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Thursday, 27 March 1980
Page: 1140

Senator EVANS (Victoria) -The report of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships was published on 2 1 November 1977 in the midst of a federal election campaign- an event subsequently not without significance in determining the fate of this report. It was tabled in both Houses of this Parliament on 28 February 1978 and the motion for this debate has been languishing on the Notice Paper ever since. This is the first opportunity for a substantial debate in either House on this extremely important topic. The notes from which I speak tonight were compiled some 1 8 months ago. I can only hope that age has not wearied them, nor will the years condemn.

Senator Puplick - The question is whether we will remember them.

Senator EVANS - Indeed, Senator. Certainly the lapse of time has condemned to weariness some of our colleagues on both sides of this chamber, with the regrettable result that the speakers list is rather shorter than it might otherwise be for a debate of this significance. The delay, on any view, has been thoroughly unfortunate. The only way one can conceivably look on the bright side of this matter is by hoping that its very belatedness might at least mean that we will be able to look at and discuss the recommendations in this report with some degree of objectivity in a way that, regrettably, did not seem to be possible when it was first published. It is unfortunate that the Parliament and the public were unable to see, assess and debate the findings of the Royal Commission at the time that they were first released and before the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and senior members of the present Government attempted to bring the report into disrepute by publicly decrying its contents during the last election campaign.

Senator Chipp - He leaked the dirty bits of it beforehand.

Senator EVANS - In fact the behaviour of the Prime Minister throughout the whole history of this report, to put it at its most charitable, has been erratic in the extreme. It was he who back in 1973 initiated in the House of Representatives the motion which resulted in the establishment of this inquiry. Since then his behaviour has been in complete contradiction to that in the sense that he has demonstrated an utter unwillingness to treat the product of that inquiry with any degree of political or other seriousness. His behaviour has been that of political expediency of the most regrettable kind in his treatment of what in my view is an extremely significant policy matterthe question of human relationships between individuals and families in our community. His first major act in relation to this report upon coming into office in 1 975 was to slash the funds of the Commission, thus reducing by a year the amount of time for the Commission's deliberations and curtailing or preventing a number of very important research projects.

During the 1977 election campaign, as Senator Chipp earlier interjected, after the Prime Minister had leaked the most salacious recommendations he could find- two or three out of the 511 substantial and solid recommendations in this report- he proceeded on Australian Broadcasting Commission radio during the course of that campaign to describe the contents of the report as appalling. He used its supposed contents- the peculiarly perverse and distorted version of its contents that he chose to report to the community- as a cheap election trick against the Opposition. In the meantime no one else in the community had access to the report in order to verify the Prime Minister's wild and sensational allegations. His action trivialised and denigrated the contents of the report and the sincerity and capacity of those who produced it. In the process he made severe imputations against the integrity of three royal commissioners.

Perhaps after the election Mr Fraser did read the report. Perhaps his reading of it is one of the reasons that there has been so much delay by the Government in bringing on this debate in either House to enable the Parliament to discuss, in a way that will engender debate in the community, the findings of the Royal Commission. I say that because any but the most fleeting glance at the five volumes of this Royal Commission's findings, makes it immediately and abundantly clear that the work represents a major social document. It is a report which has been prepared carefully, thoughtfully and with a great balance of judgment. A Prime Minister with a tendency to making rash and opportunistic election statements could be put in a very embarrassing position when those facts about the report are appreciated. Certainly there seems to be no other reason why it has taken so long for this matter to be debated.

The Prime Minister, in introducing the report in the House of Representatives on 1 March 1 978, said that there ought to be an opportunity for maximum public participation in the discussion of the findings of the report. He expressed a desire to receive and 'assess the totality of the community views' on the matters raised in the report before Parliament proceeded to consider the Executive 's response to it. As far as I am aware the Government has totally failed to do anything positive to initiate such public debate; nor has it encouraged in any overt way the community to put forward its views on the many and varied recommendations in the report. Perhaps it is only now, at this late stage of its history when these matters are finally to be debated by this Parliament, that we will at last begin to see the community debate which this report not only needs but also deserves because of its quality.

The background to the establishment of the report is briefly as follows: The Royal Commission was appointed on 2 1 August 1 974 to inquire into family, social, educational, legal and sexual aspects of male and female relationships. The three Commissioners then appointed must be regarded as highly skilled, professional members of the community with special expertise in dealing with people in many different situations and with very considerable experience in the interaction between people and social institutions.

Senator Chipp - Three distinguished Australians.

