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Thursday, 20 March 1980
Page: 897

Senator HAMER (Victoria) - I do not think that this debate is an occasion for long speeches. We have all been over this ground or similar ground before. I think it is extremely regrettable in a debate on the Human Rights Commission Bill that abortion has been dragged in in the way that it has, because that is what this amendment is about. The trouble with bringing this matter in is that the people most concerned with it take the most extreme positions; the extreme on one side saying that there should be no abortions at all and the other extreme saying that the mother has a complete right over what happens inside her own body. The trouble with these two positions is that each extreme denies the other any integrity or honesty. Worse still, they unite in that feeling about those in the middle who are trying to make a reasonable and just compromise for the benefit of the whole community. Therefore, debates in this area are always bitter and nearly always fruitless.

We want to make it quite clear that nothing in this Bill or its amendment has any application to Commonwealth laws or to Territory laws. They will not change them. Nothing changes the laws, either statute or common law. In particular if the amendment were carried it would not change the abortion law in the Australian Capital Territory. What, then, is this debate all about? Why are people so passionately trying to get these amendments- either the Martyr amendment, the Harradine amendment or the Simon amendment- carried? I think that their aim is quite clear. What they want to have is a platform on which attacks can be launched and on which constant public debate can be provoked on the subject of the abortion law in the Australian Capital Territory and the national laws on health insurance and on hospitals. This would be the consequence. I do not deny for a moment that these particular areas of Commonwealth activity should be discussed. There are problems with them. 1 for one do not think that the abortion law in the Australian Capital Territory is a very suitable or appropriate law, but I do not think that this is the way to approach the situation. Those sorts of issues should and must be tackled head-on. If people have a proposition to make about such issues, let them make it. Never try to use a Bill which was designed for quite a different purpose to drag in these issues through the back door. That is what the effect of these amendments will be.

I draw the Committee's attention to clause 10 of the Bill where it states that the Commission must investigate, when a complaint is made in writing to the Commission, the acts or practices inconsistent with or contrary to any human rights. If we pass these amendments that would or could apply to any abortion. The Commission is not obliged to take up these complaints, and this is an amendment to which I would like to draw the attention of the Senate. The only relevant exemption is if the subject matter of the complaint is not of sufficient concern to the complainant. All honourable senators who have been receiving representations from the Right to Life Association would have no doubt at all that the subject is certainly of sufficient concern to them, and I believe that the Commission would be obliged to deal with these complaints. The consequences would be a total distortion of the activities of the Human Rights Commission and the rendering of it ineffective for the purpose for which this Parliament is setting it up. The Government has accepted this amendment rather reluctantly, I gather from the words of the Attorney-General, (Senator Durack), but it has accepted it. The Government's view appears to be that any Bill is better than no Bill. It wants to ratify the United Nations Covenant on Human Rights and, having put a Bill into the Parliament, it needs to get the Bill through before it can, with any integrity, ratify the covenant. I do not accept that. I do not think the Government should be looking for any Bill. It should be looking for the acceptable and the proper Bill. I think that either of these amendments would make a poor Bill much worse and would render it totally ineffective. Therefore I propose to vote against both amendments.

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