31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I inform the Senate that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Senator Scott) will leave Australia today to hold discussions with the New Zealand Government on the possibility of developing closer economic and trading relations with New Zealand. Senator Scott’s departure has been scheduled for 1 1.30 a.m. so that he can attend Question Time today.
The Deputy Clerk- Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the National Women’s Advisory Council has not been democratically elected by the women of Australia;
That the National Women’s Advisory Council is not representative of the women of Australia;
That the National Women’s Advisory Council is a discriminatory and sexist imposition on Australian women as Australian men do not have a National Men’s Advisory Council imposed on them.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the National Women’s Advisory Council be abolished to ensure that Australian women have equal opportunity with Australian men of having issues of concern to them considered, debated and voted on by their Parliamentary representative without intervention and interference by an unrepresentative ‘Advisory Council ‘.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Senators Neal, Lewis and Sheil.
– I preface my question by referring to the attitude of the Australian Government in relation to the International Whaling Commission, Australia’s 200-mile offshore fishing zone and protection for whales and mammals generally. In the light of the dispute with Indonesia on its concept of fishing zones, does the Government contemplate any discussion with that country largely to co-ordinate a united front to protect mammals generally and prevent maverick whalers from countries such as Peru and Spain coming into the Australian fishing zone and indulging in the destruction of mammals?
-Senator Mulvihill’s question was not directed to me but I think that because of its general nature and the number of Ministers responsible for this matter I should take note of it. I personally am not aware that any discussions are being contemplated with Indonesia in relation to this specific matter. Senator Mulvihill’s question raises an interesting matter. It is one of importance. I will certainly have the matter looked at and endeavour to obtain an answer specifically in relation to the Indonesian discussion as soon as possible.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Did the High Court of Australia recently disallow the Taxation Commissioner’s appeal in Everett’s case which appears to open the way widely to income splitting by professional people for tax avoidance purposes? Does this decision accord with the Government’s policy in this area? Is the Government considering the implications of the decision with a view to early amendment of the law to prevent possible abuse?
-I am not personally aware of the matters stated by Senator Messner but I will refer the question to the Treasurer and seek an early answer from him.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. If the Government is so adamant about protecting the rights of individuals under section 45D of the Trade Practices Act, does it mean that the same principle will be applied to protect the interests of individual wheat growers who wish to trade outside the monopoly powers of the Australian Wheat Board? Will the Government, with the same vehemence with which it said it has moved to protect Mr Laidely’s rights in the past, now move to amend the Wheat Industry Stabilization Act to protect the rights of individual wheat growers? I supplement that by saying that the Commonwealth intervened in the recent case in the High Court to oppose such an application.
-The question of the powers under the wheat stabilisation scheme is, as Senator Button has said, the subject of consideration in the High Court. The argument has been heard in the High Court and it has reserved its decision. The Wheat Industry Stabilization Act goes back to the 1940s. It has been a very long standing and most beneficial arrangement for the wheat industry.
-It was created by the growers themselves.
-Created by the growers and supported, as I understand, by the Labor Party, and I think introduced by a Labor government. The position is that under the new wheat industry stabilisation Acts that have been passed recently there is a recognition of rights to trade by the permission of the Wheat Board. The Government is awaiting the decision of the High Court with great interest and will not be making any decision in relation to this matter until that decision is obtained.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Social Security, both in her own capacity and as Minister representing the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. Can recipients of social security pensions have their fortnightly pension cheques paid into their bank accounts? Are similar arrangements possible for those who receive Veterans’ Affairs pensions? If similar arrangements are not possible for Veterans’ Affairs pensioners, why is this so?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEI will need to check the arrangements with regard to Veterans’ Affairs and I will attempt to have an answer before the end of Question Time.
-Can the Minister representing the Minister for Science and the Environment say what progress has been made to date with the research on the jojoba bean with a view to establishing the plant as a commercial crop in Australia? In view of this plant ‘s potential as a fuel additive and lubricant I ask the Minister whether the matter has been given a high priority.
-I understand that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is carrying out a relatively small research project on jojoba. Jojoba is an arid zone plant which produces in its seed a liquid wax with properties similar to those of sperm whale oil. It is obvious why there is an interest in that crop because whale oil is becoming increasingly not available. Several State departments are also carrying out trials. The plant is one which stands dry conditions well but does not like wet soil and its crop setting is sensitive to frost. CSIRO apparently regards it as a long term task to improve the standard of planting material and thence to assess thoroughly the production potential and the economics of production, so it is not a short term matter.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. Is it still the Government’s intention to provide for appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal from decisions of the Director-General of Social Services? If so, when can we expect legislation to carry out such appeals? Could she inform the Senate why there is a delay in introducing it?
I am able to advise the Senate that it is the Government’s intention to provide for appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the date that has been arranged for the commencement of that procedure is 1 April. I am not aware of the program of the Attorney-General for legislation which may be required, but I am able to assure the Senate that all arrangements have been made so that the commencement of this procedure will be on 1 April.
-Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry been drawn to the journal of the Australian Consumers’ Association, Choice, of February 1 980 in which it is claimed that sweetened condensed milk marketed by the Australian Dairy Corporation as a baby food in South East Asia is inappropriate? Having received paediatric advice that the criticism in the Choice article that sweetened condensed milk is not suitable for infant feeding is substantially correct, is it not a fact that our markets could be maintained by the promotion of these dairy products for older children, teenagers and nursing mothers? Will the Minister therefore undertake to investigate whether, perhaps through inadvertence or for some other reason, the Australian Dairy Corporation, through Asia Dairy Industries (Hong Kong) Ltd, is undertaking a marketing exercise now thought on medical grounds to be unsuitable?
– Yes, I have had my attention drawn to the article in Choice magazine. The advertising of sweetened condensed milk in some areas of South East Asia as being suitable as a baby food has received the attention of the Australian Dairy Corporation and the Australian dairy industry. These bodies have been advised to see that that sort of advertising, referable to the suitability of sweetened condensed milk as a baby food, will not be pursued or permitted. I agree with Senator Baume that there is clearly an opportunity for the marketing of such an Australian dairy product in the area of food for older children and teenagers, and no doubt it will be suitably promoted along those lines. Senator Baume has raised an important matter and I shall take it up further with the appropriate Minister to ensure that the matters I have referred to have indeed occurred.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. My question is a follow-up to that asked by Senator Walsh on 8 November last year in reference to the false labelling of export meat in Western Australia. The reply given by the then Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry on 13 November was to the effect that the Australian Federal Police were carrying out an investigation into the matter. I ask the Minister whether that inquiry has been completed and, if so, has it been found necessary to take any action against the company involved.
– I note the honourable senator’s question concerning the alleged false labelling of export meat in Western Australia. I regret that I do not have a detailed answer for him. I shall certainly seek to find out the situation which applies and what inquiries have been made. I will advise the honourable senator accordingly.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources: With the continued discussions on the establishment of a uranium enrichment plant in Australia, will the Government take into serious consideration the change in attitude to the mining and processing of uranium of the present Tonkin Government in South Australia from that of the previous Australian Labor Party Government? Will the Minister also take into consideration the great amount of research which has taken place in South Australia by an expert committee and which places South
Australia well ahead of the other States in the field, and the fact that many in-depth discussions on the establishment of an enrichment plant in South Australia have taken place with Urenco Centec, a European consortium regarded as a world leader in uranium enrichment?
– I shall refer the question to the Minister for Trade and Resources.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Has his attention been drawn to a report which suggests that in the Amax Exploration (Australia) Incorporated controversy in Western Australia, officers of the Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs combined with the police in Western Australia in an endeavour to reach some arrangement or agreement in respect of the properties under dispute? Will the Minister concede that officers of his Department would have to be very patient in explaining to Aborigines in any part of Australia the difference between the ways in which white civilisation and Aborigines regard property, property ownership and connection with property? Is the Minister able to deny or otherwise comment upon whether his officers were used for the purpose of coercion or bringing about some agreement with the Aborigines, having regard to their inability perhaps to comprehend properly the different attitudes in respect of property rights in Western Australia?
– Although I have yet to receive the full report I have requested from my regional director in Western Australia on the Noonkanbah question, I should like immediately to refute any suggestion that any officer of my Department was or would have been part of any coercion. A denial of any coercion at all has been made by the State authorities involved. I have spoken by telephone to Mr Long who, as I explained to the Senate last night, went to Noonkanbah at my request because I believed that it was desirable that I should have someone on the spot who could report to me on what was occurring. I deeply regret that he should be made the subject of any suggestion of improper behaviour because I am sure that that suggestion will be very painful to him. As I said yesterday, he was there as my agent so that he could report to me. I am quite sure that he was not engaged in any conduct that could be regarded as coercive.
It is a fact that there is a need to be patient in circumstances where there are different concepts of property and land. As I indicated to the Senate last night, the Noonkanbah matter is not a new one. lt has been before the community and before my Department and has been the subject of discussions over a considerable period. Twice last year I had discussions with the community, and we discussed the questions of both community protection and site protection. The role of my Department has been to try to ensure that the Aboriginal people comprehend the issues they are having to face.
As I also indicated last night, 1 arranged through my Department for representatives of the Noonkanbah community to visit the Northern Territory and the community at Groote Eylandt so that they could meet with a community that had had experience both of mining and of dealing with mining companies. I also arranged through my Department for a group from Noonkanbah to visit Barrow Island. I found when I went to Noonkanbah that the people seemed to have the concept that if there was mining for oil on Noonkanbah it would end up like Mount Newman. They had a very clear impression of what Mount Newman was like and they did not want that at Noonkanbah. I arranged for members of the community to visit Barrow Island, which was the nearest oil field operating, so that they would have some concept of what would be involved if oil were found on Noonkanbah. In those ways we have endeavoured to increase the ability of the Aboriginal people to comprehend the issues which face them.
I have tried by correspondence both with the community and with their advisers to bring home to them the issues which have to be faced. Those issues fall into two clear categories. One is the protection of sites and the other is the protection of the community. I have urged them and their advisers to give consideration to those issues and to discuss them with both the mining company and the Government. I can assure the Senate that we have endeavoured to play what I regard as an appropriate role in the Noonkanbah matter, that is, to increase the ability of a community, which in a most vital way is getting its affairs into good order, to cope with the intrusions of the outside world. I think honourable senators would agree that it is inevitable that Aboriginal communities do have to have contact with the outside world, and it is an important role of my Department to help equip them to deal with it.
I am sorry to answer at length, but the other thing I should say is that the community has had available to it the continuous advice and assistance of the Aboriginal Legal Service, which is funded through my Department. I have had a fair amount of contact with the Service, so it has been aware of Commonwealth thinking in the matter. I have no view at all that there has been any lack of communication between me and the Noonkanbah community or its advisers.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources. The World Health Organisation has reported that cigarettes being exported to Third World countries contain nicotine tars two to four times more dangerous than those sold in the West. Can the Minister advise the Senate whether the multinational cigarette manufacturers in Australia are manufacturing and exporting such cigarettes?
– I will refer that question to the Minister for Trade and Resources and seek an early response from him.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. Is it a fact that Radio Australia has exceeded its budget expectations by $215,000 as a result of the cost of replying to an enormous number of letters from listeners in China? Will this lead to a reduction in broadcasts? If so, will this be one of the few occasions on which austerity measures adopted by a free government have achieved what jamming of broadcasts in target countries once largely failed to do?
– Some time ago I was asked a question on this matter by another Western Australian senator, Senator Mcintosh. At that time, I think, I ventured the answer that I thought Radio Australia could simply reply to some of its correspondents by referring to them over the radio. However, I have since made further inquiries and ascertained that Radio Australia is taking a rather more conscientious approach than I had advocated and is in fact trying to respond to the many thousands of Chinese people who have been writing to it about the broadcasts. I am happy to be able to assure Senator Rocher that the difficulties which Radio Australia has had because of the enormous amount of correspondence will not require any cuts to be made in transmission or programming, so that although there have been administrative difficulties for Radio Australia, it has ensured that the economies it has had to effect have not related to the all important matter of producing the broadcasts. I can put the honourable senator’s mind at rest with respect to that matter.
I think it is worth noting the tremendous effect that Radio Australia seems to be having. In 1 978. 24 letters were received from Chinese listeners to Radio Australia. As all honourable senators would know, there have been considerable changes in the attitude within China to a number of matters since that time. Apparently, listening and writing to foreign broadcasters are now acceptable practices. As a result, in 1979 Radio Australia received 120,000 letters from Chinese listeners. This gave rise to the problem to which the honourable senator has referred. Twelve Indo-Chinese refugees were employed last October to answer the mail. Nearly 100,000 letters have gone out in reply. 1 think we would all take great satisfaction from the outstanding success that Radio Australia’s broadcasts appear to be having in China. The Government appreciates the importance of the broadcasts and recently announced plans for extensive broadcasts of English lessons to China following the full restoration of Radio Australia facilities. The Minister, who has been faced with the problems that Radio Australia has had with respect to budgeting, has previously indicated his willingness to consider a submission from the Australian Broadcasting Commission on matters relating to funding and the Commission’s overall ability to provide its services. The Government would not wish to see the success of these China broadcasts jeopardised. The Minister remains open to any submission on the matter that may be put before him.
– I address my question to the Attorney-General. I refer to a request to the Attorney-General by the Parks Legal Service at Angle Park, South Australia, for funding on an on-going basis. Has the Attorney-General received correspondence from the Service making this request, together with a request for extended funding? Is the Attorney-General aware of the uncertainty caused to the clients of the Service as well as to the Parks administration community by yearly funding. Is he also aware of the fact that the Service caters for an immense and long-existing need of the area? Finally, as the Attorney-General is in a position to make an early announcement, will he do so to ensure the continuing viability of the Service?
– I am aware of the work of the Parks Legal Service to which Senator Elstob refers in his question, as indeed I am aware of a number of voluntary legal aid services that have been established in recent years. They have been established particularly in the major citiesMelbourne and Sydney- but certainly there are also those established in other cities, including Adelaide, where the Parks service operates. The Commonwealth Government has taken an interest in this development because it is an important innovative method of delivering legal aid. Its importance lies in the fact that it seems to be able to attract a great deal of voluntary effort, not just by lawyers but also by other people who can help and who do help. It is interesting to note the extent to which lay help can be utilised in this exercise or partnership in the legal aid area.
For several years the Government has given some assistance by grants from the Budget to certain bodies, but they have been few in number. In the Budget for the current year, the Government provided an amount of $175,000 to be disbursed in, I think, a much more satisfactory way to these bodies. This was the first time that the Government had formally established a general policy of giving some assistance to these legal aid bodies. As I said previously, this assistance had been directed to individual bodies.
I gave to the Australian Legal Aid Office the responsibility for recommending the way in which this money was to be disbursed. The Commission investigated a number of these bodies. It called for applications and certainly a large number of applications came in. The Legal Aid Office did a good job of investigating these matters and recommending the basis on which these grants should be made. That amount of $175,000 has been earmarked as a result of these recommendations and I think that most of it has been disbursed. It is all committed for the current year.
The question of the disbursement of this money in future years, of course, will depend on the Budget decisions. However, the Government, by adopting the policy it has in the present Budget, has indicated an intention to assist these bodies. But the amount that can be paid to any body in any particular year will depend upon the Budget allocation. I am aware that requests are coming forward for the next year. I am aware also of the concern that is felt by bodies as to how much they will receive in the coming year. But I regret to say that these decisions about funding for next year cannot be made until the Budget decisions are made. They are being looked at in the Budget context, and certainly they will be looked at sympathetically.
-Has the attention of the Minister representing the Treasurer been directed to an article in the National Times in which the International Tax Planning Association invites the public to a weekend conference in Cannes to discuss tax avoidance topics such as practical considerations in establishing and conducting tax haven operations? Is the claim correct that Australian professional and businessmen, and their wives of course, will be entitled to claim a first class return air fare to Cannes, the registration fee of $600, and expenses as legitimate tax deductions, in order to glean further avenues of tax avoidance?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEIt is an interesting question and I am able to assure the Senate that the article came to the notice of the Treasurer. I am advised that income tax deductions for expenses incurred in attending conventions are allowable only when it is established that they were incurred in gaining or producing assessable income, or in carrying on a business for the purpose of gaining such income and are not of a capital, private, or domesticnature. In the present case, deductions would be allowable only to taxpayers who derive assessable income from giving advice to others in tax planning matters. No deduction would be allowable for fares or other expenses attributable to a wife, or for any other private expenses such as sightseeing or a taxpayer’s own personal tax planning. Perhaps Senator Georges, who is seeking to interject, can glean from that answer that unless he were in the business of advising others in tax planning he could not claim his own expenses for attendance at that conference.
-I refer the Minister representing the Prime Minister to an article which appeared under the by-line of KingsburySmith, the national editor of the Hearst newspapers, in the San Antonio Light of 26 February 1980. The article reports on an interview between Mr Kingsbury-Smith and the Prime Minister of Australia. In the article, Mr Kingsbury-Smith points out that the Anzus Pact does not refer to the Indian Ocean but to the Pacific area, and that the commitments under the ANZUS pact relate to the Pacific area. Mr Kingsbury-Smith, pointing out that Australia’s west coast borders on the Indian Ocean, states:
Fraser made it clear he considers the security zone of the ANZUS pact to extend to that entire ocean right up to the Arabian Sea.
In view of the previous questions I have asked on this matter and the answers which have been given by Senator Durack, I ask whether that is a correct report of what the Prime Minister said.
-I provided an answer from the Prime Minister to the Senate on Tuesday in relation to a question from Senator Chipp on this matter. I have no particular information to add to that as a result of any light that might be said to have been shed on the matter by this newspaper, the San Antonio Light, from which Senator Button has quoted. I will refer the question to the Prime Minister and endeavour to see whether any further comment is required.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. What progress has been made in the development of training courses for Aboriginal teacher aides? Is there adequate financial provision to implement courses at an early stage, has a satisfactory curriculum now been developed and will the arrangements for the courses meet the special needs and circumstances of Aboriginal communities and of those Aboriginal persons with most potential to be teacher aides? Finally, can the Minister assure me that the Pitjantjatjara communities of South Australia have full access to the best teacher aide training available.
– There is substantial teacher aide employment around Australia. About 580 aides are employed in the different States and the Northern Territory as a result of finance directly provided by the Commonwealth Government, through the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. However, some States employ additional aides. Queensland provides substantial additional numbers from its own resources. There is some employment of aides by other States. Associated with those grants from my Department are grants which relate to the training of teacher aides. There are grants for $40,000 and $98,000 to Queensland and South Australia respectively for special curriculum development projects. In fact, as in most educational areas there is a variety of training programs around the States which are generally based on in-service course work conducted either locally or at some central training place.
Some States have developed career structures for training teacher aides and also there are some support schemes attached to tertiary institutions to assist aides who wish to undertake formal teacher training courses; in other words, there are some provisions for moving from teacher aide to full teaching qualifications. The training varies from State to State and obviously there are some variations in the degree of effectiveness from State to State. The design and monitoring of the training are undertaken with the participation of Aboriginal consultative groups which advise State education authorities on all aspects of education programs for Aboriginals. The national inquiry into teacher education, which will be receiving submissions from the Commonwealth Department of Education and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs as well as from the National Aboriginal Education Committee, is likely to make recommendations on the needs and future strategies in this area.
Special arrangements for teacher aide training associated with the Pitjantjatjara community education services include the provision of a special co-ordinator and in-service training personnel as well as proposals for a Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal school assistant training scheme to begin in 1981. The South Australia Department of Education has adopted as official departmental policy a report by Dr Penny entitled ‘The Training of Pitjantjatjara Aborigines for greater teaching responsibilities in South Australian Schools’, one strategy being to offer a three-year course in training leading to a classification as a tribal Aboriginal teacher. Graduates of this course will be available for regular employment as teachers within the State education system. Bearing in mind that Aboriginal children are also scattered throughout the State school system, I think it is encouraging that, quite apart from the large number of teacher aides, something like 260 Aboriginals are now training to be teachers- that is, full teachers. I think that the very considerable increase in the number of Aboriginal people offering for teacher training over the past four or five years is likely to be very beneficial to the substantially increased number of Aboriginal children going to both primary and secondary school.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral: Is it a fact that the High Court Act, which was passed through both Houses of this Parliament, placing the administration of the High Court into the hands of the High Court as a whole, has not yet been proclaimed? If that is so, why has the proclamation been delayed? Does this mean that decisions relating to the new High Court building are still being exercised by the Attorney-General’s Department, thus, in effect, on the sole advice of the Chief Justice, thereby depriving his fellow judges the opportunity to participate in decisions affecting the new High Court building and other matters?
– It is a fact that the High Court Act has not yet been proclaimed. A number of matters have to be attended to before proclamation can be made because once proclamation is made the whole of the administration will be transferred to the High Court. A number of financial and administrative matters have to be resolved to enable a smooth transfer. However, that has not prevented matters from proceeding towards the appointment of a clerk and other staff. Discussions have been held with the Chief Justice. I have had discussions not only with the Chief Justice but also with the puisne judges of the court. In relation to the timing of the proclamation, I am aware that the Court does desire to have the Act proclaimed as soon as possible. We are now looking at an early date for its proclamation, possible early in April. However, I have not yet heard of the final date. But it is a fact that the necessary administrative matters are proceeding. I hope that there will not be any problems in the transfer of power from my Department to the High Court.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs: Has he had drawn to his attention a letter from a Mrs Beverley Cains, a member of the House of Assembly in the Australian Capital Territory, on the subject of the National Women’s Advisory Council conference which was held in Canberra on 6 and 7 March? Is the Minister aware that the letter contains a statement that 73 delegates were appointed by the National Women’s Advisory Council? Does he agree that part of the tone of the letter indicates that selection- in Mrs Cains ‘ words, the delegates were ‘carefully selected’indicated views which Mrs Cains later described as radical? Is it true that that was a basis of selection? What was the basis of selection for the additional delegates to the women’s conference and who selected them?
-I have just had my attention drawn to the letter from Mrs Cains regarding the national conference of women and her doubts as to the selection and composition of the National Women ‘s Advisory Council. I can give the honourable senator some of the details of the establishment of that Council. I am advised that the delegates included 73 elected or selected by the State and regional conferences and 60 delegates-at-large selected by the National Women’s Advisory Council on the basis of relevant expertise and experience or as representatives of women with special needs, such as young women, migrant women, Aboriginal women, women living in isolated and rural areas and disabled women. In addition, the Minister for
Home Affairs nominated seven delegatesatlarge with particular expertise. The appointment of the delegates-at-large ensured that the broadest possible range of views was represented at the conference.
