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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7494


Senator BROWN (8:23 PM) —I congratulate Senator Crossin on her excellent speech and her outline of the case against this nasty piece of legislation from the government.


Senator Ian Macdonald —You know you are on a loser when you have Bob's support.


Senator BROWN —The minister probably sees the world in terms of losers and winners. You can line that up basically as the poor and the rich; the have-nots and the haves; the dispossessed and the possessed; the powerless and the powerful. He is exemplifying an inhumanity in the policies of this government, which plays to the lowest common denominator in the people of this nation and in so doing lowers the kudos that the nation has in the eyes of the world and that we have in ourselves—


Senator Ian Macdonald —You are talking about the Greens, are you?


Senator BROWN as a humanitarian, warm and accommodating country. It always amazes me how, when a government comes in with a piece of legislation like this, its ministers—and there are only two government members opposite supporting it at this stage—can be so desultory, down in the mouth and crabby in their demeanour. It is as if, inherently, they know they are doing something wrong. It swings from that to artificial laughter—


Senator Ian Macdonald —What a clown.


Senator BROWN —but the matter is serious. We are dealing with the lives and fortunes of dispossessed women, children and men—people who are escaping fear and hardship. These people have, if nothing else, internationally agreed rights which they expect would be upheld by a nation as lucky as ours—but not under this small-minded Prime Minister; not under this narrow-minded and selfish government of the Howard epoch.


Senator Ian Macdonald —Or under the UNHCR.


Senator BROWN —The minister opposite objects, but let me list again some of the abuses of international law which are involved in Prime Minister Howard's legislation which we now have before us. This is only one example of his abuse of international law and long-held international standards, as this country dives below the surface of those standards on which we once so proudly floated and were so keen to uphold. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, in making a submission to the government on the matter, pointed out that these amendment bills erode the universal application of human rights. It is a basic tenet of human rights, they said, that such rights should be applied equally, without distinction. Everyone within Australian territory is entitled to have his or her human rights respected and protected. For example, Australia has undertaken to ensure those rights—in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child—to all persons within its territory. Our nation, under more noble past leadership, signed these international conventions.


Senator Ian Macdonald —Who was that? Gough or Paul or—


Senator BROWN —The minister has no idea of when or how these were signed. I will allow him to go and do research on that. Maybe the first port of call would be to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser; he could be a reference point for a finer line of thinking on the matter. HREOC quotes from those two covenants. Firstly, paragraph 1 of article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:

Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant ...

The government, in this legislation, is smashing the nation's adherence to that international convention. Paragraph 1 of article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind ...


Senator Ian Macdonald —When was this approved by Australia?


Senator BROWN —The Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, in an extraordinary intervention, indicates that he does not know when it was signed. I have no doubt that he does not know who signed it; he does not know anything about it at all.


Senator Ian Macdonald Paul Keating.


Senator BROWN —He says Paul Keating signed it. I will not say anything more than that he underscores his own utter ignorance of the importance, historicity and international value of such covenants as these when he makes such comments. Article 26 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights provides for the rights of non-discrimination. This piece of legislation is inherently discriminatory. HREOC points out that the bills undermine core international human rights guarantees, including the right of non-refoulement—that is, Australia's obligation to people presenting in its territory, people coming to any part of our territories, claiming to be at risk of persecution. They are set out in four international treaties to which Australia is a party, not only the refugee convention. That convention and those treaties are debased by this legislation. Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment provides:

No State Party shall expel, return ... or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

The right of such a person to resist expulsion is not made dependant upon him or her satisfying the definition of `refugee'. Yet, in this legislation, that right is being denied people in Australian territory. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily.

What a disgraceful abrogation of its duty as a national citizen Prime Minister the Hon. John Winston Howard has made Australia commit in the light of our signature on that particular binding part of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The same clause goes on to say:

The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time ...

Yet we have children locked up in concentration camps in this country—mainland Australia—behind razor wire, not for days or weeks but for months. And now we are going to remove the rights of such children, not only to not be arbitrarily detained but to be heard under the laws of Australia, by excising 1,000 islands around the north of Australia from the reach of the international conventions to which we are signatories.

