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Tuesday, 15 December 1992
Page: 5077

Senator SCHACHT (10.59 p.m.) —I rise to speak on the Industrial Relations Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2). I am a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs which had this legislation referred to it for discussion last Monday. I know it is becoming an ever popular recourse for the Senate to refer legislation to standing committees for report back. In my view, 90 per cent of the time of the Committee last Monday was a waste of time. Not one senator turned up with any view to a change of mind after hearing the comments put before the Committee by the people represented.

  Senator Parer turned up representing the shadow Minister for industrial relations. From the very beginning, he was putting one view before he had even heard all the evidence. I turned up with a view I was going to put as a member of the Government. Senator Kemp did the same. Senator Spindler did the same. He tabled the amendment on which he had reached agreement with the Government. That was the only business that seemed to be relevant. I do not know why we had to spend five hours debating that amendment when most of us spent all the time trying to make debating points against each other on wider philosophical and political issues.

Senator Spindler —It was a very good amendment.

Senator SCHACHT —I believe the amendment worked out between the Democrats and Senator Cook on behalf of the Government is quite a reasonable amendment and has a proper balance within the practicalities of the industrial scene in Australia. Who did we find were asked to come along and give evidence? All the usual suspects in the industrial relations scene.

Senator Parer —The ACTU.

Senator SCHACHT —Yes. Representatives of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the ACTU, the Department of Industrial Relations, the New South Wales State Government, the Victorian State Government and Solicitors-General giving their opinions about the evils of State rights being affected by Commonwealth legislation. We also had representatives from a group I had not met before called the Brethren. I think they may have come to the wrong meeting. The views they expressed seemed to have more to do with their version of christianity. I respect their right to hold their view, but it seemed to have very little to do with the legislation before us. But they used that opportunity to put their view. At times, I thought some of their remarks were rather ill-considered when they described our Asian neighbours in the region as `dark pagan countries'. I really do not think that is a suitable remark to be made in the last decade of the twentieth century.

  So we went through the charade of the hearing. No-one changed their view. I admit I did not change my view. Senator Kemp did not change his view. Senator Parer did not change his view. Senator Vanstone did not change her view. In my view, we wasted five hours of the Committee's time. As more and more legislation such as this is being referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, I want to plead for a bit of relief for that Committee and for some of these Bills to be referred to other committees and not to ours. We seem to be copping a disproportionate amount of them. They affect the much more constructive work the Committee can do in its inquiries into specific terms of reference where we can often achieve bipartisan recommendations on broader issues because they are properly conducted inquiries away from the heat emanating from political debates on issues out of this chamber.

  Above all else, it is the remarks made by Professor Greg Craven representing the Victorian Government that have prompted me to speak in this debate. I understand Professor Craven is a newly appointed consultant to the Kennett Government to advise on this sort of legislation and other changes in legislation in Victoria. I respect the right of any government to employ outside consultants. I certainly have no objection to the Victorian Government employing Professor Craven. He is clearly an ideological soul mate of the Kennett regime in Victoria. He has certainly written previously on a whole range of issues, particularly concerning State rights. His view on State rights is in about 1856 in support of the colonies. If he had been alive in 1891 or 1896 he would have been opposing the Federation as affecting State rights. That is his view. But the most astonishing remark he made is in the Hansard at page 95:

  I think the great virtue of federalism is that it divides and balances power. Some people say that there are no human rights in the Australian Constitution; the great human right in the Australian Constitution is in fact the Federal system of government.

That is a most extraordinary statement. Over the last 20 years the States have dragged their feet to stop Federal governments—Labor and Liberal—from signing the international civil and political covenants and the various protocols. I do not excuse some State Labor governments for being just as tardy as State Liberal governments in delaying the signing of these protocols. Delaying the signing of those protocols has meant that Australia is not up to the mark in its human rights obligations. The reason Australia is not up to the mark is that State governments have used the State rights power that Professor Craven is so keen on to stop the accession of those accords and the ratification of those conventions.

  Professor Craven has the temerity to say that the Federal system has guaranteed human rights. That is an absolute joke. For example, up until the last decade nothing in the Federal system guaranteed one vote one value as a right for people in Australia to vote. State rights were used consistently to put down the right that all people are equal and should have equal rights to vote in elections.

  I never saw Professor Craven marching in the streets of Brisbane against the gerrymander under Joh Bjelke-Petersen. When Joh Bjelke-Petersen was rorting the appointments to the State Supreme Court some years ago, when the most disgraceful interference into the appointments in the State Supreme Court in Queensland was going on, what did Professor Craven—

Senator Parer —Mr Temporary Chairman, on a point of order: we are debating the amendments to the Industrial Relations Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2). I know that in second reading speeches honourable senators do range fairly widely, but tonight Senator Schacht is talking about human rights and marching in the streets of Brisbane. What relevance that has to the amendments to the industrial relations Bill is beyond me.

Senator SCHACHT —On the point of order, Mr Temporary Chairman—

  The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Aulich)—You probably do not need to speak on the point of order because I cannot uphold it. Senator Parer will recall that part 3A(ba) of the Government's amendments does in fact talk about conciliation and arbitration procedures for the prevention and prompt settlement of industrial disputes. At the moment Senator Schacht is in order, and of course he would not want to stray too far at this stage, given that the legislation is in committee.

Senator SCHACHT —Thank you for that guidance, Mr Temporary Chairman. These were the matters that were raised after the second reading had been debated in the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs when we had these amendments before us. No-one ruled them out of order then.

  I find it hypocritical of people such as Professor Craven to talk about human rights and claim that federalism is the greatest protection of human rights. In my view, over the last half century in this country State rights have done more to restrict human rights than any other single concept. I look forward to seeing Professor Craven supporting the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade, which said that in a number of cases we ought to accede to various conventions—including ILO conventions which are mentioned in the legislation. So I find it extraordinary that Professor Craven would make such remarks.

  Professor Craven quoted Alfred Deakin as being the oracle of all his knowledge on federalism and where it is going. He failed to mention that Alfred Deakin was a strong supporter of the introduction of the first Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act in 1904. He was also a great supporter of protection, something that I suspect Professor Craven, being one of the new `bovver boys' of the Right in Victoria, totally ideologically opposes. Yet he quoted Alfred Deakin as being the defender of his view of the way that the Constitution should work. Had he been listening to Professor Craven, Alfred Deakin would probably be turning in his grave.

   Professor Craven has an extremely limited view about the notion of nationhood in Australia. That ideological, right wing view, characterised by zealotry, would impose a system of government on Australia which would divide Australians and create conflict and division. Rather than having a concept of inclusion in our community where people, whether they are employers or employees, whether they are in Federal, State or local governments, work together, he is driven—and he advises the Kennett Government accordingly—by a narrow States' rights issue which is to the detriment of the well-being of all Australian people.