The national conference considered a revised draft plan of action which took into account the weight of opinion expressed by women through resolutions passed at the State and regional conferences and in written submissions. The National Women’s Advisory Council has undertaken to submit to the Government the final version of the plan as agreed by the conference. The Government will take the recommendations of the plan into account in setting Australia’s objectives for the second half of the United Nations Decade for Women and in the preparation of the brief for the Australian delegation to the world conference for the United Nations Decade for Women to be held in Copenhagen in July 1980. Those details are referable to the composition of that body. I cannot at this stage comment on the propositions that have emanated from the conference, but I trust that those comments, at least in part, answer the honourable senator’s question.
– Is the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs aware that the Adnjamathanha Land Rights Committee has been endeavouring to obtain finance to purchase Balcanoona station, which is an area adjacent to the Nepabunna community? Can the Minister inform the Parliament whether any action has been taken to date? If not, is assistance likely to be given to the Adnjamathanha Land Rights Commission in order to enable it to purchase the property?
-As the honourable senator would know, being a devotee of Aboriginal affairs, land purchases are in the hands of the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission, which is headed by Dr Rowley. That Commission is substantially independent in its operations. If the honourable senator examines the last annual report, which was tabled in the Parliament recently, he will see that, much to the pleasure of the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission, I altered the directive at the end of the last financial year to give the Commission much greater autonomy with respect to purchases. The only area in which the Commission is now required to consult me with respect to purchases is the purchase of pastoral leases. The reason for that, as has been indicated on other occasions, is that at the political level there is still some sensitivity about those purchases.
All that is to explain that I do not have immediate information on the priority which has been afforded any particular applications for the purchase of land. I saw Dr Rowley yesterday. He told me that the Commission’s program for the year was well advanced, but we did not get down to the level of detail which would enable me to answer the question immediately. I will refer it to the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and suggest that it might let the honourable senator have a reply direct since it is an independent body. No doubt the honourable senator will raise the matter with me again if he is not satisfied with the reply.
-I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry to the Government’s decision of 13 November 1979 and recent statements relating to the lifting of bans on the export of kangaroo meat for human consumption. Whilst I realise that rapidly growing kangaroo populations have been causing heavy financial losses to farmers over the past few years, I ask the Minister: Will the culling of the kangaroo mobs be subjected to some form of supervision? What measures will be taken by the Government to ensure that the shooting of the marsupials is regulated? Is the Minister aware of the claims by the Kangaroo Protection Committee that offering commercial incentives will mean a serious diminution of the marsupial population in Australia? Will he comment on these claims and, in doing so, inform the Senate what controls will be enforced by the Government to ensure that commercialisation does not result in the excessive diminution of this unique marsupial?
– I am aware of the problems that surround the kangaroo population in Australia and the need to preserve the kangaroo as a typical Australian animal. I am also aware of the extreme problems that an over-population of kangaroos brings to many parts of this country. I shall refer the details of the question regarding the control of the kangaroo population to the Minister concerned to get a detailed answer for the honourable senator. Commercial incentives may conceivably be a simpler way to control the population of kangaroos than for the mammals to be slaughtered at random because of the extreme danger to many parts of Australia through the over-population that presently is obvious. I shall refer the honourable senator’s question, which is an important one, to the Minister concerned and get a final reply.
– I ask the Attorney-General a question about a matter on which Senator Button and I have been pursuing him for the last several days. I do not rely for the source of my question on the San Antonio Light. I rely on the words of the Prime Minister himself in an answer he gave to Mr Howe in the House of Representatives yesterday to a question on the ANZUS Treaty and on whether the Prime Minister gave in his interview to the Hearst people a reinterpretation of the ANZUS Treaty. According to Mr Fraser’s answer yesterday he said to Mr Hearst:
There isn’t the slightest doubt in Australia’s mind that any commitments under ANZUS we’d meet absolutely. And I have no doubt in my mind that the United States would meet any commitments under ANZUS for its pan.
In his answer in the House of Representatives the Prime Minister then said:
The use of the word ‘absolutely ‘ relates very specifically to commitments under ANZUS. Mr Hearst then asked:
Right. But the ANZUS security zone doesn’t extend to the Indian Ocean, does it?
To which I answered:
Oh, but it extends to Australia and I have pointed that out before in this sort of discussion. Australia extends out into the Indian Ocean.
The Prime Minister concluded:
That obviously gives ANZUS a relevance in relation to that-
It is that last statement about which I want to ask the Attorney-General a question. The statement That obviously gives ANZUS a relevance in relation to that’ means that part of the Indian Ocean. I ask whether the Attorney-General is able to reconcile the Prime Minister’s answer that he provided to me in the Senate on 18 March in which the Prime Minister stated:
When the question of ANZUS’ application to the Indian Ocean was raised, I referred to Australia’s location adjacent to the Indian Ocean; reference to this geographical fact -
– Please put your question, Senator.
-The Prime Minister said: reference to this geographical fact does not carry the implication suggested in the honourable senator’s question.
I ask the Attorney-General: Is that not a direct contradiction?
– I do not believe for one minute that there is a direct contradiction. Senator Chipp has sought to argue at some length in his question a point which was argued in the Senate on Tuesday, not only when I provided an answer to his earlier question but also in a debate that occurred subsequently. In reading the Prime Minister’s answer I emphasised that the ANZUS Treaty applied to Australia and that the Prime Minister had said that a very substantial part of Australia borders the Indian Ocean. As a matter of common sense, there must be some application of the ANZUS Treaty in the Indian Ocean in relation to the defence of Australia. The question that was raised- Senator Chipp has now raised it again- related to a report in the San Antonio Light on how far the ANZUS Treaty extends into the Indian Ocean. The previous questions were asked on the basis that it extended right into the Arabian Sea, and so on. I do not believe that what the Prime Minister said yesterday could be interpreted in any way to be in contradiction to what I said on his behalf or what he provided in answer to Senator Chipp ‘s question on Tuesday. However, Senator Chipp has raised the matter again and I will again refer the matter to the Prime Minister to see whether he wishes to add anything to it.
– Is the Minister aware of reports that the Queensland Government will investigate complaints that tertiary students are being coerced into joining student unions? What steps have been taken by the Federal Government to encourage State legislation similar to the very successful Australian National University Amendment Bill to prevent compulsory payments to national student bodies by students under State jurisdiction? What has been the response of the Queensland Government?
-When Senator Carrick was Minister for Education he made very clear the Government’s views on this matter generally, although we have the power specifically to legislate with respect only to the ternary education institutions in the Australian Capital Territory. That has been done. There is a wider concern on the part of the Government, and Senator Carrick, when Minister for Education, made that clear. Senator MacGibbon has asked specifically what steps the Government has taken. I will refer that question to the present Minister for Education. I am not aware of any specific steps that he has taken so I shall ask him to provide a detailed response.
– Is the
Minister representing the Minister for Primary
Industry aware that the New South Wales Department of Agriculture has indicated that plantings of maize in that State in this financial year 1979-80 will be the lowest for more than 100 years? Is it a fact that dry conditions have been outlined as the principal reason for the very low crop? Is the Minister aware that this serious position of the New South Wales maize growers follows on the Federal Government’s decision to block the sale of 25,000 tonnes of maize to the Soviet Union, costing New South Wales growers something like Sim and also costing many workers jobs in the industry? Why was maize singled out as the only primary product to have a boycott placed on it regarding sales to the Soviet Union? Why has the Government decided not to extend any recompense or compensation to the New South Wales growers?
– I was not aware that the maize plantings for 1 979-80 in New South Wales will be the lowest for 100 years. As the plantings would not in many cases be complete I would assume that that figure has yet to be proven. Regrettably it could apply to a whole range of grain production in New South Wales which, in common with some other parts of Australia, is in the grip of a very severe drought. I am aware of the serious position of the maize growers referred to by the honourable senator. His particular concern was the 25,000 tonnes of maize which was not permitted to be exported to the Soviet Union because of Government policy in relation to the invasion of Afghanistan.
The circumstances, as I recall them, about the 25,000 tonnes of maize were related to two things. In the first place, the sale was made after the date which was the cut-off line, which may well have been about 23 January. 1 understand that this sale was on 30 January. Consequently it was beyond the cut-off point. The other more significant thing is that the Government decided that sales of coarse grains would be permitted relative to their history over the previous years. In the case of corn, as I recall, there had been no history of sales to the Soviet Union for something like 10 years. That was also certainly relevant to the decision. Those are the basic circumstances that apply to the sale that was mentioned by Senator McClelland. There is no doubt that if the maize growers who have lost this particular sale were unable to sell their maize in other markets successfully and were able to establish a real measure of loss, the Government would be looking at the question of compensation.
– My question is also directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry and it is about the wool handling dispute. Can the Minister tell us whether it is a fact that on two occasions the National Farmers Federation has approached the Federal Opposition for assistance in the settlement of this wool handling dispute and that on both occasions the Opposition has refused.
– How would he know?
– Questions must be within the area of responsibility of the Minister. I will pass it on to him.
– I can only say in answer to that question and in answer to the question from the opposite side of the chamber that I am not privy to what the National Farmers Federation may or may not have been asking the Australian Labor Party. I would hope that both the National Farmers Federation and the Australian Labor Party would be very keen indeed to solve a disastrous situation in one of Australia ‘s most basic industries.
– Is the Attorney-General concerned about the disappearance in Wellington of a brief case containing the working papers for the current Australia-New Zealand talks? Will he inform the Senate about the security arrangements observed by delegates to similar international meetings? What measures need to be taken to prevent the recurrence of a similar potentially embarrassing situation?
– The question of the security of papers is an important one. The report of the disappearance of such papers is a matter of concern. I certainly do not propose to inform the Senate of the security arrangements or the inquiries that have been made in relation to the matter. To do so would be quite contrary to the stance that the Government takes in relation to these matters.
-Will the Minister representing the Minister for Industry and Commerce advise the Parliament of the anticipated date of presentation to the Government of the final report of the Industries Assistance Commission on the clothing, textile and footwear industries? In view of the uncertainty within the industry and in view of the need for an early decision, when can we expect a Government response? In responding, will the Government recognise employment generated by the industry and the fact that substantial restructuring has already taken place?
– I did have a note here somewhere about the report which the honourable senator mentions and which I think is relevant to the question he asked yesterday. I have sought information in reply. My understanding is that the report should be available shortly, and of course the Government will be considering all factors of the kinds which have been raised by the honourable senator. In considering these reports the Government is obliged to consider all matters which impinge on the national interest, and that involves the sum of all the local interests. As the honourable senator will be aware, extensive submissions are made to the Industries Assistance Commission by particular interests of the sort to which he has referred, and I am sure that those submissions would be available to him. I will keep searching through this mass of paper, and if I can find the answer to the question the honourable senator asked yesterday it may enable me to give him a more precise response to the question he has asked today.
– My question, which is directed to the Attorney-General, follows the question asked earlier by Senator Button. I remind the Attorney-General that the High Court of Australia is determining the constitutionality of the Act which bans interstate trade in wheat and that if the Commonwealth either repealed or amended the wheat marketing legislation, interstate trade would not be banned. Does the Government contemplate amending the Act in that way? If not, can the Attorney-General explain why the Government argues in one court to protect the right of individuals to trade freely but opposes that right in another court? Is the Government’s highly principled commitment to the protection of individual trading rights a function of how many votes it thinks can be won or lost?
– In answer to the question asked by Senator Button, I mentioned that the wheat industry stabilisation scheme is of 30 years’ standing and is supported widely within the industry and by political parties in this country. In the latest wheat stabilisation scheme the Government has given recognition to individual traders’ interests. Although I am not as familiar with it as Senator Walsh, I think this is the first time that that has been recognised. The
Government has endeavoured there to reconcile the interests of the industry as a whole with the interests of some traders.
– Why don’t you stabilise the oil industry in the same way?
-That is the Government ‘s object in calling together all parties to the dispute in the oil industry. The Government hopes that some attempt will be made to ensure that everybody’s rights are observed. The great problem is that it appeared that the rights of one of the major parties to the dispute had not been considered, and that is what the Government’s concern is primarily about. I do not have anything further to add to the answer I gave Senator Button earlier in relation to this matter. Whatever the decision of the High Court of Australia, there still may be a question of review of the Act or some aspects of it.
-by leave-In a newspaper article, I think in the Sydney SunHerald, on 16 March the following news item appeared under the heading ‘ Senators ‘ service ‘:
An aircraft carrying three Australian senators was stopped by engine trouble from leaving Manila at 1.15 one recent morning. The senators telephoned the Australian Embassy and demanded an escort back to their hotel, where they were safely tucked in bed. An Aussie female psychiatric patient, on the other hand, had to find her own way back into the city.
The facts are that there were two and not three Australian senators on that aircraft. The engine broke down at 10.15 p.m., not 1.15 a.m. At about 1.15 a.m. Australian Embassy staff were contacted by telephone and requested- not demanded- to come and give some assistance. The staff, immediately on arrival at the Manila airport, made it their first item of business to check on the whereabouts of the psychiatric patient. They did not leave the airport until such time as they were assured that she had been cared for by the staff of the airline concerned.
-I crave the indulgence of the Senate, having been misrepresented, to make a personal explanation, under Standing Order 408. A report issued on 6 March on behalf of the Western Australian Liberal senators and members and prepared for the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party by Senator Chris Puplick of New South Wales states:
On the adjournment Labor Senator O ‘Byrne launched another vicious attack on Tasmania’s Independent Senator Harradine over an internal union dispute in that State. Needless to say this provoked quite a reply from the latter senator.
The fact of the matter is that on 5 March I raised the matter by saying to the Senate:
I would like to close off that little part of the Senate debate by reading from the Mercury of Saturday, 1 March 1980. Under the heading ‘TTLC returns training funds to State’ it reads:
The Tasmanian Trades and Labor Council has returned $44,000 in trade union training funds to the State Government.
The money is the balance of unspent grants totalling $55,000 to the trade union movement for trade union training- an issue which has for a long time caused allegations in union circles of secret funds.
Criticism of the TTLC started when . . . unionists pointed out that the grant money had not been appearing on the council’s financial statements.
Since then there has been a good deal of outrage expressed, and a report on the money was made by the Auditor-General.
Because the money had not been spent on the purpose for which it was intended, the State Government asked for it to be returned.
Yesterday the Minister for Education, Mr Holgate, announced that the TTLC had returned the $44,327.
He said the cheque for the amount had been delivered to his office yesterday from the TTLC secretary, Mr Bob Watling.
The Minister said the Southern regional superintendent of further education, Mr Frank McMahon, had made recommendations to him on the Government’s proposal to use the money.
He has suggested that two trade union training films should be made by the Tasmanian Film Corporation.
One of the recommended films is a major educational project dealing with the role of the trade unions in our community, and the other deals with Tasmania’s unique industrial boards system, said Mr Holgate.
Mr Holgate said he had written to Mr Watling to advise him of the recommendations.
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. I understand that the honourable senator is making a personal explanation, claiming to have been misrepresented. It is a fairly long explanation. Could he indicate to us how he has been misrepresented?
-Misrepresentation is the basis on which he is speaking.
– That is the whole basis on which I am speaking. I had to give that preface so that the Senate would be acquainted with the attack that has been made on me by what is known in some circles as the ‘Puplicher Beobachter’. It is one of those publications that is not very well accepted other than by a few fanatics. I conclude by repeating what I said to the Senate:
I feel that I have been justified in raising the matter. The money has been returned to the State Government. The allegations that I was a humbug and other things are incorrect. This matter, as far as I am concerned, has been ruled off.
That was what I said to the Senate to tidy up an issue that has been running for so long. I did not, as Senator Puplick said, make ‘another vicious attack’ on an honourable senator. I was completely misrepresented by him. I feel that I should have an apology from him for having distributed this literature in a publication which is circulated in the community.
-I seek leave to make a personal explanation. I claim to have been misrepresented.
– I would not have sought to make this explanation had it not been for the fact that we have just witnessed another example of the long running attempt by Senator O ‘Byrne to besmear the names of persons in my State without any foundation whatsoever. Mr President, let me give you the facts.
– Order ! Senator Harradine, you must state how you have been misrepresented.
– The President, let me give you the facts on how I have been misrepresented.
– It is in order if you indicate that in your presentation.
– The facts of the matter are that if Senator Puplick has made the statement that it was a specific attack only against me, that is a misrepresentation. In fact, it was not an attack specifically against me; it was an attack against the trade union movement in my State. For Senator Puplick to say that naturally I responded only in my own defence is a gross misrepresentation. I responded on that occasion against the attack on the trade union movement and the very worthwhile trade union training program that had been conduced in my State. There was no entitlement on the part of the Tasmanian Trades and Labour Council to pay back the money to the Government. Those funds were audited and given a clean bill of health by the Auditor-General. That is the position and it remains the position. What Senator O’Byrne did not include in his reply was that on that particular occasion he accused persons virtually of thieving money. He did not say what we knew, that on that particular occasion he was required to withdraw that allegation, and he did so.
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEDuring Question Time today Senator Colston asked me a question regarding payments of veterans’ affairs pensions. I undertook to get some information for him. I am now able to advise him that as far as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is concerned, existing arrangements for repatriation pensions provide for two methods of payment, either fortnightly in advance by cheque or 12 weekly in arrears by direct deposit to a nominated account in a bank, building society or credit union. The facility of having a pension paid to a bank account on a 12 weekly basis has been available to repatriation pensioners for many years.
In view of arrangements currently under way to upgrade the Department of Veterans’ Affairs computer capability, consideration is being given to the possibility of paying pensions fortnightly to accounts in banks, building societies and credit unions. The introduction of such fortnightly payments would increase costs considerably as a result of bank charges for handling these transactions. However, I wanted to let Senator Colston and the Senate know that the matter is under review and I will advise him as soon as any decision is made on this matter.
-Yesterday Senator Bishop asked me a question about offset requirements relating to the proposed purchase of Boeing aircraft by Ansett Airlines of Australia. I gave him a reply in general terms that I thought the same conditions would be imposed. I have since had further information from the relevant Minister. The Minister, in welcoming the Ansett announcement to purchase 2 1 new generation jet aircraft from Boeing, confirmed that it is the Government’s intention to secure offsets against the purchase in conformity with the accepted policy of achieving work for our aircraft industry equalling 30 per cent of the cost of the aircraft. It is expected that the offset work will be placed with the Australian firms over a period of about 10 years, thus providing an opportunity for .the industry to adjust to the pressures that will arise with the additional work from Airbus and Boeing. There is no doubt in the Government’s mind that the industry will be able to diversify and cope with the extra work, which will bring about an improvement in our technological expertise and provide more secure tenure of employment for people in the industry.
-Yesterday Senator Watson asked me a question in relation to the Industries Assistance Commission. He touched on similar matters in a question he asked me today. I have an answer which has been provided to me by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. It is fairly long, and I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard.
The document read as follows-
The President of the National Farmers’ Federation NFF Mr Don Eckersley, said today that if the present level of protection to the textile, clothing and footwear industries was continued it would be to the detriment of every Australian. Mr Eckersley was commenting following the release of an NFF policy paper on protection to the textile, clothing and footwear industries entitled, ‘For Australia’s Protection: Lower Protection. ‘ The paper has been sent to all Federal parliamentarians and also circulated widely throughout Australia. Mr Eckersley said it was the opinion of the NFF that if the current moves by the textile, clothing and footware lobby to retain the present level of protection were successful, employment opportunities for over 500,000 people, especially in manufacturing industry and related areas, would be foregone.
The IAC is currently preparing a final report for the Government on the future level of protection that should be given to the textile, clothing and footwear industries. Mr Eckersley said when the Government made its decisions it would be deciding the future direction not just of the textile, clothing and footwear industries but of Australian industry overall. He said the coming decisions would provide a litmus test of the Government’s repeatedly stressed industry objectives. ‘They will be the moment of truth’. Mr Eckersley said decisive Government action must now be taken if Australia was to become an economic force in the Asian region and also in other parts of the world.
-Yesterday Senator Colston asked me a question concerning the employment of Aboriginals under the Community Development Employment Projects Scheme at Mornington Island. I gave him a fair amount of information and I agreed to seek some more. I would now like to advise the Senate that the CDEP Scheme was due to commence at Mornington Island on 1 March. However, this date has been delayed until 3 1 March 1 980 at the request of the Shire Clerk, who I assume was acting as agent for the Council. I confirm that the hourly rate paid under the CDEP Scheme is comparable to award rates of pay. The rates payable are determined by the Council upon the advice of the Department of Employment and
Youth Affairs. As I mentioned in my reply yesterday, there is flexibility in the number of hours worked by individuals depending upon their own inclination. The level of funding provided for the CDEP scheme at Mornington Island in 1979- 80 is $191,509 based on the original commencement date of 1 March. Provision has been made in the forward estimates of $585,792 in 1980- 81.
– Yesterday Senator Keeffe asked a question relating to award wages for Aborigines. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard an answer which will clarify the information which I gave the honourable senator yesterday.
The answer reads as follows-
The meetings of the parties to the dispute over award wages payments on reserves in Queensland are private. However I understand the carrying out of a survey of employment on reserves by DAIA was one of the terms of the agreement reached between the AWU and DAIA when they met before the Queensland Industrial Commission on 6 August 1979. The original estimate of time for the survey’s completion was six months but this proved impossible. Extensions of time for completion have been agreed to by the Commission with the consent of the AWU, the latest on the 6 March at a hearing before Commissioner Ledlie. I understand that DAIA reported at the last hearing that it had all but completed the survey the result of which would be available shortly.
No date was set for the next hearing but I understand that a date is being discussed by the parties. The payment of award wages generally on reserves in Queensland is dependent upon completion of the survey, which appears now to be in sight. The complexity of the task of carrying out a survey of the kind undertaken by DAIA has been acknowledged by all parties and my own Departmental officers in Queensland.
-On Tuesday, 18 March, Senator McLaren asked me about Telecom permitting the ANZ Bank to put slips into pay envelopes. I have from the Minister for Post and Telecommunications an explanation about the role of the Commonwealth Bank, which is also involved, and as it is a lengthy answer I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.