Senator EVANS - As Senator Chipp says, three distinguished Australians: Justice Elizabeth Evatt, Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, formerly a deputy president of the Arbitration Commission, the most Reverend Felix Arnott, Archbishop of the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane, formerly Bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Melbourne and Warden of Anglican colleges at both the universities of Queensland and Sydney, and Ms Anne Deveson an experienced and very well known Sydney journalist.

The Commission spent two and a half years completing a detailed report on the issues that were relevant to its terms of reference and it used a wide variety of techniques in so doing, including the examination of written submissions and evidence which was heard in 1 1 public hearings in all capital cities and which involved a total of 1,264 submissions. It took part in a number of informal meetings and discussions. It engaged in a very substantial body of research which produced 15 completed research projects and it scrutinised and reported upon very carefully and very thoroughly a great deal of literature and research material which had been otherwise compiled both within Australia and overseas. It is a massive report producing recommendations of major significance. But one regrets even so that its contents are not quite as comprehensive as they could and should have been. This is because of a matter which I referred to briefly a moment ago, that is, the action of the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, in slashing the budget of the Commission early in 1976, shortly after he came into office, and ordering it to complete its work one year earlier than it had planned, which had the effect of truncating the inquiry and preventing the Commissioners from completing their work to what they would have regarded as a satisfactorily comprehensive level.

There were a number of important areas of research that had to be abandoned as a result of the Prime Minister's far-sighted economy. These matters included a survey into the extent of the physically and mentally handicapped in Australia- I hope that Senator Harradine noted that particular matter, if he is listening in- the employment of 12 specially trained people fluent in major migrant languages to make detailed reports from the ethnic community, research into how young people learn about human relationships, the relationships between work and family life, and again further detailed research into contraceptive use, family formation and health and sexuality. With that much said by way of background knowledge, what is the achievement of the Commission? What do these five volumes contain? What are the lessons and prescriptions that we can learn from this report? The Commissioners recognised- this is a flavour which runs throughout the report- that profound social changes were occurring in the area of male and family relationships.

The Commission itself arose as a result of the perception that those changes were occurring and a perception of the genuine moral and personal conflict which such changes have engendered in the family. What the Commissioners sought to do by sitting, working and producing this report, was to provide material which would help the community on the one hand and the Government on the other to understand those changes in order to ensure that our official institutions might come to reflect this changing reality in Australian society. I think that the report in this respect has accomplished those objectives admirably, I take the view- and I think any objective reader of this report would- that the Commission, contrary to what has been asserted by the Prime Minister and by senior members of the National Country Party in particular, did not engender or fabricate the realities of Australian society on which their recommendations are based. In laying out the basic perceptions which they applied to the compilation of the whole report, the Commissioners stated that their inquiry was guided by a belief in the right and integrity of the individual to make free choices in the context of human relationships and to have access to the knowledge and skills which give such free choice meaning. Throughout the report the recommendations reveal quite properly and sensibly and in a way that is much to be admired, the

Commission's attachment to that particular guiding perception.

In approaching its task, the Commission articulated- this again is an admirable preliminary statement of the perspective within which it is operating- that there are no holds barred by the Commission in stating the basic premises and perceptions on which it did put together the report. It stated that it made two important assumptions. The first such assumption was that morality, in inverted commas perhaps, is increasingly becoming an individual judgment; and, secondly, that laws should not attempt to enforce moral standards but rather should only be directed towards protecting the rights of society at large, but more specifically the rights of individuals within that society. Any attempt by the law to address itself to the preservation or upholding of moral standards for their own sake in a context which cannot be easily described as actually affecting the rights of individuals or the community at large, are not, according to the Commissioners- and I agree with them in that respect- laws worth having.

The Commission does however acknowledge -and again this is a central theme which runs right through the report-that, notwithstanding the fundamentally personal and private character of human relationships almost by definition, there is nonetheless a number of points on which government policies can affect those relationships. Thus the Commission saysagain I think this is a wholly admirable statement of its approach- that Government policy should be sensitive to the changes which are occurring and to the hidden reality, if one can put it that way, of many people's lives. We tended to operate our social policies on a poverty stricken basis so far as research and appreciation of that hidden reality are concerned. There has been hitherto, before the compilation of this report, very little research into the real problems facing many Australians in these various areas.