The Greens will, of course, sit on the other side to the government on this legislation. We totally oppose it. We will fight it all the way down the line. It is interesting that the government which brought this in as a regulation and had that defeated in the Senate is now trying to pass it as legislation. In so doing, the government simply compounds the abrogation of its responsibility to uphold Australia's reputation as a lawful citizen around the world. This is a government that talks about law and order, and breaks it internationally—in front of the world and in front of its own citizens—and uses the parliament in an attempt to stamp approval on the serial breaching of international law. This is a government which says, `We line up with the United States in an impending attack on Iraq'—they will, and it is inherent in everything we have heard so far—in another breach of international law, which is in fact the Charter of the United Nations itself, as we move into a new period of lawlessness by the most powerful states on the face of the planet, without an ability to understand history or to understand the danger which the Howard government puts Australian citizens in by that line of action. All of this goes counter to the whole last century of Australia being at the forefront of promoting international rights for all human beings equally.

Senator Crossin mentioned Mr John Cleary, a former minister in the Tasmanian parliament in a number of Liberal governments between 1979 and the late 1990s who is now administering the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory. I happened to be in the parliament with Mr Cleary for at least half of that period. Senator Crossin reiterated the appalling fact that the Indigenous people of the islands that are being excised have not been consulted by this government at any point in the development of these regulations and this piece of legislation. What an appalling insult that is to those people! It is again an indictment of the arrogance and narrow-mindedness of a government which not only breaches law, as I have outlined, but breaches the whole spirit of recognition that people, where their rights are affected by government action, ought to be consulted. The difficulty, I guess, for the Indigenous people on those islands is that they are not recognised as equal citizens by this government. Whatever else Mr Cleary is doing in his administrative post, let me reiterate some of the things he stood for during that period in Tasmania. It may enlighten us a little as to why that consultation did not occur or, if it failed to occur before he became the administrator, why it is not occurring now.

Mr Cleary was an avid proponent and supporter of the destruction of the Franklin River and all the Aboriginal history—the cave sites and the connection for thousands of years—involved with that river. You might remember, Mr Acting Deputy President Brandis, Aboriginal people leading the protests and being taken to jail while trying to defend their cultural history in Tasmania. Mr Cleary was one of those who passed the legislation which enabled them to be arrested and sent to jail. When it came to the great forests of Tasmania, Mr Cleary was always at the forefront of supporting legislation and regulation that meant they would be destroyed in the interests of the wood chippers sending those forests to Japan.

When it came to the Wesley Vale pulp mill in northern Tasmania, where there was concern that farmlands would be polluted and that 13 tonnes of organochlorines would go into Bass Strait each year, Mr Cleary avidly supported the pulp mill against the wishes of the fishermen, the farmers and a great number of members of the Tasmanian community. Western Tasmania, which is a great job producer and attractor of investment in Tasmania, was largely made a World Heritage area because of its Aboriginal history and extraordinary importance to the world, given the Aboriginal sites and the ongoing connection for the Aboriginal people. Mr Cleary opposed that all the way down the line.

When it came to establishing Aboriginal land rights in Tasmania, which were proposed by the Labor-Green accord in 1989-92, John Cleary opposed that as well. He opposed gun law reform before the Port Arthur massacre. He was also opposed to legislating to help with the establishment of support for those who wanted home births in Tasmania. Of course, there is much more to it, but I thought that those things should go on the record.

I want to get back to the legislation and say that this is not just an ordinary piece of end-of-year legislation. It is again an indictment of a government which has gone far off centre and far from the average of the thinking of this country over the past decades to put Australia into an age of right-wing, sectionally divisive government interested not in the Christian philosophy of share and do unto others as you would do unto yourself, but in a philosophy of greed, selfishness and walking to the other side of the road to avoid even looking at people who have great misfortune, are down on their luck and are down on the road in this life.

I do not know what the creed of this government is. Could somebody explain its philosophy? What is the human thought behind this legislation? Perhaps one of the two government senators opposite might get up and explain. What is the spiritual, humanitarian, Christian—if you will—credo that manifests itself in a selfish, rejectionist, antihumanitarian piece of legislation like this? I suspect that neither will attempt to answer that, because this legislation is built on self-interest, greed and denial of the misfortune of others.

We have a government that says we must globalise and bring down the barriers—but that is for money. Here we have a piece of legislation which is the exact opposite and says, `Let's compartmentalise and put up the barriers,' because we are not dealing with money here, we are dealing with human beings. Can a senator opposite get up and explain that? I do not think so. We will be opposing this piece of legislation.