The answer reads as follows-
Telecom Australia has recently undertaken a campaign to encourage staff to have their fortnightly salary credited to a bank account. This mode of payment is favoured by Telecom as it eliminates the security risks associated with dispersal of large cash payrolls and is the most cost effective distribution method.
Most major Banks have become aware of the campaign and both the ANZ and the Commonwealth Banks approached Telecom’s South Australian Administration proposing internal distribution of material publicising facilities offered by their respective Banks. In the interests of furthering the campaign South Australia local management offered pay envelope insert and notice board display facilities to both Banks.
The ANZ Bank opted for envelope inserts and was able to provide the necessary material promptly resulting in distribution to Telecom staff on payday Thursday 13 March. The Commonwealth Bank, however, elected to utilise the notice board display facility and it is understood material will be available for display shortly.
The type of material distributed was screened by Telecom before acceptance and amended by the Banks where necessary. The method of distribution was purely a matter of choice by the Bank involved.
Senator DURACK (Western AustraliaAttorneyGeneral) For the information of honourable senators I present the Australian summary of the principal conclusions of the report of the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation- INFCE- together with the text of a statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs relating to the summary.
-by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– Pursuant to section 30 (3) of the Honey Industry Act 1962 I present the Annual Report of the Australian Honey Board 1978-79.
-by leave- I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Motion (by Senator Durack) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a first time.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives with amendments.
Consideration of House of Representatives amendments.
House of Representatives amendment No. 1 -
Clause 3, page 2, at the end of the definition of ‘Covenant’ add ‘, as that Covenant would have effect if it were amended-
by adding after the words ‘human person’ in the second recital the words ‘ before as well as after birth ‘;
by inserting in paragraph1. of Article 2 after the words ‘the rights’ the words ‘including those of the child before as well as after birth ‘;
by adding at the end of paragraph1. of Article 2 the words ‘, including mental and physical handicap’; and
by inserting after the word ‘life’ (first occurring) in paragraph 1. of Article 6 the words ‘before as well as afterbirth’ ‘.
House of Representatives amendment No. 2-
Clause 3, page 2, at the end of the definition of ‘human rights’ add ‘and includes human rights before birth ‘.
– I move:
The House of Representatives has sent the Human Rights Commission Bill 1979 back to this chamber with two suggested amendments to clause 3. The first amendment seeks to add words at the end of the definition of ‘Covenant’ which would require the Commission to read the Covenant at certain points as if it were amended as to include a provision that rights are to accrue before as well as after birth. The second amendment would have the effect of adding at the end of the definition of ‘human rights’ a reference to the fact that those rights include human rights before birth.
Although these amendments were not part of the Government’s original proposals and were not contained in the Bill sent to the House of
Representatives at the end of our sittings last year. I advise honourable senators that the Government is prepared to accept the amendments for the sake of the Bill. We regard it as of considerable importance to have the Human Rights Commission Bill placed on the statute book at an early date. Whilst I have indicated this general view of the Government, I immediately add that it has been decided also that Ministers and Government honourable senators are to be allowed a free vote, a conscience vote, on the issue. As in the House of Representatives, we recognise that the issues raised by the amendments go to matters of conscience and, as such, that each member should be free to vote according to his views.
Before indicating my view, it might help if I were to explain briefly the effect the amendments which are now before the Committee will have. Basically, the effect will be to require the Human Rights Commission, in measuring Commonwealth and Territory laws, Acts and practices against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to apply the Covenant as if it contained the words of the amendments. The same interpretation will be required of any other international human rights instrument which was declared to be a relevant international instrument for the purposes of the Bill. The amendments will not require the Commission to take the view that life begins at conception. However, it will be an important indicator to the Commission that, in the view of both Houses of Parliament, the unborn child is to be accorded appropriate rights.
There have been some suggestions that the amendments are not valid because their effect will be to amend an international covenant. That is not so. The amendments do not purport to alter international obligations under the Covenant. What they do is to require, for the purposes of the legislation, that certain of the provisions of the Covenant are given a particular interpretation. Nor do the amendments seek to incorporate interpretations which are contrary to the Covenant. During the debates leading to the adoption of the Covenant it was recognised that each country would decide how to interpret according to its own law, custom and practice the right to life as contained in Article 6.I add that it is not only in the right to life area that individual countries have been left free to adopt their own interpretations; another example is Article 23, which confers rights on men and women of marriageable age. It was agreed that both the age at marriage and the precise nature of marriage would need to be defined by each country according to its practice.
Another question is the effect the amendments would have on Commonwealth, State or Territory statute or common law. The Bill is stated specifically to apply only to Commonwealth laws and Territory laws other than those of the Northern Territory. But no laws will be changed, neither statute law nor common law, if the amendments are carried. The effect of the amendments, if carried, will be to require the Commission in appropriate cases to recognise that the unborn child is capable of having rights, to conciliate, to carry out research and to make recommendations with that in mind.
I add that the amendments do not solve all the problems which may arise. They are not the product of an exhaustive review of the Covenant. For example, they do not indicate all the provisions of the Covenant which are to include rights for the unborn child. Article 9 provides that no one is to be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention. A question may arise relating to the rights of an unborn child if the mother is arrested. In such cases, it will be the task of the Commission to resolve the difficult question of superior rights- whether the mother or the child in any case has prior right, or what rights the child has- and to make recommendations to the Government and the Parliament.
Another point which should be made is that paragraph (c) of the amendment No. 1 has the effect of adding to paragraph 1 of article 2 of the International Covenant, for the purposes of interpretation, the words ‘mental and physical handicap’. Strictly speaking, this part of the amendment is unnecessary. Article 2.1 requires that the rights recognised in the Covenant are to be respected and applied ‘without distinction of any kind’. Distinctions based on physical or mental handicap would accordingly appear to be proscribed without the need for the amendment. However, the amendment would certainly confirm the position of the physically and mentally handicapped as a group against whom there must be no discrimination and express to the Commission in binding form the Parliament’s particular concern with these unfortunate people.
Admittedly, the points I have raised suggest in some detail that the amendment may not be altogether satisfactory, but at the same time the functions of the Commission remain clear. The Commission is to receive complaints about Commonwealth and Territory law and acts and practices under that law, to conciliate where practicable and to report. It is to review Commonwealth and Territory law for inconsistency with the Covenant and to report. It is to conduct and promote research and educational activities in furtherance of human rights. In exercising these functions, the Commission will be required, if the amendment is adopted, to define and have regard to the rights of the unborn child. Where the law or practice needs changing the Commission -
– I raise a point of procedure. I do not wish to interrupt the Minister, but I wonder whether the Minister would be prepared to circulate the document from which he is reading. It is an important document. It is in the nature of a second reading speech. Perhaps copies could be circulated later.
-I will arrange for that to be done. I was saying that where the law of practice needs changing, the Commission will have no power to effect these changes itself. Its function will be to report with recommendations to the Minister and through him to Parliament. So the Commission will bring back to the Government and the Parliament the problems it has encountered in working out the implications of the amendment. The question raised by the amendments is whether the Parliament should embody in law the view that the rights given to persons under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and later proclaimed covenants, should in areas of Commonwealth concern extend to unborn children, or whether this is a matter that should be left to the Commission to investigate if and when the issues come before it and without any guidance from this Parliament.
That completes the statement that I wish to make as the Minister in charge of this Bill. I regret that I have not provided a copy of the statement to honourable senators, but I will arrange for it to be done quite quickly. I support the amendment made to the Human Rights Commission Bill by the House of Representatives not only for the reasons that I have stated, which could be said to be views expressed by me in order to support the Bill and to obtain an early passage of it, but also because my personal view is that the rights of an unborn child should be recognised. I believe that there has been progressive development of the law in recent years which gives recognition to the rights of the unborn child. I am aware that views expressed about the development of the law at this stage, may mean that the law falls short of the full and complete recognition of those rights which the amendments made by the House of Representatives accord. But that is not the point; the point is what is the view of the Parliament on the recognition of these matters.
I am also aware of the practical difficulties that may arise. I mentioned some of those in the earlier part of my comments in support of these amendments. I believe that there ought to be a recognition of human rights, perhaps in general terms as is proposed in the amendments. There will be problems associated with working out and applying those rights. I do not minimise those problems but I think that this is a satisfactory way of expressing the view of the Parliament. As has been pointed out, the amendments do not effect a change in the law as such. They do not create rights as such. They mean that laws and practices should be judged by reference to the general proposition that the unborn child has rights and that they should be protected in some way throughout the whole spectrum of the law wherever they may arise. The manner in which they are to be protected in the future will be assisted greatly by this approach.
I trust that the Human Rights Commission will be a body of great expertise and authority able to advise government and Parliament in respect of these matters in specific situations as they arise from time to time. I think that it is a most important and fundamental principle both morally and legally, on which the Parliament is now asked to express a view. I have no hesitation personally in expressing my support for that proposition.
– I did not wish to enter the debate at any length at this stage but in view of the fact that the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack) has given an indication of the position of Government senators in relation to this matter and also because I understand that other amendments are to be moved, I indicate that these are matters in respect of which Opposition senators will be exercising a free vote in this chamber. Apart from that, I do not wish to take any part in the debate at this stage.
– I oppose the motion which has been moved by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack). I will give reasons why I believe that it would be highly disastrous for the Senate to accept the amendments which have been presented to it by the House of Representatives. The amendments are known generally as the Simon amendments. With respect to Mr Simon, we know that he voted against them and urged that they should not be accepted. He hopes that they will not be accepted by this chamber.
– How did he come to do that?
– He had good reason for doing so. He felt bound to move the amendments. I have no criticism whatsoever of Mr Simon for doing that. Let us remember that the Human Rights Commission Bill passed through this chamber after we had considered all the aspects of the Bill and all the weaknesses which many of us saw in it. In the House of Representatives there has been no such real discussion. The debate became one on abortion. The Bill is a somewhat timid enforcement of the international covenant. It is very weak on enforcement but it is some attempt to look at our laws, Acts and practices to see whether they comply with the covenant. That has been lost sight of in the debate that has gone on in the House of Representatives. In one day members of the House of Representatives were able to vote against a proposal that we investigate State laws. On the same day the same people voted to extend the definition of human rights way beyond the covenant. I will come to that aspect later. It is a matter of grave constitutional doubt as to whether that can be effected.
There is now a campaign- most of the letters that have come to us have been in the same stereotype terms- suggesting that we should vote for the most ‘pro-life’ amendments, with no concept or understanding of what is involved in the Human Rights Commission Bill itself. We should look at the members of the House of Representatives who voted for the so-called Simon amendments. Unfortunately, they are mostly people who do not bother to belong to the parliamentary branch of the Amnesty International or any human rights organisation. They have not shown such an interest in the general area of human rights. I oppose these amendments and hope that they will be defeated. I give notice that if they are successful and become part of the Bill I will submit certain relevant and consequential amendments flowing from them. Under the Standing Orders, it is possible to do this. This is now a matter of conscience. Members of the House of Representatives have taken it upon themselves to decide that they should exercise a conscience vote on some parts of the Bill. I say that advisedly because it was not done with my knowledge. We are now entitled to do that ourselves in relation to these amendments and the consequential amendments which may follow. I therefore invite those honourable senators who voted for some amendments I moved in the previous debate in the Senate and which were nearly carried to try that again with their consciences working full time.
– We have to consider our consciences always.
– I am not talking about my conscience. I have a conscience on every human rights issue. I do not need any such declaration. As members of the Liberal Party, we have a right to decide. But we are required to tell our party if we intend to vote against a Bill or to amend a Government Bill. I do not remember members of the House of Representatives telling us that they would vote against a Government Bill in support of the amendments which are before us today. I refer to the amendment to allow the Commission to investigate State laws in connection with the by-passing of the Commission and also to provide for civil proceedings. If we are to widen the terms of human rights, let us widen the terms of the Bill to include those powers.
I object to the House of Representatives amendments because they are obscure, nonsensical and objectionable. They are obscure because they do not define what the human rights of the unborn are. The Attorney-General has told us that the amendments require the Commission to recognise that the unborn child can in certain circumstances have rights. What circumstances; what rights; how are they ascertained? How does the unborn child get around to taking action to protect those rights? I do not know. Is it a right to be born? Does this mean that the Commission is to be told- and the issue is prejudged- that it must respect the dogma and ideology of those who are entirely opposed to abortion? Is it to say that there is a right to be born and that a woman ‘s right to have an abortion in certain circumstances is to be wiped out? There is enormous confusion and obscurity. The amendments give a direction to the Commission. At the moment the Bill provides that the Commission can look at a specific matter and consider whether an unborn child has human rights. It is not out of the compass of the Commission. It can do so freely and openly. These amendments, if passed, will provide a direction from the Parliament, consisting mostly of men, to the Commission that unborn children have human rights. The law presently provides that a person can sue for injuries suffered by the embryo before birth. We know that that is a legal right which presently exists. But in respect of a human right before birth, who makes the application to the Commission? Is it the father of the child? Is it the local priest? Is it perhaps the interfering aunt or uncle who objects to the possible abortion? All such matters will go to the Commission.
– It is society.
– It is not society. Society has no way of doing that. It does not move in these matters. They are conducted by individuals. Perhaps the ‘Right to Life’ society will make the applications but not society itself. I suggest to those who put forward these amendments that they are doing a very dangerous thing in trying to foreclose this question. They should look at the opinion polls recently conducted on abortion. As reported in the Australian on 17 March, over 50 per cent of the people in Australia favour abortion on demand. Twenty one per cent say that it depends on the situation. My Victorian fellow members ought to bear in mind that the figure in Melbourne is 6 1 per cent compared with 41 per cent in Perth. The idea that a few letters indicate the views of the public is not correct. I am not a supporter of abortion on demand. But those who are constitute a very big part of the population of this country. These amendments are an interference. They tell people that they are not entitled to make up their own minds- that we will do that for them- and that the minds of the members of the Commission are to be made up.
Now the second, important question here is whether this amendment is valid constitutionally; whether this Bill, if it is amended in this way, will have validity so far as the Constitution is concerned. We know that there are limitations on the external affairs power of the Commonwealth Government and our legislative powers. We know that something has to be done, not just anything. This legislation can be used to implement an international covenant like this where it can be enforced. But the legislation must conform with the covenant although possibly not in every word. If the legislation is significantly added to or taken away from, it is not being conformed with, and therefore there is no power to legislate under the external affairs power of the Commonwealth Constitution. In the course of the debate on this matter in the House of Representatives, Mr Hodgman made a perfectly outrageous speech.
– That is not unusual.
- Mr Hodgman is sometimes on the ball but he was not this time, and he knew better than what he said at page 702 in Hansard of 5 March, in answer to a claim that the amendment might be out of order, as we cannot add to an international convention. He changed the point altogether and said that our laws can override international law. Of course they can, but we cannot do it unless we have powers to legislate on a constitutional basis. It is only one of the powers of the Commonwealth that can be used. He knows it as well as I do and so he was there misleading the people. He invited the Minister to dispute as a proposition of constitutional law that if we have power to take out parts of a covenant we also have power, for the purposes of domestic Australian law, to add to that covenant. That is particularly ridiculous because it is one thing for us not to have completely used our power and not used all the powers of the covenant, but it is another matter, if the powers are changed and added, to say that human rights will now be included before birth. As drafted that was left out of the covenant. After it was discussed in the United Nations Committee it was decided not to adopt that sort of amendment, one such as Senator Harradine proposes, to move into the covenant.
I believe it would be unconstitutional for us to widen the covenant to include human rights for the unborn. It could bring the whole Bill to the ground. There has been reference in the debate to the Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1959. This is not a declaration in force in this country and it is not one that is accepted in that way. It sets out some very sensible ideas in respect of children. The covenant has nothing to do with justifying constitutional human rights as was claimed in the debate in the House of Representatives. It says:
Of course there are legal protections and so forth before or after birth, but that does not say that there are human rights. It is not a covenant about human rights and it does not claim that such rights exist for children before birth. The third and major reason I object to this amendment is that it will probably have the effect of wrecking the Commission in its activities. Honourable senators will have no doubt that the people who write to us now will turn their attention to this matter and say: ‘Here, Commission, you are told and you must accept that there are human rights before birth. We will make these claims both in regard to abortions and in regard to laws of the Commonwealth which give grants to people or under health laws and so on’. We will have to watch the appointments to the Commission to find out whether those people appointed are life or anti-life or in between because that will be very important. When those members of the Commission report to the Attorney-General, the report will then come to this Parliament.
Honourable senators will month after month debate the subject of abortion and provide a forum which is divisive and useless because we may come here, debate the matter and accept the report but it will not change the law. That will take something different. The ire, worry and the animosity of the people in the community will be raised. The people who brought forward this amendment are mistaken in believing that this is the way to go about it. It will not do any good. Even the Australian Capital Territory Right to Life Association has relied upon the Royal Commission of Human Relationships for the meaning of ‘life’ and so on. It should properly have referred to the findings of that Commission, where it says, among other things:
In our view the abortion issue cannot be resolved by reference to a category of legal rights such as the right to be born. The assertion of any right has to be considered in the light of other competing or conflicting rights. In our present legal system legal rights attach to legal persons and an unborn child has no legal personality unless and until born alive. A child born alive may enforce claims of a retrospective kind. A stillborn child may not. The question whether abortion should be permissible and if so in what circumstances is of a different kind to the question whether the rights of a particular kind should attach to a living person. Abortion involves consideration of moral and social values as well as legal norms. To talk in terms of a right to be born does not advance the issue other than to emphasise the potential living person is destroyed in the termination of a pregnancy.
That and other statements in the Royal Commission report ought to have been used. It is a misuse to do what some of the advocates have done. I suggest that we avoid the trap and not do this by voting for the amendments. We do not concoct on our own say-so something called a right to be born, and eliminate for women their right to have an abortion if they so decide in the mature judgment which they make. We would give ourselves no end of trouble if we passed these amendments. I hope that we save this Commission by throwing out these amendments.
– I oppose the amendment coming from the House of Representatives, the Simon amendment as it is known, for three main reasons. First, it adopts an absolutist position on the abortion issue which is out of harmony with prevailing social attitudes. Secondly, I want to argue that it is not justified by anything in the language of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the agreed touchstone for human rights which has been adopted as a general basis for the Bill before us, nor is it justified by language in any other international convention- including the United Nations Declaration on the rights of the Child, which has been advanced by a number of proponents of this amendment as giving support to it. Thirdly, I want to argue, in approximately the same terms as Senator Missen, that this amendment, if passed, will seriously distort and undermine the operation of the Human Rights Commission, creating the opportunity for mischievous misuse of that body and, furthermore, in the process creating the opportunity for endless, divisive and inconclusive debates in this Parliament on the abortion issue.
The first point is, as I said, that the language of this amendment is absolutist. It adopts an absolutist position on the abortion issue which is quite out of harmony with prevailing social attitudes. The language of the amendment clearly gives aid and comfort to those who claim that the foetus is and should be inviolable from the moment of conception. The Simon amendment before us is indistinguishable in this respect from the Martyr amendment which is today to be moved by Senator Harradine. This was acknowledged by Mr Simon who first put the amendment forward in the other place as something in the nature of a compromise in the belief that it did not go much further than the existing law but then was obliged to acknowledge that that was not so, that the language of the amendment which he proposed and which is before us today was indeed capable of a much wider reading and application. Clearly the language of the amendment before us today has been so regarded by the Right to Life organisation- that indefatigable group of blackmailers- and by others in the community who support that particular position. It is clear that any such absolutist position does not conform with majority community attitudes, if it ever did.
There is no doubt that tens of thousands of women who have had abortions over the years and who continue to have them are just not regarded as murderers in any sense by the great and overwhelming majority of people in this community. The reality is that there has always been sympathy in the community for abortions in circumstances where the life or health, including the mental health, of the mother have been thought to be at risk. There is growing sympathy in the community for the complete relaxation of all contraints on abortion. Evidence for those community attitudes has been partially quoted by Senator Missen, and it deserves brief repetition. The most recent opinion poll on the subject was in the Australian newspaper last Monday, 17 March, when it was shown by a telephone poll of over 1,200 people that 52.2 per cent were in favour of abortion unconditionally, another 2 1 per cent believed that it should be available, depending on the circumstances, and only 24 per cent were definitely against abortion.
Again we had in Professor Aitkin’s article in the National Times last weekend, 16 March, the report of a further survey conducted by him which, to summarise it, showed that there had been a very significant shift in community attitudes on the abortion issue over the course of the last 10 years, with clear majority opinion in the community being in favour of relatively easy abortion.
We also have had- and this is particularly relevant, given the application of this legislation directly to the Australian Capital Territory- the evidence of a 1977 Australian National Opinion Poll survey, which was much in issue in the last abortion debate carried on in this chamber, where it was shown that something over 70 per cent of Canberra residents were in favour of local clinics where doctors could carry out abortions under suitable medical conditions. Only 24 per cent of this community, who are to be most affected by this Bill, were in fact against it. I do not suggest that as legislators we should be solely guided by the vagaries of public opinion and community majorities on these issues. Particularly where free votes are in issue, I believe we owe our constitutents our judgment and should not just offer them the reflex responses of automata. But the figures that I have quoted and others that are available do indicate that, as with most moral issues which are the subject of hot debate in this community, the issues of principle are by no means as simple and unequivocally accepted by the community as the proponents of any absolutist position would have us believe. My own view is that the abortion decision, whenever it is made, at whatever stage of the development of the foetus, is a serious decision and one which should not be made flippantly or casually.
– It is never made that way.
– I accept what Senator Melzer has just said. My own experience on this issue stretches back over many years, because I was one of the founding executive members in the 1960s of the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Association. I have had a long association with many women who have had abortions and who feel very strongly and express themselves very stridently on what the law should be on this issue. No one I have ever met who has had an abortion regards it as a decision to be taken simply, easily, flippantly, casually or trivially. It is just not so. It becomes, of course, a particularly serious decision, and is acknowledged by everyone to be such, as the foetus approaches the point of viability. It becomes a very serious decision indeed for all those concerned when the foetus is in fact viable, that is, when it can survive independently outside the womb.