I turn to the actual recommendations and findings which emerge from the report. The first significant group of such relate to education for human relationships generally. The evidence presented to the Commission established that young people were being inadequately prepared for the challenges of modern life and that they needed help to appreciate the attitudes and values which affected behaviour. The Commission found that there is a widespread ignorance in relation to sexual matters in particular with many parents and the education system as a whole being presently quite ill-equipped to provide information which was manifestly much needed. The belief that young people should be given education in human relationships was, the Commission found, quite widely supported. It further found that young people show that when they are properly taught about such relationships they are able to consider difficult moral problems and to make rational decisions about them.

The Government's role is the subject of a number of recommendations in Part II of the report in this respect and it is suggested- and I for one endorse this-that the Government through its Departments of Education and Health should provide the initiative, finance and resources for the development of human relationship courses in schools and for parents, teacher training, teachers and the related professions. The Government's education policy should be reorientedif that is not too large a task to contemplate- towards ensuring the fullest possible development of not just the academic persona but the whole person physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially. More specifically, on the subject of health and medical education, the Commission finds- this is the subject matter of Part III of the report- that health services have hitherto been medically oriented in the very strict and narrow sense of that term, preoccupied with disfunction, with disease. It makes the point, and again I endorse this, that we need a variety of integrated community health services with the object of not merely coping with the immediate physical manifestations of disease, but of restoring the sick and disabled to full functional fitness in the community as soon as possible.

We are faced, as the Commission establishes, not perhaps that this needed much establishment, with cultural differences both ethnic and racial and with, in this area, as in so many others, a preponderance of traditional sexist attitudes towards the female half of the population. We are faced also- this is crucial in this area, and I hope that Senator Baume will have something to say on this subject later on- with a medical profession, the Commission finds, which is illprepared by traditional medical courses to cope especially with the problems of sexuality and human relationships. For my own part I make the point that perhaps this Government could pay less attention to intervening and attempting to coerce university and college councils and their student organisations into curtailing creative social and political activity by such nonsense legislation as the Australian National University Bill which we considered last year, and put rather more effort into financial initiatives which would allow tertiary institutions to develop undergraduate and indeed post-graduate courses in these areas which have been regarded traditionally as quite outside the proper formal curriculum- courses, that is, in human relationships, sexuality and community medicine.

I believe, and I endorse the findings of the report in this respect, that government health services should also be involved in the active encouragement and support of the handicapped and mentally sick and the development of special services to meet the special needs of Aboriginals, migrants, and other at risk sections of the community. There needs to be a funding of research, says the Commission, and again it is difficult to disagree with any of this, to provide health education programs in schools on a much larger scale than operates at the moment, on community perspectives and health and in relation to maintenance and improvement of community health services themselves.

Perhaps the most controversial sections of the report are those in Volume 4 dealing with sexuality and fertility. I think that what the report says here, however, is again, on any close reading, thoroughly unexceptionable and thoroughly sensible. The point is made, and ample evidence is adduced to support it, that very many people are quite ignorant of sexuality generally, contraception and indeed conception specifically. The lack of clear and concise information on these issues, the lack of services capable of meeting the needs of the community in this area, the bans on the advertising of contraceptives which still exist in so many jurisdictions, the cost of contraceptives, the lack of knowledge of presently available services, all combine to produce an appalling ignorance in the community which does promote social problems which in this relatively affluent society of ours just should be unnecessary.

The reality, as the report finds, is that, as is so often the case, the groups who can least afford to cope with such problems are at the highest riskthe poor, the young, the ethnic minorities and the Aborigines. Again the point is made that legal uncertainty places a number of additional barriers in the way of people wishing not just to acquire information but actually to control their fertility in the areas of sterilisation, artificial insemination, abortion and provision of contraceptives, especially to minors.

On the subject of abortion, which has been debated perhaps rather ad nauseam in this Parliament in recent times, the report nonetheless has a good deal to say which is immediately pertinent and sane and which is relevant indeed to this Parliament's and indeed to the community's general understanding ofthe issues which are involved, the magnitude of the problems, if it is a problem, and in generating some compassion and understanding of what ought to be done about it. The report establishes clearly, for a start, that laws in relation to abortion, such as there presently are, are clearly ineffective in actually preventing women from making and acting on the decision to terminate a pregnancy. At the time of writing, the Commission asserts, to the extent that its data can support any kind of explicit finding in this area, that there is a ratio of one abortion to every 3.9 live births occurring in Australia; that there are 21.7 abortions for every 1 ,000 women between the ages of 1 5 to 44 in this country every year; and that for something like 60 per cent of unwanted pregnancies abortion is in practice the answer.

