained vanished when it banned the shadow Attorney-General, Mr Neil Brown, from its offices. The very body that supposedly supports and is concerned with freedom and openness was banning and restricting people. No wonder it was ridiculed and disgraced right through the nation. It is important to realise that bodies such as the Human Rights Commission have enormous potential to enact social changes in our country, social changes which may not be the wish of the overwhelming majority of all Australians. The communist countries lay down their human rights under a Bill. The other day I went with some of my Queensland colleagues to a rally for the Baltic states. It was pointed out that Russia has a Bill of Rights. It certainly did nothing to protect those people.

I am deeply alarmed that the Human Rights Commission could have its powers extended under Labor's proposed Bill of Rights. For instance, one of its new powers would be the right to call people before the Commission to answer its queries without legal representations and under threat of imprisonment or fine. It would give the Federal Government a vehicle to interfere in the affairs of State and local governments. One could imagine how the current government would react when given the opportunity to interfere in and hamper the operations of the Queensland Government. The Human Rights Commission has already shown itself to be a body that has misused its powers and positions. Any attempt to extend this discredited body's powers deserves the strongest opposition from all people who are genuinely concerned with the protection of individual rights in Australia.