In my opinion, it is then and only then that it does become really credible to talk in terms of the foetus, the unborn child, having in any sense a right to life. My own preference, and I state it briefly, is for the kind of position which has evolved in the United States as a result, surprisingly enough, of Supreme Court decisions, and in particular the decision in the 1 973 case of Roe v. Wade, which decision now states the law in the United States and reflects the reality that the credibility of the right to life claim is one that varies in strength, and indeed grows in strength, over the course of time, in company with the chronological development of the foetus. The United States position, in short, is for a division of the nine month pregnancy period into trimesters in relation to which the law varies. If I may quote from the Roe v. Wade decision the situation is this:
The United States law says that the law in fact has no business in intruding on the women ‘s decision in any way during that particular period of time. The decision then goes on:
There is a recognition of the evolution of the credibility of the life claim of the unborn infant from a situation in the first trimester, where that credibility is lacking or at least ought not to have overriding force in any sense, to the second trimester, where it may be appropriate that medical considerations be in fact specified by the law, to the third trimester where the balance is very strongly in favour, after viability, of the position of the unborn child, with only very strong reasons being legitimate to justify abortions in those circumstances. I think that that represents a very sensible accommodation of the feelings of most people in the community when pressed on this particular issue, and it represents an appropriate, flexible and sensitive response for the law to make. It is very different from the kind of absolutist position which is in fact embodied in the kind of amendment before us which recognises none of the subtlety of the evolution of the foetus and people’s attitudes accordingly. It is a form of words which distinguishes not at all between the position of the foetus at various stages; it just says, in effect, that there is an absolute right to life which must be recognised and which ought to be enforced by law from the very moment of conception.
The second point I make is that there is nothing in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which gives support to the terms of this particular amendment. That is in fact obvious from any casual perusal of the language of the international covenant on which this Bill has hitherto been constructed. In fact the history of the international covenant is that an attempt was made at the series of international meetings at which it was adopted to incorporate language of the kind that is before us today. That was rejected by the delegates there assembled on the basis that considerations of this kind ought to be left to individual nations. There was no common international agreement that this could or should be regarded as a claim of human rights, co-equal in status with other kinds of rights incorporated in this legislation. Similarly, I think it must be said that the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 gives no nourishment to those who would support this particular amendment. It is true that that declaration does contain in its preamble a provision which says that: the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection before as well as after birth ‘.
It is true that that phrase, ‘before as well as after birth’ does in fact appear, but it must be noted that there is nothing in the substantive . provisions, the actual articles of the Declaration, purporting to state, declare and regulate the rights of children which in any way repeats that language. In fact the Preamble has been regarded as stating no more than what is already well accepted in Australian law, that the child, after birth, should be regarded as having enforceable legal rights in respect to events, and in particular injuries, occurring before its birth. The language of the United Nations declaration does not say in any explicit way at all that a child has a right to life before as well as after birth. That concept, of course, is part of the language of the amendment which is before us. To the extent that the amendment before us uses that kind of language, it is not in any way based on the substance or effect of the 1959 United Nations resolution.
The third and final reason why I oppose the operation of this amendment is that, it will distort and undermine the operation of the Human Rights Commission. It must be appreciated that as the Human Rights Commission Bill now stands, the Commission has an obligation to investigate complaints made to it about breaches of human rights as defined in the legislation, and clause 10 states that obligation. When the Commission holds an inquiry, and it must do so unless it can dismiss the complaint as being totally frivolous, trivial or vexatious, then it must give a report thereon to the Minister. Clause 10(7) so provides. The Minister then is obliged to table, within 15 days of its receipt, that report before this Parliament, and that is the subject matter of clause 30. As a result, we will have a situation where we can anticipate innumerable complaints being made to the Commission about supposed breaches of this now extended definition of human rights. In the federal arena, we can imagine complaints involving federal funding of abortions- the Lusher motion situation all over again. In the Australian Capital Territory it will involve complaints about the actual carrying out of abortions. (Extension of time granted). I am indebted to Senator Baume. I will take only a moment or two more to finish what I have to say. There will be a situation where, as a result of abortions taking place in the Australian Capital Territory, we can anticipate a very large number of complaints being made to the Human Rights Commission of the kind that we experienced when the Australian Capital Territory ordinance was debated before us.
That is the situation if the rest of the Bill stays as it is. If, as a result of the passage of this amendment, there should be further consequential amendments made to the Bill which would extend the jurisdiction of the Commission into the State arena, we can anticipate the incidence of abortion complaints being made to the Commission rising exponentially because, as we all know, the incidence of abortions- the termination of pregnancies- is very much higher in the States than in the Territories. It is a situation that I think we cannot help but look to with some degree of caution at the very least, in terms of the likely effect this will have upon the operations of the Commission. We must look too at the likely effect it will have in turn upon the proceedings of this Parliament, as the reports of the Commission are obliged to be successively tabled and debated by this Parliament.
I have expressed a considerable degree of scepticism throughout the course of the Human Rights Commission Bill debate about the worth of that institution and its likely utility as a protector, a saviour, of human rights in this country. It is well known, because I have said it on numerous occasions, in company with the rest of the Opposition and indeed many Government senators in this chamber, that I would prefer a much more expansive and powerful role for the Human Rights Commission. Nevertheless, I have been prepared to support the rather lame little institution that has been created by the Bill as it now stands as being a legitimate, albeit halting, first step forward. But if this amendment is carried or, even more, if the Harradine-Martyr amendment is carried, we can forget about even this achievement so far as the Human Rights Commission is concerned.
We must anticipate a situation where the work of the Commission will be totally disrupted, where the allocation of its resources will be distorted, where it will subside into total impotence so far as the larger charter which this legislation gives it is concerned. I believe that if the body is given the expanded charter, which will be the case if this amendment or, even worse the proposed Harradine amendment is carried, we will have a situation where it ekes out its existence promoting, by virtue of its obligation to investigate complaints, causes which are espoused by only a bare handful of people in the community who feel passionately about a single issue. It will cease to have any kind of credibility so far as the larger community is concerned and so far as the larger part of its charter is concerned. For all those reasons, I believe that both this amendment and any other of a like kind which might be moved later in this debate ought to be resoundingly defeated by this chamber.
-With some reluctance, I oppose the amendment. The reluctance is not due to the arguments of Senator Missen or Senator Evans, which I believe are persuasive. That is not why I am opposing the amendment. My reluctance stems from the fact that this vote will be regarded, however unjustly, as representing extreme positions in the abortion issue, and I believe that is a highly regrettable and bad situation to have been visited on this place. That is intended as a criticism of those honourable senators who have brought this matter forward. I do not agree entirely with Senator Evans on community attitudes. One poll that I looked at, which was published in this week’s National Times dated 16 March, showed a slightly opposite view from the one he expressed. There are obviously deeply divisive views in the community, and I think that that is probably due to the fact that what is really at issue is when the abortion takes place. One notices with interest that the polls never bother to examine this situation.
I believe there is a widely held community view that abortion is not a good thing, as Senator Evans mentioned, from the stage of viability of the foetus onwards, but that early in the pregnancy that situation does not obtain. I think it would be a very unrealistic person who attempted to assert that there was no difference between an early and late abortion in terms of morality, health or any other issue.
For that reason I canvassed, probably rather late, an amendment I would like to have put forward which would have changed the amendment we have before us, to say: ‘and includes human rights from viability of the foetus until birth’, which I think might have set in law, if it were carried, a view with which a number of people in this community might have sympathised. Although I am not putting forward that amendment at this stage, I commend it to honourable senators as something that we might think about in the future. It seems to me to be high time that this question of what is right and proper on abortion should at least be codified in some way which is rational, which is based on accepted medical opinion, and which is acceptable morally to most of the community. The situation is that I do not have support for that amendment and therefore I oppose the amendment which is before us.
– I do not support the Simon amendment. I wish to speak only briefly at this stage because, as I understand it, Senator Harradine will be introducing a subsequent amendment on abortion which will allow debate to take place more specifically on the matter which has been referred to previously as the Martyr amendment. The points I draw to the attention of honourable senators are these. The first part of the so-called Simon amendment proposes that after the words human person’ in the second recital, the words before as well as after birth’ should be added. I do not believe that one ought to put into legislation a direction to a commission- ‘before as well as after birth ‘-when nobody in this Parliament is altogether sure precisely what it means. Perhaps there would be no argument if one were to say ‘the day before birth’ or ‘a week before birth’ or ‘a month before birth’, but there is certainly a very considerable argument if one means the day of conception or the day after conception. I do not think this Parliament ought to be in the business of putting into legislation a term, before as well as after birth’, when it is quite clear that there is massive confusion and disagreement as to precisely what that means. Some people who have taken extreme views on this matter have argued that it means the moment of conception.
– Whenever that is.
– Whenever that is. Let me indicate that that is the belief even of Mr Simon, the mover of the motion. Although he did not support it when it came to the vote, in the House of Representatives on 5 March he said:
There is no right to register a complaint before birth. Under the Bill, the foetus has no right before binh or before a termination of pregnancy. My amendment could well have been interpreted in the same way as that of the honourable member for Swan.
That is, Mr Martyr. Mr Simon continued:
Therefore, that raised some difficulty in my mind as to whether or not my opposition to the amendment of the honourable member for Swan was in fact not total because my own amendment was capable of interpretation in the same way as the amendment of the honourable member for Swan . . .
He went on to say that of that there was no doubt. The same point was made in the House of Representatives on the same day by Mr Macphee, the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. He said:
One of the consequences, it seems to me, of acceptance of the amendment of the honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr) is that it seeks to change the whole pattern of that British law and the Australian law by conferring rights on a foetus. I cannot construe it in any other way than that. Likewise, I think there is an ambiguity- if I might have your indulgence, Mr Chairman- in the Simon amendment in that it could be read as doing the same . . .
I believe that to that extent the Simon amendment amounts to the same thing as the Martyr amendment, phrased differently. I think that needs to be borne in mind. I think there are many people whose attitudes towards human rights are almost capable of being summed up by saying that they claim human rights begin at conception and end at birth. I think it is important to distinguish a clear position as to exactly what is meant. I do not believe laws should be written which are capable of that massive variation of interpretation.
The next point to which I turn in terms of my opposition to the Simon amendment is that I do not believe it is the proper responsibility of the Human Rights Commission or of any other body which is established by an Act of this Parliament to be in the business of investigating whether abortions have taken place. It is not the business of the Human Rights Commission. It is not the business of this Parliament to be interfering, using the method of a commission, in a matter which ought to be covered by those laws which specifically relate to the question of abortion. One does not legislate for or against abortion by tacking amendments onto pieces of legislation that were designed for other purposes. If we want to face the abortion issue we should face it squarely, as we did in the debate on Senator Ryan’s motion or as it is faced under State jurisdiction in the various Crimes Acts and other Acts which specifically relate to this matter. We should not enact legislation in the way in which the Americans put their legislation together, that is, by tacking bits and pieces onto other bits of legislation in order to bring about changes in other laws. I believe that another aspect of the functions of this Commission will be frustrated by the passage of this amendment. The Attorney-General (Senator Durack) indicated in his second reading speech that the Commission would work in co-operation with the States on matters of human rights. In his speech, among other things, he said:
The advantages of rationalisation will be enhanced to the extent that co-operative arrangements can be made with the States:
Later in his speech he said:
This means that we are asking the Parliament to endorse that Covenant as the standard to be used by the Human Rights Commission.
He went on to say:
Does this mean that if we want to get cooperation with the States on human rights issues we will have to say: ‘Here is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which we previously thought everybody could agree upon as a bench mark, but now it is to be agreed upon with the qualification that we, the Commonwealth Parliament, make to it’. Are we to add to that the qualification that the Queensland Parliament makes to it, the qualification that the New South Wales Parliament makes to it or the qualification that the Northern Territory Parliament makes to it? We should have a standard by which these matters can be judged if we are seeking to bring about some degree of uniform application of human rights standards in Australia, which means taking the internationally agreed upon Covenant and not attempting to say that the Covenant in fact means what the words of the Covenant do not in fact say. I do not believe that is a proper method by which to approach the establishment of a standard by which human rights violations or breaches should be judged. I think the ability of a Bill, fiddled about with in this fashion by the Commonwealth Parliament, to be used as the basis for getting co-operation with all of the State jurisdictions means that that co-operation with State jurisdictions in fact will not be forthcoming.
I believe that there are a number of other arguments which one would want to put in relation to the issue of abortion per se. I think they should be properly reserved until the amendment of which Senator Harradine has given notice is before the chamber for debate. I emphasise again that it was clearly stated by the mover of the original amendment in the House of Representatives, Mr Simon, that his amendment in fact was capable of being interpreted in precisely the same way as the amendment which the House of Representatives had rejected from the honourable member for Swan, Mr Martyr. People should not think that they can buy the Simon amendment and say that they have not bought the Martyr amendment because they are in fact buying the same package with a different wrapper. I think that is a point that needs to be squarely faced up to. I believe that the debate on the Human Rights Commission Bill which took place in this chamber over a considerable period produced a piece of legislation which had a specific purpose in mind. That specific purpose was to achieve certain objectives in the human rights field and in the establishment of certain types of machinery. In the House of Representatives the Bill in fact has been used to give effect to an entirely different purpose. It may be an additional purpose but it is in fact a different purpose. It is for that reason that I believe the Senate should insist upon the Bill going back to the House of Representatives in the same fashion that it came out of debate in the Senate at the end of last year. I say, so that the matter can be on the record, that my interpretation of a conscience vote on these matters, in terms of consequential amendments which my colleague Senator Missen has foreshadowed, is, not surprisingly, precisely the same as his.
– I will be supporting the so-called Simon amendment in this debate. I will do largely because I have not been convinced by the arguments put forward by Senator Missen, Senator Evans and Senator Puplick- senators whose views it is well known I generally respect- and because I cannot agree with Senator Puplick ‘s claim that the terms of the so-called Simon amendment are really equivalent to the terms of the Martyr amendment put forward in the House of Representatives and possibly to be put forward in the Senate by Senator Harradine. When one looks at the terminology used in Senator Harradine ‘s foreshadowed amendment, where it speaks of human life being present from conception, one sees a use of language which I believe would be appropriate if one were constructing some sort of criminal statute, some son of statute where penalties were to be applied by this Parliament for the destruction of the foetus. Then it would be absolutely essential that we, as parliamentarians, direct our minds precisely to the activity we wanted to make criminal and therefore penalise. We would need to do so not only to maintain our own integrity but also, of course, to indicate to persons within the appropriate Australian jurisdiction, whatever it might be- federally confined as it is in the Bill- precisely what risks they are taking in any destruction of the foetus within the womb. For that reason, the sort of amendment proposed by Mr Martyr in the House of Representatives and perhaps to be proposed by Senator Harradine in the Senate might be appropriate within a criminal statute environment. When one is dealing with a statement of principle, I believe that it is totally inappropriate and not required. That is all that is involved here, given the fact that we are talking about a Bill which, in its own defective way, as was proclaimed in this chamber very vehemently from this side of the chamber and by some honourable senators on the other side, does not create legally enforceable rights, or therefore create liabilities or penalties on those people who violate such rights. We are not dealing with a criminal statute. We are dealing with a statement of principle within a statute setting up a Commission whose task it is to gather information, review cases, make assessments and report to the Minister, the Executive and the Parliament for our consideration. Within the context of that type of Bill, I believe that the sort of language used in the so-called Simon amendment is far more appropriate and apt, and is different. It does not use the precise terminology ‘from conception’. In speaking about human rights, it uses the terminology ‘before as well as after birth’. I believe that in that terminology we have a certain flexibility.
If one were giving a lecture on medical science or trying to construct a criminal statute, one would try to persuade honourable senators that human life does begin from conception. That is my personal belief. But there may be honourable senators who believe that human life begins at a stage further on from conception, although I think that most would say that human life begins within the womb, and is certainly present within the womb at a time before birth. But that is not the task facing us. We are trying to construct a statute which states a general principle. I think it is important, therefore, that we note the flexible nature of those simply put words, ‘before birth’. It surprises me that Senator Evans did not find in that terminology something with which he could be sympathetic, given the fact that he said that he approved United States judgments recognising the evolution of the credibility of the life claim of the unborn infant. I would have thought that the Simon amendment, as opposed to the Martyr amendment, allowed the sensible and flexible approach that the honourable senator was desiring to see in relation to the question of attaching a recognition of human rights to the unborn child.
My support of the Simon amendment in this context is entirely consistent with the view that I took in proposing to the Senate last September a motion concerning the International Year of the Child, which was supported on all sides of the chamber and which was resolved in the affirmative. In that debate I drew attention to the fact that within the preamble to the rights of the child covenant, the phrase ‘the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care including appropriate legal protection before as well as after birth’ does occur. I pointed out that in my view there were grave deficiencies within the statute and common law in Australia in protecting the rights of children which are violated before their birth. I pointed out the instance of the thalidomide children. It is well known that while certain actions were taken in the courts of the United Kingdom in order to get the company concerned with the negligent sale of that particular sedative to come to some sort of agreement or compromise so that payments could be made to compensate families for the emotional and actual financial distress they suffered for the birth of deformed children, there was in fact no principle of common or statute law to enable families to recover those damages. It was done by way of agreement after that series of tactical battles within the courts and the Parliament. I pointed out that we needed to have a review of legislation within the Australian jurisdictions, for example, to ensure that when a child is born with an injury initially sustained within the womb- say, as a result of negligent car driving by a third party- or, as Senator Walters will recall, by the negligent exposure by the mother to drugs, for example-
– Or smoking.
– Or smoking, as I mentioned, or marihuana, as I mentioned in reply to Senator Walters at the time, or alcohol or aspirin, or exposing herself negligently, or deliberately even, to some contagious disease which might affect the child within the womb.
– But the claim is ‘ at birth ‘.
– I pointed out that we needed to have a review of Australian legislation, both within the Federal and State jurisdictions, to enable the parliaments to fill this gap, because there are many instances where a child suffers damages within the womb which, being manifest upon birth, do not enable that child or his or her family to make a claim for damages to try to remedy in some way that particular injury. What I am saying is that I believe the Human Rights Commission, given the charter that would come to it as a result of the carriage of the Simon amendment, might well make constructive, creative, helpful suggestions to this Parliament and to other parliaments about how we could deal with violations of the rights of children to be born free of any injury or defect as the result of the deliberate or negligent activity of others.
– It can now, can ‘t it?
– In some jurisdictions it can, say, for negligent car driving.
– The Commission can already do that.
– I am going further in the present situation. I think it is appropriate that we as a Parliament do affirm, because it is not clear in the courts and it is not clear in the statute books, that human rights do occur, do inhere in the life within the womb at some point prior to birth. At what stage those rights become operative, at what stage they become exercisable, at what stage the civil or criminal law could intervene in order to protect or secure those rights or to remedy some violation of them, at what stage compensation arrangements and what type of compensation arrangements might be introduced, are the sorts of things which perhaps the Commission could helpfully comment on in its report to this Parliament.
– Wouldn’t it be more honest for us to say that rather than letting somebody else do it?
-No. the whole point of this Commission as envisaged in this Bill is to put this Parliament in a position, because of its reports and assessments, where it can make the sort of decision which you say we ought to make as a result of our political will, and I agree with that. There are some matters that I need to deal with arising out of remarks by other honourable senators. Firstly, I have been concerned that the Commission might be overwhelmed and inundated by complaints in this area of the destruction of life within the womb. I am somewhat less worried than I was, because on looking at the Bill I find that the subject matter of the complaint has to be of sufficient concern to the complainant. It may well be that this narrows that range of persons who can bring matters to the Commission in this regard very markedly, and perhaps only the father or the putative father could have such a sufficient concern to that particular complainant only. If I am wrong in that, I still say that we ought to try to see whether the Commission can handle this range of complaints without having its viability greatly affected.
The other matter concerns the question of constitutionality raised by Senator Missen and relied on in another sense by Senator Evans. There is no need at all for this Bill to be based on the international convention to do with human rights. That is completely irrelevant. For the viability of this Bill the Commonwealth does not need to use the foreign affairs power. There are no human rights affected in that judicially enforceable way that I mentioned, and it does not attempt to enter State jurisdictions. It is relying on the international Covenant simply because of a lack of political imagination which prevented it from creating an indigenous list of human rights for the Australian people appropriate to the Australian context.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting for lunch I said that I believed that the amendment sent from the House of Representatives sits well enough within this Bill, which is not a criminal statute in that no penalties attach to any alleged violation of any human rights concerned. If that were the case, Senator Harradine ‘s proposed amendment might have some merit but, as I said before, his wording is more appropriate to a criminal statute. I believe it is appropriate that the national Parliament affirms that human rights do not spring into being simply upon the live birth of a child but that appropriate rights do attach and can be violated within the womb at a point before birth. When rights are exercisable, becoming subject to civil or criminal law- for example, when compensation for an injury suffered within the womb might be payable- needs to be defined and applied in the appropriate jurisdictions. I believe that the Human Rights Commission, in a helpful and constructive way, could help us make legislative judgments as to the support for life before birth. It might be appropriate.
I also said that I believed that, given the small number of persons who could legitimately complain that they have a sufficient interest in the violation of a right before birth, the Commission would not be overwhelmed by work in this area. That is a matter of judgment which may prove to be wrong and I concede that many honourable senators in good faith do believe that the Commission could be overwhelmed, and its work distorted, by work from this sphere. That judgment could be made in good faith and I would strongly condemn any person or body outside the Parliament who harassed or electorally intimidated any honourable senator who came to a contrary judgment on that matter in good faith. To do so would be to undermine the very basis on which these debates need to be conducted; that is, in an atmosphere where moral discernment and political judgments have to be exercised responsibly by each individual senator.
– I rise to indicate that I will be supporting the Simon amendment when it is voted on in the Senate. I have a very simple view in regard to this matter, which is that as I read it the covenant to which the Human Rights Commission Bill seeks to address itself is applicable, in particular in relation to Australia insofar as the Australian Parliament decides that it will have force. I refer to the argument put forward by Senator Missen in respect of the foreign affairs power or otherwise of the Constitution of the Commonwealth. Senator Missen sought to make the point that the Federal Parliament probably had no power whatsoever to deal in this area. It seems to me that, quite clearly, the Constitution of Australia provides sovereignty for this Parliament to make laws in respect of the areas over which it has jurisdiction and, being sovereign in that area, it has a right and duty to make laws as it sees fit. That appears to me to be precisely the situation in this case.
