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Thursday, 31 October 1974
Page: 2192

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Leader of the Government in the Senate) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-

The purpose of this Bill is to make racial discrimination unlawful in Australia and to provide an effective means of combating racial prejudice in this country. I introduced into the Senate a Racial Discrimination Bill on 21 November 1 973, and again on 4 April 1 974, but the Bill was not debated before Parliament was dissolved for the last election. The present Bill is similar to the previous Bills and includes some improvements. The Bill implements into Australian law the obligations contained in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It is recognised in this Convention that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that any doctrine of superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous and without any justification. Eighty-one countries have already ratified the Convention. The Convention was signed on behalf of Australia on 13 October 1966 and the ratification of the Convention by Australia is, I believe, urgent and overdue.

The basic framework of the previous Bills has been retained. The Bill recognises the importance of legislation that will make racial discrimination unlawful. I emphasise that the introduction of legislation to outlaw racial discrimination is a fundamental step that must be taken if Australia is to ratify the Convention. The common law provides no effective remedies against discrimination in the exercise of human rights, whether it be based on race or colour or on other grounds. Legislation therefore has a vital role to play in the elimination of racial discrimination. The proscribing of racial discrimination in legislative form not only makes people more aware of the evils of discrimination and makes it more obvious and conspicuous, but also furnishes an essential legal background on which to base changes to basic community attitudes. The fact that racial discrimination is unlawful will make it easier for people to resist social pressures that result in discrimination.

In making racial discrimination unlawful, the Bill follows closely the definition used in the Convention. The Bill will thus make it unlawful for a person to do an act involving discrimination based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which impairs the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms. The Bill will guarantee equality before the law without distinction as to race. It also deals in detail with racial discrimination so far as it concerns access to places and facilities, the provision of land, housing and other accommodation, the provision of goods and services, the right to join trade unions and employment

An important objective of the Bill is the creation of practical and effective legal remedies. Pious declarations of principle are of little value unless they can be given practical expression. The remedies provided by the Bill will include those of an injunction restraining the doing of discriminatory acts, an order requiring acts of a remedial nature to be done, an order cancelling a contract and damages in respect of the loss suffered by an aggrieved person and the loss of dignity, humiliation and injury to the feelings of an aggrieved person.

In addition, the Bill establishes formal administrative machinery for the examination of complaints of racial discrimination on a systematic basis and for the settlement of complaints by conciliation. The Bill recognises that reliance on the spasmodic operation of judicial review for the enforcement of the legislation would be unsatisfactory. The Bill also recognises that an emphasis on mediation and conciliation is a more satisfactory way of tackling individual instances of racial discrimination and the tensions that are associated with individual disputes. A Commissioner for Community Relations will therefore be established as an independent statutory authority to undertake these tasks. Where settlement cannot be achieved, the Commissioner will have power to commence legal proceedings before a court to have the legal issues between the parties determined.

The Bill also recognises the importance of developing programs of education and research and other programs to combat racial discrimination and promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among racial and ethnic groups. The Commissioner will have the function of conducting programs of education and research to combat racial discrimination, and a Community Relations Council will be established with an advisory role. The Bill contains some improvements to the previous Bills. The Bill has been amended to further emphasise the Commissioner's position as an independent and impartial conciliator. Overseas experience tends to show that a Commissioner who has an independent and impartial role and whose functions place emphasis on the effecting of a settlement enjoys greater co-operation from respondents than a Commissioner whose functions require him to make a judgment of the issues and identify himself with a complainant's cause. The bill has accordingly been amended to give effect to this approach.

There is also a need to ensure that the operation of the Act is not frustrated by a lack of cooperation on the part of a respondent. The Bill has accordingly been amended to give the Commissioner the power to call a compulsory conference for the purpose of inquiring into a complaint and endeavouring to effect a settlement. The Bill will also authorise a judge to require a - person to give evidence in relation to a matter that is the subject of an inquiry under the Act. Evidence so obtained will not be admissible in other proceedings except proceedings for giving false evidence. In Canada, compulsory evidencegathering powers are given to Human Rights Commissions and similar powers are vested in the conciliator established by the New Zealand legislation. The absence of evidence-gathering powers in the United Kingdom legislation is said to seriously impede the effectiveness of that legislation.

A further change to the previous Bills effected by the present Bill will give the Commissioner the function of carrying out and fostering programs of education and research and other programs to combat racial discrimination. Overseas experience has shown that the success of legislation dealing with racial discrimination depends very much on the effectiveness of programs of this kind. The need for these programs was recognised in the 1 973 Bill and highlighted in the Bill introduced earlier this year. In my second reading speech of 4 April 1974, 1 pointed out that the changing of community attitudes and the promotion of understanding, tolerance and friendship among racial and ethnic groups would form an extremely important part of government's program for the elimination of racial discrimination. I also pointed out that both government and community-based programs to combat racial discrimination were necessary. Amendments were made to the Bill to supplement the advisory role of the Race Relations Council with respect to education and research. The vesting of the proposed functions in the Commissioner will reinforce these important aspects. Australia will be required by Article 7 of the Convention to conduct programs of this kind to combat racial discrimination.

Finally, the Bill has been amended to emphasise reliance on civil, rather than criminal, law to combat racial discrimination. The range of offences in the Bill has accordingly been reduced and is mainly concerned with meeting the specific requirements imposed by Article 4 of the Convention. This Bill represents an important step in the government's program with respect to human rights. The Bill will provide the basis upon which Australia can comply with the obligations imposed by the Convention on Racial Discrimination. The Bill recognises that laws proscribing discrimination are vital, but not in themselves sufficient. The legislation recognises that there must also be effective and systematic enforcement of rights and the promotion of education and research, if the elimination of racial discrimination in this country is to be achieved in fact as well as in theory. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Greenwood) adjourned.

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