If it is true there are some 60,000 abortions every year in Australia, as the Commission suggests, of which some 20,000 are performed on women under 20, what more powerful argument could there be for an increase in education about and the availability of contraception, not to mention the taking of a long, hard look at the appropriateness of our present abortion laws. It is obvious, and the report again says it- one of the attractions of this report is the systematic way in which it does state the obvious in so many areas where this has been perhaps neglected- that the Government should and could play an important role in redressing the balance in this whole important area, as the Commission recognises, means such as the establishment of a research institute for the study of human sexuality, reproduction and fertility control. It stresses the urgent need for research into the areas of puberty, menstruation, menopause, contraceptive acceptability, contraceptive practice and technology, and the handling of pregnancy itself. The Commission also calls for the establishment of a national advisory committee on contraception and a national policy, not just one guided by the peculiar and erratic prejudices of local legislators, of easy access by the community to information and services in this area.

The Government, the Commission finds, does have a responsibility to set standards and controls for contraceptives and for contraceptive advertising. Yet the reality is that in terms of standards and controls in this vital area which does affect many thousands of Australian women there is very largely an exclusion, so the Commission finds, from government standards and controls of these matters because of a tendency towards a head-in-the-sand, don'twanttoknow attitude towards the whole vital area. The Commission, and again this is a rather bald summary ofthe recommendations in Volume 4 of the report, places the responsibility for initiating a public health education program, with emphasis on these areas of fertility control, contraception technology and so on, squarely on the shoulders of the Government. It urges the allocation of adequate funding to community centres generally and more specifically to women's community health services and the existing family planning associations.

One of the matters to which the Commission's report specifically draws attention, and which I believe is of crucial importance and something which ought to be taken up by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, is that much greater attention be paid to the training and employment of Aboriginals and ethnic health workers to serve their respective communities, because past services have clearly been inadequate in these areas due to the cultural differences existing between, on the one hand, the white mono-lingual professionals who are given little or no training to cope with the special problems of these, on the other hand, at risk groups. One just asks, as has been asked so often in this Parliament, has the Government by its funding programs and by its attitudes to the availability of these services, ever made any genuine attempt to confront the problems and to equalise the health treatment for all Australians. When one thinks of the saga of the trachoma workers in Queensland during the recent election campaign, one doubts that any such demonstration of good faith has been made. Certainly, there are ample counter examples.

In volume 5 of the report considerable attention is paid to the subject matter of that very fashionable institution in these political days, the family. A number of matters emerge from that section of the report and I will mention a few of them. One very significant part of this section is the uncovering of what really is only the tip of the iceberg of the problem of violence against women and children. The report makes the point that, obviously enough, this demands urgent attention. What the Commission calls for and again what we have not seen any government responding to with any enthusiasm is the establishment of a national child protection centre to be based in the office of child care, which is also recommended to be established. This centre could carry out much needed research into the area to enable us at least to appreciate the magnitude of the problem and to develop policies and intiate services which, I take it even Senator Walters would appreciate, are urgently required in this particular area.

Whilst child abuse and wife bashing are horrifying problems, they represent only a small segment of this section of the report. The main emphasis in the report in this regard is on the need for what is described as a national family policy. The Commission essentially conceives of such a policy as being aimed at producing an equitable distribution of services and resources to all families to achieve the common social goals- an adequate income, housing, education, health, recreation and legal protection. Viewed this way, the concept of a national family policy is a central recommendation in the Human Relationships Commission's report. Yet we had Mr Fraser immediately impugning the integrity of the commissioners and labelling the commission 's recommendations as appalling in what I have already described as a cheap election trick at the end of 1977. I think that the only way in which the Government can restore its credibility in terms of this particular report is to turn around and to recognise the value and the sheer common sense of adopting recommendations such as those that I have been referring to.

Another central element, necessarily, in the discussion of the family is the question of child care. The Commission, predictably enough I suppose, urges that there be policy development and funding in this area to make family support services a genuine reality in this area. The evidence which was presented to the Commission showed that there is, as we all know, a serious shortage of child care facilities of all kinds in Australia today and that this was a particular source of stress for migrant families. It was the view of the Commission- again it is difficult to argue with it- that child care should be made available at a level which would allow all children to have access to the kinds of facilities which are best suited to their needs and to the needs of their parents.