I do not think that the question of constitutionality arises, although certainly I am not a lawyer nor have I worked in that area. It seems to me that that argument is irrelevant to this case, since the law as it will be stated in the amended Act will be a general principle proclaiming that life begins before birth. I do not wish to enter into any argument as to when life does commence. I do not believe that that is the point of this debate. I speak only of the principle, and I think that it is acknowledged by all honourable senators in this chamber that life begins before birth. On that basis, the principle that is enshrined in the Simon amendment, insofar as it will amend the international covenant, is a proper approach to this matter.
– But do human rights commence before birth?
– I think that the Simon amendment refers to that and I know that if we start to discuss it we will begin to be bogged down in the area of when life actually starts. As I have pointed out, I do not believe that that is where this debate ought to be centred. I will seek to point out that it is for the Commonwealth, if it seeks to do so, to legislate in this area insofar as the covenant to which it agrees allows it to do so. As this amendment bears witness, these arrangements will allow the law of the Commonwealth to be applied to a date before birth. Although it is right and proper that the Commonwealth can make laws of this sort, some people might argue, as Senator Missen has done, that there will be an amendment to an international covenant and that that, in itself, is somehow wrong. Perhaps I could deal with that matter now.
As I read it, in many cases the various nations that have signed and ratified this covenant have had reservations. In fact, it is almost a basic principle of international law that reservations will be expressed by various nations. Austria has expressed reservations, under Article 9 of the covenant, about proceedings and measures of deprivation of liberty. The Austrian Government has reservations, it being a socialist government. Article 14 refers to all persons being equal before courts and tribunals. The Danish Government, in its reservation, says that that shall not be binding on the Danish Government. It goes further, and says that it will not be binding in respect of public hearings in those particular cases. There are reservations by independent countries who have made their own decisions about the covenant.
I put it to the Senate that it is right and proper, and the Parliament of Australia is not in any way exceeding its responsibility or its powers, to amend the covenant if it sees fit and that, in fact, its general subscription to the human rights set out in the covenant remains subject to reservation in particular areas. Many countries have reserved their rights in those areas. I refer also to the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, from the United Nations, which was referred to in the debate in the House of Representatives. In paragraph 3, it is stated: . . whereas the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.
The principle relating to the Simon amendment includes references similar to those already set out in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which was signed in 1959. To me it seems adequate that that should happen in this legislation. What we are doing is taking a principle as established there and applying it to this case. As the main principle is acknowledged by all people in this place and as the Simon amendment includes reference to it, it seems to me that that statement of principle only establishes a framework for acknowledging what is already being done by governments all over Australia in the carrying out of their obligations under that Declaration on the Rights of the Child. I will read again from that Declaration. It states:
By reason of physical and mental immaturity children need special safeguards and care.
The Commonwealth already provides assistance for the foetal child in many areas. Medical and hospital benefits are available to pregnant women for medical services, ante-natal care, post-natal care and childbirth services.
– But not enough.
-That is another argument. Counselling and psychiatric services are available from private doctors. We have public hospitals which are funded by the Commonwealth, community health centres and so on. Assistance is provided under an isolated patients travel and accommodation scheme. There is a pharmaceutical benefits scheme to assist the mother and child. Medical research, family planning, acoustics laboratories, drug evaluation and Aboriginal and migrant health services are funded by the Commonwealth and all aimed at supporting the child. There are ante-natal and post-natal medical research programs and a program is being operated under the medical research projects of 1978 in relation to the assessment ofl ung maturity in foetuses.
Clearly, already throughout Australia there is recognition, by the Commonwealth and by the States- we can make out a separate argument about that- of the existence of the foetus and its need for support. As I said, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child clearly states that that should be so. I believe that the principle which we are now enshrining by this amendment will do nothing more than recognise what is already recognised in the community. In fact, the amendment is stating that support ought to be given for the foetus before birth. It is a very simple argument. What we are doing is seeking to preserve that principle in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As I said earlier I will not enter into the argument about the date or any other time.
– How long before birth?
– I said right at the beginning that I would not enter into that debate because I did not believe that this amendment concerned that matter. This is not an argument about abortion. What we are speaking of is support for the human life in existence before birth.
– But from when?
-Obviously Senator Chipp was not present earlier, but earlier during the debate I sought to make the point that, in fact, the argument is about before birth. I do not seek to debate when life occurs or when it commences. I have my own views but I do not believe that they are relevant to this debate. As these things are recognised by the Commonwealth already, support is given for the foetal life. In fact, the writing into the Covenant of this principle does nothing more than recognise what already is recognised and supported by the Commonwealth and by the various States.
-I have waited until this moment to enter the debate in order to listen to what other honourable senators ‘ views are on this matter. As honourable senators are aware, I previously distributed copies of a proposed amendment to the amendments proposed by the House of Representatives. Having listened to the debate thus far, I intend to proceed with that amendment. I believe that it is important to proceed with it because of the statements that have been made, in particular by Senator Missen, Senator Evans and Senator Puplick, in an attempt to equate my proposed amendment with the amendments proposed by the House of Representatives which, for reference purposes, I shall call the Martyr amendment and the Simon amendment.
Nothing could be further from the truth than to claim that they can be equated. The fact of the matter is that my proposed amendment is necessary to tighten up and clarify the whole situation, to give precision to the amendments proposed by the House of Representatives. As I understood Senator Missen, Senator Puplick and Senator Evans, the only basis for the suggestion that my proposed amendment and the amendments proposed by the House of Representatives were, in effect, one and the same was that the honourable member for McMillan, Mr Simon, had said in the House of Representatives that that was so and had then voted against his amendment. I do not accept that as an argument. Indeed, Senator Tate, who takes a slightly different view from mine on this matter, does not accept that view and the Government does not accept it. I refer to the statement of the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) when he introduced the message from the House of Representatives, in which he said, quite specifically:
The amendment -
That is, the message from the House of Representatives-
Will not require the Commission to take the view that life begins at conception.
The purpose of my proposed amendment is to ensure that the Commission does take that view. That is why I am proceeding with the amendment. If I do not proceed with it, when the rights of the child accrue will depend on the scale of values of the Commission. I do not think we as a parliament should opt out of our responsibilities in respect of that matter. If we were to take the view that the rights of the child depend on each individual’s scale of values, then at one end of the scale we would have persons such as Mrs Rosemary Kyburz of the Queensland Parliament, whom I heard saying on the AM program one morning that the rights do not accrue until the child has independent existence. We would have people with views ranging from that end of the scale to the very other end of the scale. Senator Mason suggested that the rights should accrue from the time that the child is viable. The New Zealand Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion in 1977 defined viable’ as:
A term applied to a foetus which is capable of leading a separate existence.
A breast fed child is not capable of leading a separate existence, even after birth. That is the definition.
– That is your definition.
– No, that is the definition of the Royal Commission. That is the term applied to a foetus which is capable of leading a separate existence, presumably if the child is taken from the womb. That equates to only a very few weeks before birth. As I say, it all depends on a scale of values and the opinions of individuals.
It has been suggested by Senator Tate that this Bill is not a Bill in which precise interpretations of when life begins should be included but that it is a Bill which should establish and enshrine certain principles. I take the view that if one holds to the principle that the right to life is central to the whole of our civilisation there is an absolute right to life for every human being from the first moments of that life. It is the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion- in fact it is accepted- that life begins at conception and that there is then a genetically complete human being. After all, the test tube baby should have put paid to any other thought. For example, some ancient theologians had some thought about an animate and inanimate foetus. Now, however, it is accepted all round that life begins at conception.
– It is not accepted all round.
– As someone says that it is not accepted, let me refer again to the report of the New Zealand Royal Commission of Inquiry into Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion, which on page 1 90 states:
In our view it is established that:
While life begins at conception, external proof of pregnancy dates only from implantation . . .
From implantation to birth, changes which take place in the unborn child are of a developmental nature only. There are no changes of a qualitative nature. The three events suggested as being of significance, namely, quickening, viability and brain development, are no more than stages in that development and are not indicative of any qualitative changes in the developing fetus which would make it non-human at one point of time and human at another.
There is no point between implantation and birth of: biological kind which enables a particular point of time between implantation and birth to be accepted as the one at which the status of the unborn child is changed. The terms ‘embryo’ and ‘fetus’ do no more than mark those stages in a progressive development.
So in fact the life from its very earliest moment is the same human life which a person carries right throughout his existence. Given that scientific evidence that life begins at conception, I believe it is the Parliament’s duty not to shy off that fact but to face it and to include it precisely in legislation. Senator Evans, in one of his statements in opposition to the message from the House of Representatives, made the point that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child does not state anywhere that the child does not have the right to life. I put it to the Committee -
– Before birth. It does not state that it has the right to life before birth.
– As I understand Senator Evans, it is not stated in the Declaration that the child has the right to life before birth.
– It does not say so in so many words that it has the right to life before birth. So any argument based on that is misconceived.
– It is not, of course. If the child has no right to life it has no rights at all. The right to life is a prior right. The whole point of the argument is that if there is no right to life the child has no rights at all, even subsequent to birth.
It may be asked why this matter was not proposed as an amendment when the Bill was first being debated in the Parliament. There were circumstances following the passage of this Bill through this chamber which influenced members of the other chamber to give further consideration to this matter. I do not question the sincerity of any persons putting up an amendment or opposing any of the motions that may be before the chamber. I hope that the same courtesy is extended to me. But I believe it is important for the chamber to be given the opportunity, if it agrees that the right to life is of such importance as to enshrine that right in this legislation, to enshrine that right in the most explicit and precise terms possible.
– Not the Simon amendment.
– No, the Simon amendment does not do that, Senator Missen, I am attempting to do it. I am moving the proposition in the hope that it will receive sufficient support for it to be included in the Bill as it goes back to the House of Representatives. I recognise the general limitations of this Bill. However, when the Bill first came before the chamber the Attorney-General in his second reading speech, said: . . the Commission . . . is to promote an awareness of human rights throughout the community, and the observance of those rights.
He also said:
It will also work to promote understanding and acceptance of human rights in Australia, and to this end will undertake research and educational programs.
It can be expected that the Commission’s research facilities will be used to assist the preparation … of programs … to promote awareness and discussion of human rights.
I believe that we are far past the ancient unscientific ideas of when life begins. We are in an era where modern science proves and shows when life begins. Let us face that fact. I hope that my amendment will be carried so that the Commission can be charged with the responsibility, mainly educative, in this very important sphere. I move:
– I will not be supporting the Simon amendments to the Human Rights Commission Bill nor will I be supporting Senator Harradine ‘s amendment. There are some questions which I want to ask the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) which I am entitled to ask at the Committee stage. I refer to the statement which the Attorney-General made at the commencement of the Committee stage. He pointed out that the Bill is specifically stated to apply only to Commonwealth and Territory laws which will mean that these amendments are applicable only in the Australian Capital Territory. He said that a question may arise about the rights of an unborn child if the mother were arrested. But nowhere in the statement did he explain what would be the case if that mother were imprisoned. That is what concerns me and a number of other people. We know that there is no gaol in the Australian Capital Territory. If a pregnant woman were sentenced to imprisonment on a charge she would have to be sent to Goulburn in New South Wales where prisoners from the Australian Capital Territory are usually held.
– Order! We are discussing the amendment moved by Senator Harradine and the amendments that have come from the House of Representatives. The debate should relate specifically to those amendments and not to any other part of the Bill.
– I am asking the Attorney-General a question in relation to a statement that he put down in the chamber today when he introduced the amendments from the other place. I seek some clarification as to what is to be the position if a pregnant woman is sentenced to a gaol term in the Australian Capital Territory and has to be transported to New South Wales to serve her term of imprisonment.
- Mr Chairman, I take a point of order. Under Standing Order 1 40 an amendment proposed but not seconded shall not be further debated. Has the amendment been seconded?
– That applies to amendments moved in the Senate, not in the Committee of the Whole.
– I am not debating Senator Harradine ‘s amendment. I am debating the amendments which were introduced into this chamber earlier today by the Attorney-General as Acting Leader of” the Government in the Senate. I am seeking clarification as to the legal situation which will apply to a pregnant woman who is arrested in the Australian Capital Territory, sentenced to a gaol term and transported to New South Wales or any other State to serve her term of imprisonment. What will be the legal situation of the unborn child? If the amendments are passed the unborn child will be determined to have the rights of a human being. Will the child be able to sue for wrongful imprisonment? If so, who will the child sue? Will he or she sue the Commonwealth Government for wrongful imprisonment in the Australian Capital Territory or will he or she sue the New South Wales Government? Until that matter is cleared up lengthy litigation could occur in trying to determine which Government would be responsible. Action could be taken to sue the Commonwealth Government, the New South Wales Government or any other State government for an unlimited amount if these amendments were passed.
The other question I ask relates to the family allowance. If the Simon amendments are passed, when will payment of the family allowance commence? Senator Missen may well laugh. He is a man of high legal standing. He puts forward good legal arguments. If the Simon amendments are passed and the law states that a person is a human being from the time of conception how do we determine when the mother of that child is to commence receiving payment of the family allowance? That is the question I pose to the Attorney-General. Before introducing amendments such as these, surely the Government has received some legal opinion on those two matters.
I raise another matter which arises from a statement made by Senator Missen. It pertains to Part II of the Human Rights Commission Bill which will be law whether or not these amendments are passed. Under the division entitled Establishment, Functions and Powers’ the Commission, among other things, may sue and be sued in its corporate name. This gets back to the question I have just posed. Is the Commission open to be sued by a child who was bora in a prison? Will a child be able to sue the Commission for compensation for having been born in gaol when he or she has committed no crime even though the mother may have? Will the child sue the New South Wales or the Commonwealth Government if the mother is sentenced in the Australian Capital Territory?
– Not the Commission.
- Senator Missen says not the Commission’. These are the questions that have to be answered. Another matter that concerns me is that members of Parliament are inundated with piles of correspondence prevailing upon them not to support the Simon amendments. Had Senator Harradine ‘s amendment been floated prior to today no doubt we would have been inundated with correspondence asking us to support it. What concerns me is that this group of people outside the Parliament urging us to support the amendments seems to be concerned only with putting a case for the unborn child. In the length of time I have been a member of Parliament I have never been inundated with as much correspondence asking me to support measures to uplift the living standards of small children who are under-privileged, young girls who may be raped, kids who suffer from malnutrition or who are bashed by their parents and so on. They are not concerned. I have asked people who are now propositioning members of Parliament why they do not take up the cudgels on other matters. They say: ‘That is another sphere. We are not interested in that’. They are interested only in the unborn child.
As a father of three and a grandparent of five I am concerned about the children who are born in the community. I am very concerned that these people do not show as much interest in their welfare. That remark also applies to many members of Parliament. When we are debating in the Parliament legislation to uplift the living standards of people, we have a job to get a quorum in the chamber. Yet when we have a debate on abortion both houses of Parliament are packed all the time the debate goes on. It appears that many people in the community live by double standards. I hope that the Attorney-General will be able to give me an answer before these amendments are put to the vote. I reiterate that I will not be supporting either the Simon amendments or the Harradine amendment.
– I oppose the amendment moved by Senator Harradine and the amendments moved by the Government known as the Simon amendments.
– They were moved by the Attorney, not by the Government.
– I thank the honourable senator for the correction. I thought the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) said that the Government had moved the amendments. It is an important distinction. I thought he said that the Government had embraced the amendments. It is significant that we make it clear that the Government has moved the amendments. In my view this should not be a debate on whether abortion should be allowed. My opposition to the amendments is that they are unnecessary in the context of the Human Rights Commission Bill. If passed, they could distort and disturb the charter given to the Commission which already has severely limited powers and functions.
Without being facetious I believe that the addition of the words, ‘ and includes human rights before birth’ is unnecessary because human rights before birth are covered already in other legislation. To me there is an incongruity and lack of necessity to insert those words in this legislation. Without being facetious, I say that it would be just as logical to include the words, and includes human rights before a person attains the age of sixteen’ or ‘and includes women’s rights against rape’ and a whole series of other additions in this legislation specifically to nominate certain people who would have rights under the Commission. It is essentially on that logical explanation that I will be voting against both amendments. So that I will not be challenged or accused of being a coward and of not publicly stating the views that I have on abortion, I feel obliged, because of the political pressure exerted in this place by people who were described rather aptly by Senator Evans as indefatigable blackmailers, to say that I believe that one would be running away from the situation if one did not say something about it. Senator Evans so clearly quoted what I think is the American view that the first three months, the first trimester -
– It is the American law.
– If it is American law it would also be my personal philosophy that the issue then is entirely between the woman and her medical practitioner or medical advisers. One of the things that disappoints me about the Right to Life organisation is that its people, quite properly in their own view, talk about the right to life, the right of the foetus, the right of the spermatozoa in that magical moment when they attach to the fertilised ovum, but seldom talk about the rights of the woman. I would have thought that the woman in this situation, particularly when she finds that she has conceived against her wishes and against the wishes of the partner with whom she had intercourse, certainly has some rights in this matter. I support what Senator Evans described as the American law.
The second stage is between the three-month and six-month period when, as I understand Senator Evans, the state believes it has a right to intervene as far as the health of the woman is concerned. I would totally support that. The third trimester is, generally speaking, when the foetus is described as having viability, namely, the capacity to live and to survive outside the womb being sustained either naturally or artificially. In that area I would not voice sentiments as strong as those of the Right to Life organisation against abortion but I would oppose the termination of a pregnancy during that stage as vehemently as I could, bearing in mind that the rights of the woman still, in my view, are paramount if the choice is between the life or mental or physical wellbeing of the woman or the foetus at that stage. I think one cannot be franker than that.
It is not for those reasons that I am opposing the amendment; it is for the reasons I have already expressed. I resent some people in the Right of Life organisation, the indefatigable blackmailers as Senator Evans describes them. I refuse to see most of them now. I despise the way they use their weight and their blackmail over members in the other place who have a small majority. If those honourable members do not kowtow to their demands, some of the Right to Life people say, ‘Right, we will get you. You are finished.’ That is despicable blackmail in my view. Not all the people in the Right to Life organisation have that approach or attitude. I have met some marvellous people in the organisation who are genuinely concerned and who hold a philosophy with which I disagree. But the sort of maniacs in it whom I object to, and say so in the Senate today, are the obscene people who get 10-year old children to write me letters enclosing pornography. That to me is the depth of obscenity. I want publicly to denounce the actions of the smiling, thin-lipped, virginal creatures who head up this Right to Life organisation and get children to do that.
Having disposed of the Right to Life organisation let me turn to a respectable organisation that has a view of abortion- termination of pregnancies- which I respect totally. I speak about the Catholic Church. I have a great deal of respect for the philosophies, the conduct and the behaviour of the Catholic Church. As an indication of that I have no compunction, in fact I have had a great deal of pleasure in having my own four children brought up within the Catholic Church and taught by it. I have enormous admiration for the present Archbishop of Melbourne -a magnificent man- Archbishop Little. He is a man of tolerance, compassion and broad view. I do not mind admitting, and I think everybody here who has an open mind will admit that I have gone through the agony of making a decision on this question of when life begins. Is it murder to destroy a foetus of a few days, months or whatever? I have turned to almost everything that I can read. When I got a letter from Archbishop Little I thought, ‘Here is a man whom I respect and who is writing to me on this specific case’. As one would imagine with a man like Archbishop Little it is a letter couched in the most reasonable, reasoning and in fact loving terms. He said:
I write to support those many Australians who believe that human life and therefore human rights does not commence with the severing of the umbilical cord.
He homes straight in on the question: When does life begin? Does it begin with the severing of the umbilical cord or not? But then I read on in his letter and I say with utmost respect to His Grace that logically I did not get much help from him. He proceeds, of course, on the basis that he has a deep religious conviction. If I have not got his deep religious conviction or a religious conviction of a different kind then logic, as far as I am concerned, does not necessarily apply because my persuasion cannot run parallel to his religious conviction. He says some thing that is religious which I looked at and studied, but I am afraid got little help from. He further states:
As a Senator you are called to proclaim the dignity of man. I am sure that you wish to do so.
Let me explain briefly what the phrase means to a Christian.
For the Christian the dignity of man should have a meaning which almost transcends the limits of language. A Christian, affirming the dignity of man, sees it as meaning more than the humanist, the Marxist or the liberal agnostic. First, in common with our Jewish brothers, we say that man is made in the image of God. Secondly, and uniquely, we say that the Word has become flesh and dwells among us. God took mankind unto Himself and, for all time and eternity, humankind is endowed with a divine dignity. Whatever diminishes, enslaves or negates man is an offence against human dignity; it is also a kind of blasphemy against God.
My problem is that I do not disagree being a small c christian I suppose, with anything that the Archbishop has said in his letter but it does not help me one bit in my logic of determining when life begins. I went further and went to the Catholic Church. Again this is said in absolute humility and admiration of the Catholic Church. One thing that has always puzzled me about the Church’s strong views on abortion is that if it insists, like Senator Harradine does- I respect his view that life is there from the moment of -
– My views have a scientific basis.
– I do not say that they do not. I am saying that it is your view that life begins from the moment that the spermatozoa attach successfully -
– It is not my view, it is the view of the Royal Commission.
– It is a view which I thought I heard the honourable senator express. I am sorry if I misheard him. It puzzled me at some stages. If the Catholic Church believes that there is a human being there with a soul, then the Catholic Church would be obliged, at the point when that thing becomes a human being, to make its sacraments available to it. For example, it would be obliged, logically, I would think, to make it available for confirmation, baptism and, in the event of a miscarriage or the foetus dying, extreme unction, which is the last sacred rite of the Catholic Church. I am not trying to score a point off the Catholic Church- quite the opposite. I am putting this argument forward to illustrate how my dilemma has increased over this matter and why the problem I have in logic has not been solved. This is the information I received: As far as baptism and confirmation are concerned, they can be done from day one of conception, in theory. It would be a rather difficult exercise to do it in practice, I imagine, but it may be done, in theory, from day one of conception. The qualification is that perceivable matter- that is not defined- must exist in order to perform baptism and confirmation. Again, it is rather difficult to ascertain what is not perceivable matter.
I have a note to the effect that if a priest is present, baptism and confirmation of a foetus can take place. Baptism can be undertaken by anyone following the correct procedures, but for confirmation a priest must also be present. Extreme unction is never performed on children until they are considered to have reached the age of reason. There seems to be a sliding scale of when a person is eligible to receive these sacraments. Finally, if a foetus dies at, say, eight months, extreme unction is not performed. There is no official, authoritative or papal statement on the matter. I understand that for many years the foetus was considered to be in limbo, which is neither heaven nor hell. That theory was discarded. The recent debate argues that the Church does not know whether the matter, person or foetus is in the hands of God. Because I respect the Catholic Church so much and because I have such a strong view on this question, I expected it to be more definitive in this area if it is arguing that life in fact does begin even at the point of conception. Unhappily, I have had no help from the Church, although it has tried to help. For that and for other reasons which I have expressed, I oppose the amendment.
