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Tuesday, 21 December 1993
Page: 5499

Senator HARRADINE (11.38 p.m.) —Not one of us believed that this legislation did not involve deep questions of social justice, equity and certainty before the law. Whether this parliament has discharged its duty to examine this legislation in such a manner as to enhance the best interests of all Australians and not to do harm to the federal compact upon which the constitution is based, only time will tell. Whether we have done so in such a manner as to advance not only the social but also the economic wellbeing of all Australians, only time will tell. I believed, and have always believed, that it was necessary to address these measures against the need for a reconciliation amongst all peoples in this country.

  No-one has a mortgage on morality in this place. As Senator Alston said, no-one has a mortgage on compassion in this place; no-one has a mortgage on social justice in this place. I believe all members of this parliament attempted, according to their own ideas about these principles, to address this measure in the best interests of all Australians.

  But this parliament comes second place because it was the High Court that showed us the way. It was the Mabo No. 2 decision that showed us the way. That is really to the shame of the parliament. I stand here as a legislator. I do not agree that the laws of this country should be made by a court, whether it be the High Court or any other court. I believe we as the elected parliament should have had the foresight to see what needed to be done. We should have realised how the High Court was moving. In a celebrated 1983 case—which I prefer not to refer to at times, but I will do so on this occasion—Mr Justice Brennan had this to say:

The approval of the proposed law for the amendment—

that was the constitutional amendment—

was an affirmation of the will of the Australian people that the odious policies of oppression and neglect of Aboriginal citizens were to be at an end, and that the primary object of power is beneficial.

In that same decision, Mr Justice Deane had this to say:

. . . it became increasingly clear that Australia, as a nation, must be diminished until acceptable laws be enacted to mitigate the effect of past barbarism . . .

We should have realised how the High Court was moving. In fact, I suppose on a couple of occasions we attempted to do something about it. All honourable senators know that. But the parliament had to be almost dragged screaming to face reality because of a High Court decision. To me, that is shameful. To have acted sooner would have been the appropriate thing to do.

  There has been some speculation in sections of the press as to how I would vote on this matter. There has been speculation as to how I would vote on a number of matters. In the 18 years that I have been here I have said something about almost everything. All that members of the press or honourable senators need to do is look up the Hansard to see what I have said. I remind the Senate, and anybody else who is interested, what I said on 23 August 1988 on the reconciliation motion that was proposed in the Senate at that time. I said:

Meeting in this new place, it is fitting that we acknowledge the fullness of human history in this land. This motion will stand as a statement of our commitment to national and individual reconciliation with the descendants of those who have suffered dispossession and dispersal in the wake of European and other settlement in 1788. Among those descendants I am proud to name one as my son-in-law.

Much has been said about reconciliation, but we have not seen a great deal of reconciliation amongst us during this debate. At times we did. I must congratulate a number of those senators—Senator Ellison, Senator Alston amongst others—who have asked detailed questions of Senator Gareth Evans. I do not always congratulate Senator Evans, but on this occasion I think he has done a vigorous and sterling job.

  Opposition senator—Robust.

Senator HARRADINE —Not robust, thankfully, but a measured and sterling job.

  I am coming to the stage now of deciding whether this bill—it is acknowledged that it is flawed—should be read a third time tonight. I believe that the bill needs amendment. I do not think anyone around this chamber does not acknowledge that fact.

Senator Vanstone —Oh, yes, there is.

Senator HARRADINE —I do not think there is. I believe that this measure should be read third time tonight. I will vote for that third reading because of my consistent approach and the need for this to be not only an act which has a beneficial effect for all Australians but also is a symbolic act of reconciliation in this year, the International Year of Indigenous People.