What has happened since 1975 is that this Government has gradually, steadily, but inexorably reduced its financial commitment to child care services. For that to have happened is simply to ignore the reality which is facing many parents in the community. Some of the statistics that appear in sources such as the Women and Work newsletter for January 1978, which I have come across- I guess these are in the nature of guesstimates more than anything else, but that is the problem in this area; there is still, despite the commission, a shortage of data- show that something like 40 per cent of the work force are responsible for children under the age of 12 years. Kids under the age of 12 are within the family responsibilities of four out of every 10 members of the work force. The majority of these children are in fact of pre-school age and, as a result, require some kind of child care outside their own home environment. The evidence that I have seen shows that for every child who enjoys a properly established child care facility there are two children for whom some ad hoc arrangement has to suffice. At best, there is a provision of a formal kind available for something like one in every three children who need it. That is a matter which we must recognise to be one of continuing acute national concern.

In the area of family law- obviously this is a central point that is dealt with- the Commission advocates a unified family law with regard to both legistlative powers and the exercise of jurisdiction throughout Australia. It is recognised in the report, as we must all recognise, that there ara a number of different legal and constitutional problems involved in implementing fully such a policy, but the problems, nonetheless, have to be given serious consideration. One hopes that they are being given such consideration by the Joint Committee on the Family Law Act which is now wending its weary way, I hope, towards completion of its report.

Senator Missen - It is speeding its quick way.

Senator EVANS - It is wending its quick way, I am delighted to hear from Senator Missen. I hope that it does not take two years for the recommendations in the report, when they appear, to be debated in this Parliament. The specificmatters which the Commission raises- I do not stop to comment upon them except to notice their significance- are the legal problems in the area of ex-nuptial children, which have not been resolved in all Australian jurisdictions, the ownership of matrimonial property, the financial obligations as between husband and wife and, inevitably, questions of the custody of and access to children.

The final section of the report on which I comment is addressed to the subject of equality and discrimination. The importance, I suppose more than anything else, of this section of the report -

Senator Chipp - There is one other section.

Senator EVANS - It is the only one on which I wish to make comments, Senator Chipp. This section has the advantage of raising a number of policy ideas which could be implemented by government, unlike many of the other matters to which I have referred, with very little extra application of funds. What is called for, says the Commission- I cannot help but agree with it- is a national policy against discrimination on the basis of sex or marital status. What we have had so far from this Government, so far from an endorsement of that concept, is an announcement from Mr Ellicott at the end of last year which amounted to a clear rejection of the necessity or desirability of legislation at a national level in the sex discrimination area and a commitment, at best, to establish a sex discrimination ordinance in the Australian Capital Territory. The Commission further points out the need- again I applaud what it says in this respect- for government departments to have policies of equality of opportunity for women in their employ and for the Public Service to make positive attempts to recruit women.

The point is made that appointments to statutory bodies, agencies, councils and commissions should include increased numbers of women. This would involve simply a recognition that there are large numbers of competent and intelligent Australian persons of the female sex whose skills and expertise should be used for the benefit of the whole community. Again, the Commission makes the point that government publications should be monitored to prevent the inclusion of sex-role stereotyped material. Again, that is something which ought to be endorsed. The School's Commission, it is said, should include a special advisory committee on the education of women and girls and the Commonwealth Employment Service should establish special units to encourage working women and womens' employment opportunities.

The Government, if it is serious about its professed commitment to equal rights for women, is certainly in a position to implement all of these kinds of programs, none of which, from the enactment of anti-discrimination legislation through to the adoption of new approaches and attitudes to hiring and promotion policy, involves the application of funds on any significant scale. The Commission also draws attention not only to problems in relation to sex discrimination but also to discrimination against Aborigines, migrants, homosexuals and the handicapped. It makes the point that groups such as these are still suffering at the hands of irrational prejudices and, in some cases- I particularly mention Aboriginals- material deprivation that should be entirely unnecessary in 20th century Australian society. The lack of attention which has been paid by this Government to the problems encountered by these various groups, I fear, tends to give the lie to any grand claim, which it keeps being tempted to make, that it has a real commitment to quality of life and equality between all Australians.

Just to state that in the geographical excursion through the text of the report is, I think, to demonstrate that the report is a substantial and an important document. Contrary to the impression that was so unfortunately generated by the Prime Minister two years ago, it is not a cheap document, a slick document or a superficial document either in its identification ofthe problems or in its approach to the definition of solutions. I hope that as a result of the debate, which has now at last commenced in this Parliament two years after the report was presented to Parliament, and which I hope will now take off in the community at large, the Government will at last be prepared to act on the important recommendations which the report contains.

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