– 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.
– I rise to indicate that I will be opposing both amendments. I, like Senator Hamer, believe that if either of these amendments are accepted they will entirely negate the Human Rights Commission Bill, which is most certainly weak in its present form. I believe that is the main thrust of what we should be considering. I have great sympathy for people who honestly believe that there is a concern for the unborn child, but I do not believe that this Bill is the proper place in which to insert this concern. I have always believed that this country should have a Bill of Rights. I believe that we should go into all aspects of the rights of all people, whether they are unborn or born. I believe that people should have the guarantee after they are born or even before they are born, that we will recognise life. I do not believe that these people who have written and telephoned me and, undoubtedly, every other honourable senator in this place will add anything to the argument. We have been inundated. I appreciate their concern.
The main thing is that this Bill is not the proper place to insert that provision or to talk about it. As I said, it will completely destroy a Bill which is very weak in the first place. If Senator Missen ‘s amendment had been carried when we discussed this Bill in the Senate, it would have been a much stronger Bill. Unfortunately, everyone was not here to vote on that, and those amendments were lost. That made this Bill so much weaker. There is some benefit to the community in this Bill. There is some hope that the rights of the Australian citizen will be protected by this measure, but if either the Simon amendment or the Harradine amendment is accepted, this Bill most certainly will be completely destroyed. I do not believe that that is in the best interests of this Parliament or the people of Australia.
As I have said, I have always had great concern for the people who consider that the unborn child should have rights. I believe that that is a separate issue, and we cannot overcome the problem in this Bill. I believe that a time will come when the whole population will be included in making changes to the Constitution. The Constitution should be changed so that people can discuss fully the changes they want to make to the Constitution. A Bill of Rights should guarantee the rights of all sections of the community, and I believe that that is the way to go about it. I do not believe that a Bill of Rights similar to that of the United States would be appropriate for this country, but as Australians we should seek a Bill of Rights that will be satisfactory to our needs and our wants. I think that is most important.
In my opinion, it is not good enough to submit to the pressures that are coming from outside. Senator Chipp said that the pressures from some of these groups are despicable, and I believe they are unwarranted. I do not believe that politicians should be blackmailed into accepting a situation. Certainly everyone in the community has a right to put his point of view, and I defend that right. Most of the people to whom I have spoken have put their point of view in a reasonable and sensible manner, but unfortunately there are many people in this community- I spoke to some this morning- who have tried to blackmail me. I believe that that action should be denounced by all sections of this Parliament. Perhaps we should have a fuller debate and we should know where we are going. The sooner we come to that situation the better. I rose simply to indicate that I shall not be supporting either of the amendments, and I hope that the Senate rejects both of them.
– I did not expect to speak in this debate because, as honourable senators know, I had a commitment this afternoon in Sydney. However, as I sat in this chamber I thought it was right that I should express my views on the subject. In a previous debate on this matter, when honourable senators said what they thought, there was a polarisation of views. I found it necessary to speak very bluntly to people who held views at both extremes. My attitude to this subject is fortified by statistics that have been submitted by Mr Don Aitkin, who I think is a Country Party supporter, and who writes frequently for the National Times. I think it was Senator Hamer who referred to striving to attain the middle ground, but Don Aitkin’s report indicates that 25 per cent of people hold extreme views. The righttolife people are extremely bitter in their attitude at the one extreme, and the abortionondemand people are just as worked up at the other extreme. However, well over 50 per cent of the people try to adopt a sane approach.
We have to look for the root cause of the problem, and in that respect Senator Chipp was extremely lucid in his remarks. If we are practical, and I think we are, we all know of cases where we or our staff members have had to counsel people. In some cases we might have been able to convince a woman that a child should come into this world, but in other cases the girl has had nothing to hang on to to bring that child into the world, irrespective of religion. I make the point very clearly about the need for practicality. Whatever interpretations are put on the Simon amendment, it does indicate that nobody is rubbing anyone ‘s face into the ground.
I wish to make my attitude clear for another reason. Frankly, to me this Bill of Rights is a gigantic joke. I am completely cynical about it, and I say that particularly to Senator Missen and Senator Evans, who use wonderful phrases about a Bill of freedom. Twice I have been involved in situations where I have had to protect my person. Because I defended myself the wonderful laws about which the honourable senators have talked helped a well-paid lawyer serve a writ for assault on me. Those honourable senators should not talk to me about Bills of freedom. Their wonderful scraps of paper will not protect me or anyone else if we are attacked by a semi-terrorist. They should get all that rubbish out of their heads. The trade union movement is not helped by this Bill of freedom. It is helped as long as it stands up to the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Let us get away from all this hypocrisy about bringing in a Bill that will help the individual. No Bill can do anything at all about that. Sometimes people have to take the law into their own hands in order to protect themselves. Under the system supported by those honourable senators, all some of us get is a writ for assault, and I make that point quite clear. This Bill on human rights and freedom leaves me cold and indifferent. Senator Elstob would know that if waterside workers engage a slick lawyer to help them when they are having a conflict with the boss they do not get very far, and in my life I have not got very far either. Let me be quite frank about it.
As to the Simon amendment, I have put my views to the right-to-life people, and, like Senator Chipp, I want to involve the various Christian doctrines. I have said before to the Catholic Church that, as most people are aware, it will have to modernise its attitude on family planning and contraception. It cannot separate one from the other, and I think I have made that fairly clear. People who belong to the righttolife organisation have conceded to me that they will not argue on the modern attitude to family planning, but some of them still do not accept that modern attitude. This is where inconsistencies occur on their side. On the other side, if we are honest with ourselves we will admit that, in regard to abortion on demand, there are often middle-aged women who have a nostalgic recollection of a situation where perhaps they were over-prompt in having a pregnancy terminated. I do not say that in a male chauvinistic way. I know about all the cross-currents, and it is for that reason that we cannot arbitrate generally. If we adopt the Simon amendment or its equivalent, people can still claim that they won, but I am more concerned with realities. To return to the Human Rights Commission Bill, although I am more interested in Bills dealing with trade union rights, I think I have made my position clear on this issue.
-Mr Chairman, I rise to support the amendment introduced by the Government. I do so because the amendment is attached to the Human Rights Commission Bill 1979. We are talking about human rights. I want to see the rights of the unborn child protected, because that unborn child has just as much right to life as you or I or anyone else. What is the good of a human rights Bill if life is not allowed to continue, if it is terminated during pregnancy? All the other rights may as well not exist because that life will not enjoy the rights we are asking for in this Bill. I said in my speech on the second reading of this Bill that I felt it was not as strong a Bill as I would like to have seen. I think I called it a toothless tiger, but nevertheless it is the best we could get.
Some of us totally supported Senator Missen ‘s amendments to the Bill but we were not able to carry the day, because we did not have the numbers, but at least we have a Bill, and that is something.
Today we are talking about an amendment to protect the rights of the unborn child- the most inoffensive, defenceless life of all. I do not go along with the arguments that have been put that a woman has a right to terminate a pregnancy. We are talking about the termination of life. In my opinion no one has the right to terminate a life. If a woman wants to give her child away after birth, if she wants to adopt it out or if she wants to keep it, that is all right. But no one has the right to take a life. The unborn child has no way of protecting itself; it is the most defenceless form of life that there is. That child did not ask to be conceived, yet some people have the audacity to say that its life can be terminated because someone says: ‘Oh, I am sorry; I made a mistake. I did not really want to have a child. I just wanted to enjoy myself. People who say that they do not want to keep a child which is conceived under those circumstances are in effect saying that they want the child to be killed - murdered. That is what we are saying when we agree with abortion. When we agree to the termination of pregnancy we are agreeing to the taking of life.
I know of dozens upon dozens of very lovely young people who cannot have children for one reason or another. Their marriages are almost on the rocks because of the conflict and the torment between husband and wife. Those families cannot get children by adoption. Yet we allow, it has been said, 62,000 abortions in this country every year. We allow the lives of 62,000 children to be taken when there are people who could well afford, in every sense of the word, to adopt those children, to give them a chance in life and to give them all the comforts that they need in life. We do not allow these children to be born because some people feel that they were a mistake. That does not give them the right to kill someone and to get away with it. But in relation to the unborn, the unprotected and the innocent life we say: Yes, terminate it, kill it’. I support the amendment because it represents everything I believe in. I believe that the child has a right before birth, and that it has the same human rights as it would have and is entitled to have after birth. For those reasons and because of my Christian principles, I support the amendment. I will indicate that when the vote is taken.
– I support the amendments of the House of Representatives. I do so on the ground that, in a Bill setting forth a statement on the establishment of a commission for human rights, we should include the rights of children before birth. I do not see this as a debate simply about abortion and I do not want to bring to this debate emotional catch cries or neat little boxes or to make accusing, name calling judgments of any other honourable senator in relation to that honourable senator’s personal views. I welcome the fact that we have a free vote on these matters in the Parliament. I believe it is right for me, along with other honourable senators, to indicate briefly my personal view of the actual wording of the amendment that is before us and its implications, particularly for the rights of children before birth.
When we are setting out a statement about human rights, whether by taking words from an international covenant on human rights or by placing some interpretation on some of the words in that covenant, woe is us if we do not include some proper reference to the rights of unborn children. I believe that all of us have an abhorrence of unwarranted physical injury to a pregnant woman and to the kind of damage that can be done, whether physically or by drugs, to unborn children. I do not believe that any of us would say that human rights begin only at the point of birth. Surely we must have sympathies for a child while it is in its mother’s womb. I have never been convinced that the point of origin of life can be clearly demarcated or defined. I find difficulty in accepting the view that the origins of life are at the point of conception or at some point when spermatozoa enter an ovum. I find that kind of technical demarcation discussion to be academic. It does not move me. I am rather sympathetic to the United States of America opinions that were quoted quite directly by Senator Evans in this debate when he referred to the evolution of the credibility of the life claim of an unborn child. There is increasing credibility to the life claim of an unborn child as it nears the period of birth. I, along with most honourable senators and most people in Australia, feel real ahborrence and difficulty if there is an unwarranted and fickle abortion close to the point of birth. But is it right for others to say that there are not such fickle abortions in general.
Honourable senators have said that they see some point before birth at which we need to protect the rights of children. I was moved very much by all that Senator Tate had to say in this debate. I think his interest and the interest of many honourable senators in securing, particularly in the last year- the Year of the Childattention to reducing and even eliminating injuries to children developing in the womb from the impact of drugs or from the wilful, negligent action of a mother, a family or a third party, are to be commended. For these reasons, I feel that this Bill should include reference to the rights of children before birth. As I said, I do this without putting up any neat little boxes about an abortion debate.
Various objections have been expressed about the amendment before us. Senator Missen and others have said that it is obscure. That is a value judgment. All phrases that are used for discussion of human rights can, by some, plausibly be called obscure. It is a matter of judgment as to how particular the Senate would want to be in defining the human rights of an unborn child. It may well be that in the course of the Commission’s proceedings there will be a call for a more precise definition. I believe that in the light of evidence of cases before the Commission it would be our responsibility in this Parliament to come up with a more direct definition. I think that definition ought not to include the words from conception’. For that reason, I do not support the views put by Senator Harradine and, in particular, the amendment that he has moved. Senator Missen also argued that this amendment to the Bill is not constitutional. I have not been in any way convinced by the reasons that he put forward. If other rights set out in this Bill are constitutional, clearly human rights relating to children before birth are also constitutional. It has not been demonstrated in the Senate that any difference can be shown between rights for the one or the other.
– The Attorney-General said it is constitutional.
– I am reminded that the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) said it is constitutional. These two principal objections of the three principal objections that Senator Missen put have not convinced me and I do not believe they should convince other honourable senators. The third objection of Senator Missen, which was also noted by Senator Evans and, to some extent, alluded to by Senator Chipp, that the addition of these words to the Bill may lead to a swamping of the Commission with cases in the area of challenges to the rights of children before birth is something yet to be seen. I am not convinced that it would happen. I believe that there is so much substance in this Bill with regard to the human rights of others that it is a matter for the Commission to have the personnel and the time to deal with all the matters that members of the public and claimants would want to bring before it.
I must refer only briefly to some of the other objections which were put forward. Senator Evans said that such an amendment is not popular and that while we should not tie ourselves to the vagaries of public opinion, we should give attention to public opinion polls. Others have put forward the findings of other public opinion polls. I think that it is right for us to say in this debate what we personally believe and to make our decisions on those grounds, rather than trying to find out which vagary of public opinion happens to be the most vocal at the moment. I do not believe that these words compromise the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that is the appendix to the substantial Bill. I believe that it is quite within the rights of this sovereign Parliament and that it is quite within the rights of the Senate to place an interpretation on sections of the Covenant. If that were not so, we would then better determine our own form of words for setting out human rights in Australia. However, the wording of the International Covenant that is to hand is in common with the commitments of other countries and serves our purposes, except for this principal matter for those of us who care to express a concern for the rights of unborn children.
Among the correspondence that I have received, I acknowledge that the majority of the correspondence has come from the Right to Life Association. As an aside, I think I should say that I have not felt that I have been blackmailed by the Right to Life movement. In fact, not one of its members have spoken to me, I think principally because I have been listening to this debate rather than accepting invitations to go and speak with those people who wanted to put views to me personally. I have read the correspondence that I have received. I am familiar with the Right to Life material and the arguments that its members have put. Whilst I do not share the black and white, and I think often emotional, phrases of the Right to Life movement, I have broad sympathy with those who are concerned that the number of abortions in Australia exceeds reasonable numbers and, indeed, are a threat- one of the principal threats- to the dignity of life that all of us ought to feel, not only for Australians but for all people.
As I said, I do not feel blackmailed by that view, but I have received a quite contrary submission from the Abortion Counselling Service, the Women’s Electoral Lobby, the Rape Crisis Collective and the Women’s Refuge over the name of Rhonda Hatch of the Women’s Centre here in O’Connor. Although she claims to represent those four or five groups within our community, I do not think that this letter is representative of them. It may be in the direction of some of the views of people in those groups, but I reject such radical statements as are contained in the five arguments put to me for consideration. I want to refer briefly to them. I have a very real respect for those who care about women in difficulties and who set up and perhaps are staffing refuges. I am concerned that there are persons who can counsel those who are abused by rape. I have broad support for the rights of women and sympathy for the way in which women can be abused in the community. However, such radicalisation of this issue by a letter such as the one I have received is very unwelcome. I believe that this is an unfounded submission to come to us as senators.
The first point made in the letter is that to support this amendment would be to contradict the United Nations Charter which recognises the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family, that is, women. In other words, that means that we should not recognise the rights of unborn children because that would compromise the inalienable rights of women. Such special pleading, I believe, is not only illogical but is also totally wrong. God forbid that we would, by so loudly proclaiming the just and proper rights of women or men- of any human being in our society- try to use that as a trade-off to deny rights to unborn children. The second argument talks about this amendment endorsing the view that the point of conception is the beginning of life. Clearly that is not so. There is no reference to conception in the House of Representatives amendment.
The third argument contained in this letter is that decisions such as this should be left to the individual to make, that the Covenant that is referred to in the Bill advocates freedom pf thought and action and that to support such an amendment would be to deny those rights to freedom of thought and action, presumably of women or of other adults, that the Covenant endorses. I think that raises a similar difficulty to that put in the first argument. I believe that we should see individuals rightly making their own decisions, with good information available in the community, but not so as to impair the rights of others, not so as to impair even the life of children about to be born.
The fourth argument says that the legislation will not have any real jurisdiction. It does have jurisdiction in the Australian Capital Territory.
– That is what it says in the fourth point.
– It does not exactly say that. It says it would only state a principle. It does more than that. It gives actual jurisdiction to the Commonwealth. (Extension of time granted). The final argument to which I will refer briefly is that recently the National Women’s Advisory Council called a meeting in Canberra which established a resolution, apparently by an overwhelming majority, in favour of the full and free access to abortion by all women in Australia, and so it is put that this meeting, supposedly representative of women, has fully and freely endorsed abortion, which would be inconsistent with the amendment from the House of Representatives which we are considering.
There are a number of glosses in that process of linking words together which leads me to reject it and see as spurious this fifth argument that is put to me and to all honourable senators. For a start, the wording of the resolution which was supplied by Senator Melzer during this past week indicated that 140 delegates were present at this conference, and I believe only about 14 refused to support the resolution. So it is true that there was a resolution put and that the overwhelming majority of women present supported it. But the wording is very subtly and carefully put together to the point that it appears that information and education should be available for the women of Australia. I will read the resolution:
In order to assist all women and girls to make responsible choices consistent with their needs, values and beliefs, and in order for them to control their own bodies information and education on human sexuality and the reproductive lifecycle should be made available.
I do not think that anyone would object to the first sentence of the resolution. It says that information and education should be available to all women. That is fine. I have no trouble with that. The second sentence says:
All methods of fertility control including abortion, with supporting counselling services, should be offered to women so that they have the right to choose.
To me, that second sentence is ambiguous. It may be interpreted as a qualification of the kind of information that is to be available. However, it could also be interpreted that access to an activity such as abortion should be entirely available to women in Australia. Such is the ambiguity of the sentence that some women to whom I have spoken about this resolution- who were present- thought it meant one thing, and some thought it meant another. The letter of submission from Miss Hatch, to which I have referred, or the letter circulated by Senator Melzer have put on this resolution a gloss that it was, indeed, a vote in favour of abortion. I am yet to be convinced that that was so. I do not believe that it was a vote, even with that large majority of women at the conference, in favour of abortion. I believe that it was a vote only in favour of information and education about these matters being able to be extended. I mention those five arguments that were put in the submission to me, and to other honourable senators, and I reject those arguments.
In conclusion, I come back to the statement made by the Attorney-General in introducing this amendment into the Senate. I believe his words to be true. He said:
The amendments will not require the Commission to take the view that life begins at conception. However, it will be an important indicator to the Commission that, in the view of both Houses of Parliament, the unborn child is to be accorded appropriate rights.
I believe that we should accord to unborn children recognition and access to rights against injury, deformity and unwarranted ending of life. For these reasons I support the House of Representatives amendment.
– I wish to speak briefly on this subject to indicate that I oppose both amendments to the Human Rights Commission Bill. I do so basically for the reasons given by Senator Hamer, Senator Chipp and others today. I will ignore the fine legal arguments that we have heard from the legal members of the Senate. The effect of these amendments- and certainly the aim of those who so vigorously have been campaigning for these amendments with honourable senators and earlier with members of the House of Representatives- as Senator Hamer says and as Senator Bonner so clearly demonstrated, is to provide a platform for the campaign against abortion in this country. In so doing, these amendments will reduce the effectiveness of the Human Rights Commission, and will distort its functions. I do not think that its functions are wide enough and I do not think that they will be effective enough, but they will be distorted considerably by the obvious intent of those who have been campaigning amongst us to use this amendment to wage a campaign against abortion in this country, including the Australian Capital Territory.
I have no objection to these people waging such a campaign. They have every right to do so although, like others, I condemn some of the methods they use. I remind honourable senators that some of those people who have so vigorously campaigned to us to support the Simon amendment condemned Mr Simon as a marked man and said that they would get him in the next election. It is worth remembering that that is what this debate, and these amendments, are about. As I have said, I have no objection to people campaigning as vigorously as they like against abortion in this country but I believe that they should campaign in an appropriate way and in an appropriate place. I believe that those people who would make abortion illegal, and who have been campaigning to me about it, should act against those statutes in the Australian Capital Territory and in the States which make abortion legal, and not try to do it indirectly through health insurance legislation, as was the situation last year, or by tacking on amendments to the Human Rights Commission legislation, therefore reducing the effectiveness of the Human Rights Commission.
Like others, because of the nature of this debate and because of the accusations that are made against people when this sort of emotional debate arises, I must state that I do not share the absolutist views that are held with great sincerity by people like Senator Harradine, on one side, and by people on another side who believe that- in my view, quite ridiculously- abortion is like pulling a tooth or some other very minor procedure. I have no argument with the concept that there is life at conception, but those who claim that that life is the same as life right up until birth and from then on do not follow up their arguments and beliefs in practice in everyday life. If that concept were carried through we would report the one out of four or one out of five cases of women who unfortunately spontaneously miscarry. We would have to report such cases to the coroner as deaths. We would have to go to the ridiculous extreme of having a proper funeral or disposal of the body. We do not do that, and God forbid that we would do it.
There is a concept in the community that life is different in the first trimester, and probably the second trimester. Then, we can introduce rules and regulations such as those in the Australian Capital Territory that any foetus that is aborted after 20 weeks is reported as a birth and death, but not before that stage. This distinction is made, and the vast majority of people in the community make their own distinction. It is also my experience that there are numbers of people who take the absolutist view and change that view when it comes to affect them or those who are close to them. At the other end, there are people who take a very cavalier attitude but who, when it comes to affect them, do not go ahead with it. The vast majority of people in the community lie between those points. They are worried by the subject and they do not treat abortion in a cavalier manner. When it comes to a situation where they or their loved ones may have to have an abortion, it is taken very seriously but still they do not take this absolutist view.
That is the problem with this debate, and that is why it gets as emotional as it does, because people on the extremes, who are in very small minorities, take this absolutist view. In this case, the most sincere people of the Right to Life organisation wish to use any means possible to gain a platform to push their views. We should not allow them to use the Human Rights Commission legislation in this way. We should ask them to put forward their views in an attempt directly to change the laws in relation to abortion in the Australian Capital Territory and in the States, if that is what they want. If they succeed in getting a majority on their side then they will succeed in changing the laws. If they cannot, they will not, and that is what democratic government in this country is all about.
I urge the Senate not to allow the Human Rights Commission legislation to be used as a platform so that annually in this Parliament we have what Senator Hamer correctly described as an absolutely futile debate where people get up and give their extreme views from one end of the scale or the other, or get up and express views from the middle, but still we achieve nothing. Let us legislate properly. If we are opposed to abortion, let us change the abortion laws. But let us not try to achieve our aim by an indirect means, by changing health insurance laws, or Human Rights Commission laws. We might just as well tack this sort of amendment on to an appropriation Bill or any other Bill which comes into this place as to do that. To do so would be equally futile and divisive and would waste the time of this chamber.
– I reject the thought that this debate should be considered a debate on abortion. We should look at what the debate is all about. It is about human rights. One facet of human rights is the protection of the unborn child. As honourable senators expect- as we can cast a free vote, a conscience vote, on this issue- I support Senator Harradine ‘s amendment and the Martyr amendment which was passed in the other place. I feel that the Simon amendment, which has come from the House of Representatives and is now before us for debate, whilst it goes a certain way towards achieving the desired result, is not sufficient. Surely what has to be done- a lot of honourable senators have said this today- is to determine when life begins. Perhaps I am in the minority, but I believe that life begins at conception. I see absolutely no reason to accept any other argument. Paragraph 5 of Article 6 in Part III of the Human Rights Commission Bill states:
Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age and shall not be carried out on pregnant women.
One presumes that that would apply to a woman right from the time of conception. This morning I was struck by remarks made by Senator Tate who does not appear to be here at the moment. I believe that he and other honourable senators gave a very good resume of how they saw the situation. I believe that Senator Tate put forward quite a good case. Honourable senators will remember that he talked about the protection of the unborn child. I think he listed some five or six points on the need for an unborn child to be protected. He outlined various situations in which that need was apparent including when the mother is in contact with disease and so on. His remarks were all thought out. I believe that the only aspect of protection of the unborn child which he did not mention was abortion.
As we are discussing human rights today, I believe that there is reason for us to discuss abortion. I, like other honourable senators, feel very strongly that too many abortions are being performed today. I think it was Senator Bonner who said, rightly or wrongly- I have not seen the figures, but I can well believe that what he said is true- that this year some 62,000 abortions would be performed. The figure must be at least as high as that. I suppose that in the past few years, since the laws in this respect were eased to quite a degree, we have lost far more Australians as a result of a change in the law than we have lost in any war. That is a matter which ought to be considered.
Let us consider the Right to Life Association and other such associations which have been lobbying honourable senators and members of the House of Representatives. I believe that there is cause for some criticism in some areas. It is quite foolish for anyone to say that the honourable member for McMillan, Mr Simon, who moved in the House of Representatives one of the amendments which are now before the Committee, is a marked man. For an organisation or a person to make such a foolish statement harms the organisation or person concerned. I believe that in many cases these organisations have fine ideals. It is a pity that on emotional issues such as this some people cannot curb their tongues. As can be seen now, the organisation concerned has come under attack because of such a statement. I reject that statement as emotional. I hope that it was not meant.
I have seen the Right to Life Association in action over the years. I believe that the people of that organisation have very strong feelings on the matter which we are discussing today, namely, human rights- the defence of the unborn child. The Right to Life Association has a right to lobby honourable senators and honourable members, as many other organisations lobby us here in Parliament House. I feel sure that we all receive letters from many women’s organisations, some couched in very strong terms, some threatening. In some the language used is so exceptional, so threatening, that we disregard them. I suggest to honourable senators that they should remember that the people who are involved with the Right to Life Association have fine ideals, but I have no doubt that at times some of the people are too emotional. I think that when the honourable member for Swan, Mr Martyr, put his case on this issue in the other place he put it very well. I will take just one minute of the Committee’s time to read the first part of his speech, when he said:
The purpose of the first amendment is to define the human rights of every human life, not from birth but from conception; and, secondly, to include in this Bill specific protection for those human rights. The right to life of every innocent person is the central base on which is built the whole of our Western civilization. If any innocent person, however insignificant that person may be, is done to death, his death denies the absolute value of every human life. If we reduce the life of every person to merely relative importance and if we force lives to compete for position on someone ‘s personal scale of values, we deny all the rights that any of us expect to have. However good our values might be, the integrity and the rights of every human person are reduced to someone’s personal opinion. When that happens man is no longer free. He has become a pawn in a game in which only the powerful call the moves. This has happened in Australia. Here unfortunately the value of each human life from its conception is no longer absolute but is subject to the actions of those who can exercise their power against the weak.
That is what this issue is all about. This is a debate on human rights. We are seeking the protection of the unborn child. I suggest that the amendment moved today by Senator Harradine is well worth supporting.
-I take part in this debate in order to make my position clear. I will not support either the Simon amendment or the Harradine amendment. I have listened with great interest to the debate both this morning and this afternoon. Whilst I was concerned previously about the acceptance of such amendments to the Human Rights Commission Bill, I am now more concerned and am more convinced than ever that it is unfortunate that the two amendments which are now before the Committee have been transmitted from the House of Representatives. There is no doubt in my mind as to what will happen. As many other speakers have said, including Senator Hamer, Senator Chipp and later Senator Grimes, this legislation will be used as a platform for certain groups, particularly the anti-abortionists, to continue the saga of trying to alter human rights legislation. I for one feel that, if they want to press for these things, it is far better that they do so in ways other than trying to include certain words in this legislation. The use of the legislation as a platform will only reduce its effectiveness and as Senator Grimes said, to a great extent distort the legislation. This is not what was intended when the legislation was first introduced. Hence I hope that the Senate will reject both amendments when later we come to vote on them.
I have been impressed with the debate that has taken place in this chamber today. It is a highly emotive issue, but I commend honourable senators on both sides of the chamber for the way in which they have entered into discussion and debate. I think it augurs well for the chamber that a group of senators can discuss such an issue on such a sensible plane.
A great deal of emphasis has been put upon the phrase ‘when life begins’. Many speeches have dealt more with this aspect of human rights than any other. I think they have overlooked another very important area of human rights. I refer to the rights of the woman herself. A thought that crossed my mind today while I was in the chamber and reading the record of the debates of the other place is that there is not one female member of the other chamber and in this chamber there is a great majority of male’s and there are six outstanding females. Men will make a decision that will affect the women of this world. I wonder whether we should give more emphasis to the human rights of the woman herself. We must consider the traumas of what a woman has to put up with if she decides for some reason, health or whatever, that she must have an abortion. Will the woman be looked upon as taking illegal or immoral action or will she be respected? Will it be accepted that she also has her human rights? I ask a question of each and every one of us in this chamber who has a wife or daughter. If for some tragic reason the wife or daughter had to have an abortion, how would he feel if somebody came through the door of his home and said to his wife or daughter: ‘You are not allowed to. You are totally immoral and you are breaking the law’? I wonder what would be the reaction of each and every one of us as individuals when it came right down to bedrock? I will make my position perfectly clear. As far as I am concerned, my wife’s health would come first. That would be my number one priority. I am not in favour of abortion on demand. There must be some control. But I think that overall we have to strike a balance and remember that in the context of human rights there are also women who deserve their rights.
– I rise to oppose both amendments. I find myself in the curious position of being on the same side as Senator Missen in this debate.
– You should think how Senator Missen feels.
– I admired Senator Missen ‘s legal argument. I think that a maturing process is going on. Even Senator Wheeldon has done the full circle and is agreeing with me on a lot of points, too. The debate is important. I am sorry that it degenerated in the House of Representatives from being a debate on human rights to being one on the abortion issue. The article in the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is quite clear and quite broad. It says that every human being shall have a right to life, that that life shall be protected by law and that no one shall take away that life, whether before or after birth. We can get into the interminable argument of when life begins.
All events in life are processes. Conception is a process. Being born is a process. Dying is a process. For example, when a person dies and is buried in a coffin his hair and nails still grow. A person is not dead all at once. Similarly, being born is a process. Conception often starts with just a gleam in somebody’s eye, but it is definitely a process. If we try to figure out at which stage ensoulment takes place we will enter into another argument altogether.
I have the greatest respect and always have, particularly so by being involved in the medical profession, for human life from the moment of conception or whenever. It is an intricate process. In fact, it is so intricate that one often wonders how so many of us can be born normal. Many things can go wrong. Fortunately, most of us are born normal. It is as well to remember that nature rejects about 1 5 per cent of all pregnancies. How will we figure out which ones nature would have rejected? Nearly all of the pregnancies which are rejected involve some serious abnormalities. Are we to ask all the doctors to fight for the life of every child that is threatening to miscarry, particularly when a doctor knows the child has probably some severe abnormality. How long will a doctor let the woman lie around bleeding while he fights for the life of the baby? We know of congenital abnormalities occurring, such as babies being born without any brains in their head. They are not all in this chamber. Such births do occur. We can call the babies encephalic monsters. They are incapable of sustaining life for longer than a few hours. The babies are usually born with massive shoulders. I remember as a young doctor that we were trained, with the cranioclast and cephalotribe, to smash the shoulders to bits to get the baby out. If we were not pretty sharp in getting the shoulders out they would impact and immeasurable damage would be done to the pelvic outlet. These things happen. Other people can marry and have beautiful blue-eyed daughters who are all blind, subject to fits and will die at two years of age. The only solution is for these people not to have children or to divorce and then re-marry. I have known in my own lifetime of such re-marriages occurring and for successful pregnancies to be carried through. Once we try to narrow this human rights covenant specifically to the rights of unborn children we open a Pandora’s box and are faced with the medical problems, the philosophical problems and all the legal problems that were well expounded by Senator Missen today. On these grounds, I cannot support the amendments.
-We are in the Committee stage of the Human Rights Commission Bill, which puts some constraints on us in terms of time. In the Senate we normally have a generous allotment of time in which to speak but in the Committee stage we have only 1 5 minutes. I have not spoken in the chamber on the subject of abortion. On the previous occasion that the matter was debated I did not state my position on it. I will seek to do so just very briefly in my speech today. I would like to indicate that the fact that I make a brief speech does not mean that I am stating all that I would have liked to have said on this issue.
A number of good speeches have been made. I indicate that I do not intend to repeat a large number of the arguments with which I agree but will allow them to stand in the record. For example, I indicate that I agree with the views and hold as part of the reason that I will vote against these amendments the legal points put by, for example, Senator Missen. Given the constraints of time it is necessary for all of us to take what we think to be the central issues. In my opinion a central issue to which the chamber is addressing itself today on the Simon amendment and the Harradine amendment is whether they are necessary. If either of those amendments is carried, what effect will that have on the Human Rights Commission? What is the purpose of the amendments being moved in the Parliament? I hope to have the chance to say something about the conclusions that can be drawn from the vote that will be taken on them.
A number of honourable senators have spoken on the subject of whether the Simon amendment is necessary. It seems to me that. rejecting the amendment will not in any way reduce the rights which already accrue to the unborn. The amendment adds nothing in terms of rights for the unborn. Unborn children have rights at present accruing to them, of course, after they are born live. Nobody is suggesting that they should have no rights or that anything should be taken away from them. To vote against the amendment is not to vote against the rights of the unborn. Nobody rejects the rights that exist. Nobody is attempting to diminish them. Those who proposed the amendment say that they are trying to enshrine those rights. The amendment does not do that. All the amendments moved are very general amendments fraught with all sorts of dangers for the Human Rights Commission, the effect of the Human Rights Commission Bill and women in the community.
Some suggestion was made at one stage of the debate that if those who support the amendments felt this way they should have said so or moved amendments when the Bill was originally debated in the Senate. I will not be quite as tough as some have been on that subject. I take up the point that Senator Tate made. He said that if cases were taken to the Human Rights Commission relating to the unborn- one takes that to mean also cases relating to abortion- the Commission could make constructive suggestions to the Parliament on how the rights or facilities of the unborn could be improved. Nobody disagrees with Senator Tate ‘s statement that he is concerned, as we all are, about the welfare of the unborn. As I recall, he said that he made statements to that effect when we had a debate on abortion in the Senate more than a year ago on a motion moved by Senator Ryan. Senator Tate referred to statements he made in that debate along the lines that I have mentioned. Without in any way taking away from Senator Tate ‘s bona fides which I totally respect, if he has already expressed that view and if he now holds that the view is valid in relation to the Human Rights Commission Bill and the amendments to it, I am surprised that he did not take the chance to raise the point when we had a long debate on the Bill in the Senate last year. In fact, the present debate has been inspired by an amendment which was moved in the House of Representatives, the socalled Martyr amendment. It came as a surprise to a number of people. I suspect that it came as a surprise to honourable senators as well as to members in the House of Representatives and people outside it. It did not occur to them that such an amendment could be moved. They had not thought of moving such an amendment to this Bill.
The effect of passing these amendments is a matter for judgment. There are those who have claimed throughout the debate that the effect would be to so divert the Human Rights Commission as to make it virtually unworkable and to so occupy its time with deciding whether an abortion should take place that the true purpose of the Human Rights Commission would be swamped. The amendments could, I believe, lead to an overloading and distortion of the Commission. One of the reasons I believe that that is possible is the very fact that we are debating these amendments in the Senate today. There are people in our community who take an extraordinary extreme view on the subject of abortion. I respect the views of those who differ with me on the subject of whether abortion should be made available but I find repugnant, as other honourable senators have indicated in the debate today and as some members of the House of Representatives have indicated, the tactics of some of those who hold the view that to abort a foetus is to commit murder.
We can debate forever- many people have been debating throughout the history of human existence as far as we are aware- when life starts, what constitutes life and what constitutes a living person when we address ourselves to the subject of abortion. But we end up with an opinion. I object to those who have a view that to abort is to commit murder and who insist that everbody in the community shares that view and that we debate the subject in relation to the Human Rights Commission Bill. As has been indicated, there has been some attempted intimidation of members of Parliament. Given the extremity of the activities of certain people who try to bully members of Parliament into voting for legislation which conforms with their view, I have no doubt at all how those people will treat the
Human Rights Commission if these amendments are carried. They have shown us many times how far they are prepared to go and how extreme they are prepared to be.
I pose a question to the Senate: If this tactic is successful on this Bill how many debates in the Parliament on other Bills will turn into debates on abortion? This Bill had nothing to do with abortion until an amendment was moved in the other place and then an anti-abortion campaign started. I do not think that any of us dreamt when we thought about, debated and voted on this Bill last year that it would come back to us with an abortion amendment attached to it to which we would have to address ourselves. I can see potential for all manner of government legislation to impinge on human or civil rights, medicine, health treatment or other factors. Such legislation could suddenly be subjected to these sorts of amendments and we would be in the same position. I am not saying that abortion debates are irrevelant in the Parliament. I am saying that they are not relevant in every subject into which one could find some guise for slipping them. If these amendments were passed it would be an invitation for people to try this. We would have endless pressure, intimidation and everything that goes with it from people who will not respect a contrary point of view.
What is the purpose of those who support this amendment? I do not address these comments to honourable senators who may choose to vote for the amendment. I respect the views that have been put by all senators who have indicated that they will support either the Harradine amendment or the Simon amendment. The motive of those who initiated the amendments and who conducted a campaign once the amendments were moved in the House of Representatives was simply to prevent abortions because they think that abortion is murder. If the Bill is amended in this way, those people will have the means, via the Human Rights Commission, to intimidate and harass pregnant women who want abortions. It will hang over the heads of those women that it is possible for others to take a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. That is intimidation and harassment.
I think it is relevent to look at the resolution passed at the national conference of women in Canberra earlier this month. Out of about 140 delegates only 1 7 registered their opposition to a motion relating to abortion. That is significant. Nobody can argue that those women were ratbag, radical leftists or whatever label is in vogue these days to attach to women who think that women’s position in society is capable of favourable amendment. I believe that all members of parliament received a statement headed ‘For Information of all Members of Federal Parliament’ which outlined that resolution. It indicated how many delegates were present at the conference and the spread of the organisations which were represented at the conference. It indicated that only 1 7 delegates refused to support the resolution. A number of names appear at the bottom of that statement. We received today a letter from a woman who is a member of the Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly indicating that there was something unrepresentative, radical or extreme about some aspects of that conference, particularly the fact that the resolution was conveyed to us.
I do not know all the women whose names appear on the bottom of the statement to which I have just referred, but I know several. I know certainly that some of them are of my political persuasion. They vote for the Liberal Party. They would be considered by those who vote for the Australian Labor Party to be conservatives in terms of their overall politics. I know that they are also reasonable women and they have a view which they subscribe to and believe in this case to be reasonable. So to dismiss that statement in those terms is grossly misleading. I note that my time is running out, which means that I will have very much to truncate the last couple of points that I wanted to make, but I want to make one point very clear.
– You can take as long as you like. If nobody stands, just carry on.
– Thank you. I would be pleased to have that option, if for only a couple of minutes. This week I received a telegram from Archbishop Rush of Brisbane, a gentleman whom I very much respect, admire and, just as importantly, like. It is a telegram which conveys to me his personal deep concern on the subject of abortion. It is a view that I would accept the Archbishop holds quite genuinely. However he uses a term in the telegram which so many of the anti-abortion lobby use. He uses the term ‘prolife’. He urges me to take a pro-life stand. What I will not accept is that from the views I have on the subject of abortion and the way that I will vote on this amendment, anybody could conclude that I am anti-life. I will not accept that. I know the Archbishop does not mean it, but some of his flock will certainly take that point of view and they have no right to do that. When it comes down to the subject of whether abortion is murder, one essentially comes down to an opinion relating to whether all abortions are murder, some are murder or none are. My view is simply that I do not have any objections on those grounds to abortions in the first and second trimester of pregnancy. I have very deep reservations about abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy. However, I do not rule them out because there are circumstances where a doctor may advise that the mother may die if a termination of pregnancy is not performed in the third trimester. But that is my opinion. I do not seek by means of legislation or anything else to impose that view on others.
I would like to see a society where people are able to make decisions, as we do in this place. I find the way that we all claim vigorously the right to a conscience vote very distressing in these debates. Yet so many can turn around and say: It is my conscience which would be imposed on people out there’. They are not allowed a conscience. They are not allowed to decide whether the first, second or third trimester abortions in any way offend their own morality. (Extension of time granted) I thank the Senate. I shall speak for only a couple of minutes. I do appreciate and realise that an extension of time is a device of the Senate that should be used sparingly and I shall respect that the Senate has given me that opportunity. The point I am trying to make is that essentially it comes down to a matter of opinion. My opinion is that abortions in the first and second trimester do not constitute murder. I know that there are many people who have the opinion that abortion any time after the beginning of the pregnancy is murder. I respect their view. They base it on a philosophical concept of what constitutes life. I totally respect their view. I only wish they would show the same respect for my view. A number of them do. I have had many indications from Catholic men and women that they are prepared to accept my view. They say they do not agree. The women may say: ‘I believe that I would not have an abortion if I had an unwanted pregnancy, but I do not believe that my view should be imposed on others’. Certainly that view deserves respect. Unfortunately, that sort of respect is not shown in the anti-abortion campaign to which we are subjected at the moment and from time to time.
There is the question about when life does begin and when human rights begin. Are human rights enforceable before birth? Nobody on any occasion I am aware of has attempted to explain that. There are human rights which pre-date birth once a child is born alive. It would be a mistake to confuse the debate that will go on and the issues, because if the amendment is defeated it must go back to the House of Representatives which must make a judgment on what it is to do. I am personally gratified at the tone of the debate on this subject. It has been about an amendment to the Human Rights Commission Bill. It has been about how the amendment could affect the Human Rights Commission. Honourable senators have taken the opportunity to indicate views on abortion because their views could be their reason for voting the way they do. Nevertheless, in this chamber today I think the debate has been essentially the same as that in the House of Representatives. But none of us has any illusions about the effect that passage of the amendments would have. I thank the Senate for its courtesy in extending me an additional three minutes and recommend that the Senate reject both amendments put to it today.
-I rise in the debate wondering where all the people who have made pious statements about unborn children were when we discussed in this House uranium mining, agent orange and insecticides and the hysteria of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) that took us almost to the brink of war last week. We have listened to people making pious statements about children in the womb being inviolate and regarded as human beings. We have heard those statements from people who, when we raised the question of uranium mining and the fact that radiation would affect unborn generations, told us we were just being sentimental and hysterical. When we talked about agent orange and 2, 4, 5-T and all those other so-called herbicides that maimed unborn children, that cause them to be aborted, were these people up on their feet talking about the right of unborn children then? They could not be found. Yet all those matters affect unborn children. This schedule which we are told should be amended talks about recognising that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person and the amendment would add from conception’.
I hope that in the future when we discuss some of these matters these people will remember that human beings have a right to inherit dignity from conception and will join with us to keep out of society those materials that presently so badly damage unborn children. The other part of the schedule that we are asked to talk about is that every human being has the inherent right to life from conception; that this right should be protected by law. I hope that the Government sees to it that the laws that come in the areas of uranium mining and of protecting human beings from chemicals also protect the unborn children from those sorts of materials. We are invited to listen to mealy-mouthed arguments over unborn children in the Human Rights Commission Bill.
The Bill is a toothless tiger and does very little to eliminate these very real threats to those either unborn or living. All that those amendments to the Bill will do will be to allow a very small segment of the population to overload the Human Rights Commission through its own bias, while they do nothing in the community to prevent unwanted children being born or to assist those children who are born to live decent and happy lives; they will do nothing about the real and apparent threats that exist in society to unborn children. The speech of the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) included these sentences:
The amendment will not require the Commission to take the view that life begins at conception. However, it will be an important indicator to the Commission that in the view of both Houses of the Parliament the unborn child is to be accorded appropriate rights.
I find it extraordinary that we can stand up in this Parliament in 1980 and suggest that the Federal Parliament of Australia does not take into account the rights of unborn children to be nourished, to be born safely and to be given every chance to live a decent life. I find it extraordinary that we are saying that we need to have some other means of protecting the children of Australia from being unwanted, badly looked after, undernourished or from being allowed to be ill from being bashed and ill-used by people. I find it extraordinary that we should admit in 1980 that we need a Bill on human rights to protect the children of Australia. But in this very thin Bill that we have anyway, it seems to me that we will not have a chance to do anything about the children of Australia because this Bill will be jammed up with the bias of some people who want to impose their feelings about abortion onto the community.
What I really do not understand is that, if these amendments are put through, who is going to represent the foetus? Who is going to speak up for the foetus? Who is going to have the right to go to the Human Rights Commission and say that they are representing that month old or three month old small being that has been aborted? Will it be the father? In lots of instances that may be rather difficult. Are we going to get to the ludicrous position- I know it sounds ludicrous, but with some of the extremes that are being spoken of these days, I wonder whether it is- where, if a woman misses her first period, will she then front up to the public prosecutor and report that a foetus has been aborted, or may be aborted, or could be in a position to be aborted? That is the sort of position we are being put in.
What else does it mean? If one is talking about life, then one is talking about a foetus that is living from the moment it is there, and from the moment of conception it is there. Are we going to be convenient and just talk about a viable baby that may be born, or are we going to talk about a foetus that, in the minds of most women and in the mind of the community, can be aborted up until, say, four months? It seems to me that we are in an extraordinary position. It is not just the Right to Life people, I must say, who do not like abortion. At the moment it would appear that the people who associate themselves with the Right to Life Association are the only people who have a conscience about foetuses, children and abortions in this community. That is not so. Every woman in this community who has had a baby or has been pregnant has a conscience about those foetuses, and has a conscience about those children. Women do not like abortions, and that is what the men who stand up in this place and preach about abortion ought to remember. No woman likes abortion, and no woman has an abortion lightly.
It is all very well for pious statements to be made about when a baby is viable and when it is not. Women do not like abortions but they do not like extreme views about abortions either. They do not have them lightly, but while society goes on ignoring the problems that women have, then women will be forced to go on having abortions. No Bill, no law, and no human rights commission will stop them. The thing that is going to stop abortions and is going to stop women having to have abortions is a society that understands the problems which women have, that understands that it is not easy to be a 15 year old who is trying to bring up a baby and that it is not easy being a 1 5 year old or a 25 year old who has to give her baby up for adoption. It is not easy being a woman who has had five or six, or three or four children, and finds herself tired, worn out, torn about and deformed by the work she has to do to keep her children, having to front up to an abortionist and say, ‘I have to get rid of it’. If we deny women the right to have those abortions in dignity and in clean surroundings, then they will go back to the coathanger and the knitting needle in the dirty back yard. We will go back to having wards in the women’s hospital that stink of rotting flesh. Women know that abortions are dangerous, they know they may die and they know that they kill their babies. But society forces women into that position. No amount of pious talk about human rights or about when life starts will solve any of that. Only real policies to allow women to prevent themselves having children, to have children with dignity, to know that they can feed them, clothe them and look after them will stop abortions.
As I said, women know they carry a life, but they are prepared to take the responsibility for that. Senator Teague was very patronising about the motion that was passed at the National Women’s Advisory Council conference last week. Whether Senator Teague interprets those words this way or that way, the women who were at the conference know that there was a very representative collection of women there who represented a very large number of women in Australia. They said clearly and unequivocally that they want the right to control their own fertility. If Senator Teague does not know what those words mean, I can assure him that there is a vast number of women across Australia who do know what the words mean, who are going to take that right, who have taken the right up to this moment and who will not be put off. It seems to me that rather than spend the day arguing about when life commences or about when life ceases, we would have been better engaged in ensuring that the very real problems that women in Australia have are dealt with. We should see to it that women- people- in Australia have a very real choice to make about the human rights of all people who are born or who may be born into this society.
-The last time when what is commonly referred to as the abortion debate took place in this chamber, I adopted what may be accepted as being probably the pro-life stance. But on this occasion I give notice that I will be voting against both amendments for these reasons: I am concerned that amendments are being tacked on to Bills which are essentially of a Federal nature, whereas the question of abortion clearly lies in the province of State jurisdiction. Holding that view, I can see tremendous medical and legal difficulties that can arise as a result of conflict between those two stances. I think also it is dangerous to have situations where items can be tacked on to Bills such as the one which honourable senators are looking at today, because I can see a multitude of other Bills coming before this chamber in years to come where we could have similar amendments added. I think it is not appropriate that, as a Senate chamber, we should continuously debate what is referred to as abortion matters.
I mentioned earlier that I think it is entirely appropriate and right that the State legislatures should deal with this matter, and I believe that they do so with a great deal of feeling and with discretion. I am also concerned because it is a very uncompromising stand in terms of both amendments. I can see situations where tremendous emotional stress is involved. I believe the Bill does not provide extenuating circumstances for abortion whereby, on account of deformity, either of a physical or a mental nature, it may be necessary to protect, I believe, the interests of the child as well as protect the health of the mother and the family. I hope that people will not take my stand on this matter to mean that I am advocating a free and open-ended means of providing abortion generally to the community. I believe it should be restricted to the most extenuating circumstances. On the other hand, I believe it is improper for this chamber to append to Bills provisions relating to abortion, which can be dealt with more appropriately in other statutes. I therefore give notice that I will vote against both amendments.
-I do not claim to be different from all the other senators in this chamber when I say that I am opposed to abortion on demand as a means of contraception. I do not think there are any senators here who are not opposed to abortion being used as a means of contraception. I am also sure that I am not alone in being concerned at the growth in the number of abortions in our country. I have heard senator after senator on both sides of the chamber express concern about that matter. This Convention, which is part of the schedule to the Human Rights Commission Bill, is about human liberties. We have talked of it as being about human rights, but I suppose that another phrase would be human liberties. It talks about capital punishment, torture, slavery, liberty of the body, humanity and liberty of movement within a country. It does not talk about the rights to life except insofar as it talks about that right in relation to capital punishment. In relation to the abolition of capital punishment it refers to the death penalty, genocide and people sentenced to death.
What is intended to be done by both amendments is to create a right to life in an unborn child. The crux of the question then becomes: When is a life created? I do not know when a life is created but, like Senator Chipp, I feel that if I do not express some view on that question perhaps I will be accused of cowardice, and therefore I will say something about that subject. I have the greatest sympathy for those who believe that a foetus is a human being from the moment of conception, but I am afraid that I cannot accept that proposition. I was very interested to observe that Archbishop Little, who wrote to me, as he did to most other Victorians, I presume, also does not put that proposition. In his letter to me he said:
I write to support those many Australians who believe that human life . . . does not commence with the severing of the umbilical cord.
Of course, I accept that proposition. However, he does not in that sentence or in any part of the letter say that the foetus becomes a human being from the moment of conception. He went on to say:
Failure to recognise human life from its very beginning degrades and demeans individuals.
I certainly accept that proposition from the Archbishop, but again he does not say when is the very beginning of human life. Because I cannot accept that proposition, I therefore cannot accept Senator Harradine ‘s amendment. Likewise, I feel that I cannot accept the Simon amendment. It seems too vague. The Attorney-General (Senator Durack) has already described the words of the amendment as being ‘not altogether satisfactory’. I am unable to say what it means as to when human life begins. It may well be that we should adopt the definition of the New Zealand Royal Commission to which Senator Harradine referred, but I think that that would not be going far enough. On the other hand, I am much attracted to the American laws mentioned by Senator Evans, because it seems to me to be right and proper that a foetus should develop rights as it ages. It may be that some rights of a foetus accrue before birth, but only crystallise on its birth as a living person. In other words, it is a condition precedent to the exercise of the rights that the foetus is born alive. It may be that some rights of a foetus arise before birth and are actionable before birth, although I find that concept somewhat difficult to accept.
These are problems of great complexity which require deep consideration and should be subject to separate legislation and debate. They should not be tacked on to a Bill which deals with the establishment of a statutory authority and the implementation of a convention on human liberties. When this Bill originally came before the chamber, I opposed all amendments to it except the sunset clause. I expressed the view then that the Human Rights Commission should be given a chance to establish a life of its own and that in about five years’ time we could consider the legislation in the light of those five years of experience. I have listened carefully to the debate today and I have read most of the debate in the House of Representatives, but I have neither heard nor read anything which changes my original view that the legislation should pass in the form originally proposed by the AttorneyGeneral. Accordingly, I will oppose all the amendments.
– I fail to understand the logic of those honourable senators who say that an Act relating to human rights would be distorted by any addition of the rights of the child. However, the majority of speakers in this place today were males, and I think that they lack logic at most times.
– That is a sexist remark, you know.
– It is a very sexist remark. Senator Chipp, in rather emotive terms, berated a number of organisations, mainly the Right to Life Association and I think also the Festival of Light, for daring to lobby members. I believe that he used the words that they sought to intimidate and blackmail senators and members.
– I am entitled to resent being intimidated and insulted.
– If the honourable senator ever feels that he is being blackmailed or intimidated, then he is not worthy of sitting in this place. If he feels that he bends to a little bit of blackmail from lobbying, then he does not deserve to sit in this place. I have never felt intimidated. I have never felt that I have been blackmailed by people from the Scarlet Women’s Collective, who approached me during the abortion debate. I did not feel intimidated nor did I feel that I should bend to their whim. If Senator Gietzelt feels that way he should not take a seat in this Senate.
– But you are a strong character.
-The honourable senator says sarcastically ‘But you are a strong character’. Unless the honourable senator believes that he is not intimidated- I cannot imagine that Senator Missen would ever feel intimidated by people lobbying him- then he also should not be in this place. I cannot believe that Senator Missen would ever feel intimidated by people lobbying him, and I think he would agree with me on this issue. I have received letters- quite incredible letters- from some of the -
– You have not seen the letters we have received. What are you talking about?
-The honourable senator should see some of the letters I have received from some of the way-out organisations, such as the Lesbian Mothers Association and the Scarlet Women’s Collective Association. He would then perhaps understand that no matter what type of letter we get we should not feel intimidated, not if we are prepared to take our places in the Senate. I also believe that Senator Chipp, by saying what he did, insulted the many members of the House of Representatives and the many honourable senators who say that they would never feel intimidated by people who lobby the members and senators as is their right. If he does not like it he should not be here because lobbying is a very legitimate procedure of the democracy we work under.
The law provides for rights of the child before birth, as has been said by many people in this place today. The thalidomide case is a case in point. Children who were damaged in utero by that drug have won vast amounts of money. Apparently it is all right to do ultimate damage to the child in utero but it is not all right partially to damage it because if the child is partially damaged the people responsible are up ibr large amounts of money. If one does the ultimate damage one is not up for a penny. Senator Chipp and Senator Melzer said that no woman would take on an abortion in a trivial fashion. I do not know how those honourable senators would view the person who was interviewed on television about coming to Sydney to have an abortion. She was asked why she had sought an abortion. She was a young girl of about 20 to 22 years of age. She said that it was inconvenient to have the baby at the time and that it would interfere with her university exams. I do not know whether honourable senators would consider that trivial but I do. I consider that the inconvenience of its interfering with university exams could be classed as trivial. We are told by other honourable senators that abortion relates purely to women and that it has nothing to do with men. Good heavens, what is wrong with them? A woman cannot have a baby on her own; it is just not possible.
– Go on!
– I had a feeling that the honourable senator was not aware of that basic fact. I am very pleased to know that Senator Chipp does understand that. I was certainly under the impression that he felt that it was only the woman who had any say in this matter. I believe that the child is the responsibility of the male as well as the female. Therefore, the decision to destroy the life of the child should be taken by both parents. The male should not just say: ‘I wash my hands of it’. He has equal responsibility for the creation of that child. Those honourable senators who say that a married man does not quite understand all these things are certainly insulting their own sex. We have just been told that it is quite extraordinary that we should be debating this matter today and not understand that the Government does not protect the right of the unborn child to be born safely. I think that was what Senator Melzer said. As I understand it, this Government does not protect the unborn child sufficiently to be able to say that every unborn child has the right to be born safely. Senator Lewis said that nobody in the Senate would suggest that we use abortion as a contraceptive device. Yet at the mid-decade conference of women a resolution was passed by some of the women -
– It must have been the majority, if it was passed.
– Does the honourable senator know what I am going to say? I was going to say that most of the women at that conference decided that abortion should be used as a method of fertility control. I think Senator Lewis should perhaps look a little more closely at the views of some women, particularly the views of some of the women in this place. I know Senator Melzer also believed in that idea as she voted for it on that occasion.
– My word she did.
– I am glad that the honourable senator supports what I say. I think Senator Lewis was wrong on that count. He was not aware that some people would be feeling that way. There is very little I can add to my remarks in this debate. I have spoken on this matter many times in this place. The Senate is fully aware of my feelings in this regard. The main point to which I would like to return is that I do not believe that an Act relating to human rights can possibly be distorted by an addition in relation to the rights of the child. The whole of the Simon amendment related to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
– It is not about the rights of the child.
-Of course it is. The amendment has been taken from the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. If the honourable senator is not conscious of that, perhaps she would like me to read from the Declaration of the Rights of the Child the paragraph that really pertains to this amendment. I shall quote directly from the Declaration -
– From the preamble, not from anything in the substantive Declaration.
– The preamble sets out the understanding of the whole of the Declaration. If one leaves out the preamble- I say this just for the convenience of Senator Evans- one does away with the whole Declaration. The preamble sets out the real understanding of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The preamble states:
Whereas the United Nations has, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status-
That is just the first part I shall quote. I gather that Senator Evans would like that part cut out also because that is the preamble. It continues:
Whereas the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth . . .
If any honourable senator believes that an Act relating to human rights cannot include the principles set out in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, it is quite beyond my understanding. It is not logical and it is not sensible. If honourable senators say that that Act will be distorted by the inclusion of the principles contained in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, they are really looking for excuses not to vote according to this amendment.
– I want to make only a very brief intervention in the debate. When I last spoke, which was before Senator Harradine ‘s amendment was formally before the chamber, I said that I would speak again. I do so in order to state that my general approach to these questions is that I favour a very liberal view of the right of women to have abortions and to make the decision to have abortions. But I believe that in almost no cases are abortions undertaken lightly or capriciously by the people concerned. What I believe follows from that is that government and honourable senators who have said that they believe that those things are true have a responsibility to ensure that some of the conditions which lead women into the necessity to have an abortion are removed. That means, in essence, the expenditure of public funds on sex education, the availability of information about contraception, the availability of access to places to provide sound moral and medical advice about contraception and family and the need for centres that provide counselling and guidance for those people who go through the mental, physical and psychological traumas involved in the process of having an abortion. It follows from a view about liberal law on abortion and from a view that one believes the overwhelming majority of abortions occur after very serious thought has been given to the matter, and a decision being made by the woman concerned, that the commitment of public resources to assist people in those positions ought to be an automatic flow on from the adoption of those first two views. I hope that honourable senators on both sides of the chamber would therefore be prepared to give their fullest support to the expenditure of public funds on those particular undertakings.
– I trespass briefly on the time of the Committee again to correct what I can perhaps most charitably describe as a misapprehension by Senator Harradine of my position in a particular respect. I am prompted to make the point largely because there seems to be an equally great misapprehension by Senator Walters as to the particular point, which relates to the status of these international human rights conventions and declarations. Senator Harradine took issue with my reference to the international human rights conventions- both the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child. He expressed some puzzlement at my suggestion that they just did not help the cause of either the Simon amendment or, indeed, his own amendment. He asked how could it be that there could be any rights for anyone, whether a child or an adult, unless there is a recognition of the basic right to life. Let me clarify that question, both for his benefit and also for the benefit of Senator Walters, because I suspect that if one could unravel the complexity of her articulated expression on this subject, one would find a similar misapprehension lurking there too.
The question we are debating is not whether human beings should have a right to life as such. We are debating a rather narrower question. That is whether the right to life, legally recognised and protected in various ways, should extend in all circumstances to the situation which exists before the birth of a human being, and in particular whether that right in question, if it is a right, should extend all the way back to the moment of conception.
It is true that all the human rights conventions, including the 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child, are premised on the continued existence of the life of the person in question, the life in being. On any view the right to life in that sense is the most fundamental one of all. Of course, it is true in that sense that the notion of a right to life runs right through the text of all those conventions. But none of those conventions goes to the particular specific and much narrower question which, I repeat, we are debating here, and that is whether that right to life, that claim of a right to life, should be regarded as extending back to the situation which exists before birth.
For the particular benefit of Senator Walters, I just draw attention to the language which she quotes on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child and point out to her that it does not in turn state that there shall be a right to life before as well as after birth. It just says that there should be appropriate legal safeguards before as well as after birth which is, of course, a quite different matter and, indeed, is quite consistent with the present law which is that a child who is the subject of a prenatal injury can in fact sue for it after birth. There is nothing in the language of that declaration, any more than anywhere else, which says, in the terms that we are asked to support in the Simon amendment, that every human being has the right to life before as well as after birth. I appreciate that the distinction is one that might not be immediately capable of being grasped by Senator Walters, but it is nonetheless a distinction of great significance for those who would argue that these international instruments are relevant and that they in themselves give a justification for the particular amendment.
The point is simply that the case for the Simon amendment and the Martyr-Harradine amendment, whatever their other strengths or weaknesses- I do not go over those- just gets no positive encouragement from anything in the language of any of those international instruments.
– I merely seek clarification. I did not raise this matter in the first place. I think it was Senator Evans who raised the United Nations Declaration on Rights of the Child. In that declaration there is a specific reference to the appropriate legal rights both before and after birth. I have my pinks in which I state:
Senator Evans, in one of his statements in opposition to the message from the House of Representatives, made the point that the United Nations Declaration on the rights of the Child does not state anywhere that the child does not have the right to life. I put it to the Commitee-
Then Senator Evans interjected:
Before birth. It does not state that it has the right to life before binh.
The point I am making is that if the child has legal rights before birth, it must have the right to life. If the right to life of the human being is taken away, we do not have a human being and then we do not have a legal right. That is the position in a nutshell.
On the point that Senator Puplick made, let me just say this: I think that the Government would be best advised to give support, both financial and positive, to the family. If it did that, many of the problems which have emerged would not emerge. But the main reason I rose was to clarify my position in respect of the amendment. If my amendment is defeated, I propose to vote for the message from the House of Representatives because I am concerned- as we are debating this matter in the Committee of the whole I would like all honourable senators to bear with me on this-that the message from the House of Representatives in relation to physically and mentally handicapped people could very well go down the drain and, indeed, would go down the drain if my amendment is defeated and if the amendment from the House of Representatives is defeated.
– They are covered anyway by the Bill, and you know it.
- Senator Evans says they are covered. The Attorney-General (Senator Durack) indicated in his speech today that strictly speaking this part of the amendment is unnecessary. But he went on to state:
Article 2(1) requires that the rights recognised in the Covenant are to be respected and applied ‘without distinction of any kind’. Distinctions based on physical or mental handicap would accordingly appear to be proscribed without need for the amendment.
But the Attorney continued:
However, the amendment would certainly confirm the position of the physically and mentally handicapped as a group against which there must be no discrimination, and express to the Commission in binding form the Parliament ‘s particular concern with those unfortunate people.
I believe that we have reached the stage where we must consider seriously whether we will throw out my amendment, and more particularly whether we will throw out the message of the House of Representatives, and with it the specific recognition of those people. Indeed, taking that a step further, will we throw out the specific recognition of the people who are totally unprotected and who do not have a voice for themselves, namely, the unborn children?
– I want to make only a few comments. I was not going to enter the debate, but in view of some of the statements that have been made I want to indicate that I propose to oppose both of the amendments. I think it is a great pity that the human rights legislation has been used as a means of again stimulating public debate about the whole issue of abortion. This is a matter to which from time to time honourable senators have made contributions, expressing their own conscience views. Of course, it is the right of members of the House of Representatives and of the Senate to put their points of view on the Human Rights Commission Bill. I did not want it to be suggested that by not making the sort of contribution that other senators have made in some way I was evading the issue or not expressing my own views. Many of us are involved in politics because of our concern for human beings and humanity.
Certainly the rights of women are paramount in this matter that has been reactivated as a result of the Martyr amendment, which was then sought to be put aside as a result of the Simon amendment. The Committee is now debating a message from the House of Representatives, and Senator Harradine ‘s amendment. One could argue, as lawyers can, about the legalities of the situation, although we should be concerned with morality rather than legality. One could argue that there are legal definitions, and it could take hours, days or weeks to satisfy the opinions of various members of the Senate. I enter this debate to make it clear that I do not think the human rights legislation should in any way be used as a means of expressing what is clearly now a minority view in the Australian community about the issues of abortion. Clearly, no woman would want to have an abortion for abortion’s sake. No woman, or man- taking up the point that Senator Walters raised- would want to make such a decision capriciously or lightly.
There are issues which obviously would weigh very heavily upon the individuals who have to make those sorts of decisions. I do not think it lies in the legislative power of the Houses of Parliament to sit in judgment upon that sort of decision making. I am very pleased that Senator Puplick raised the question of family planning and education about sexuality. They are matters which ought to be regarded as a part of our responsibility, rather than the moral questions that have emerged recently in the human rights debate. After all, we are now confronted with genuine attempts in the Queensland Parliament to tackle this problem where it ought to be tackled- in the area of education. Honourable senators have seen the extreme views taken by some people involved in the leadership of that Governmnent, which seeks to prevent any proper public debate about education as the principal means by which the problems of contraception, pregnancy and abortion can be dealt with at that level.
One would hope that the enlightenment which seems to be developing in the most unexpected quarters of that State will continue until such time as the parliaments themselves accept the responsibility to take the sort of steps that will make available to all human beings, particularly in their periods of adolescence, the capacity to understand, comprehend and prevent the unwanted pregnancies which finally lead to that decision which has to be taken by a woman in respect of her own body. If we are concerned with human rights, we ought to be concerned about the rights of women. It is a pity that we have been moved back into controversy when dealing with the Human Rights Commission Bill. That Bill does establish some basic principles about the rights of human beings and it ought not to be deflected back into the no win situation because of the question of abortion. For those reasons I will be voting against both amendments.
-I wish to take the opportunity to indicate that I am persuaded by the comments of my colleagues Senator Tate and Senator Mulvihill to support the proposition put to the Senate by Senator Durack. It seems to me that the position is a reasonable one. After talking about the amendments and raising issues which have been talked about, Senator Durack stated:
Where law or practice need changing, the Commission will have no power to effect these changes itself. Its function will be to report, with recommendations, to the Minister and through him to Parliament. So the Commission will bring back to the Government, and to this Parliament, the problems it has encountered in working out the implications of the amendment.
I am prepared to accept that it may well be that the arguments put up by Senator Missen and my colleague Senator Evans could develop into a matter that simply accelerates the debate in the community about abortion and its related issues that irritate many people in Australia. Although my views are different from those of a large number of my colleagues, because of my beliefs, I too resent the push that people are giving to these matters and the interference to honourable senators who are of good moral standing when making up their minds about important issues.
All I want to say about the covenant is that it seems to me that, whilst it might provide to the Commission a large amount of work and a great deal of thinking in areas upon which it will have no positive deliberations, the issues will stay in the community generally for many years. To a large extent, in the Senate today there has been a very good interchange of views but it is clear also that there was a lot of emotion from those honourable senators with extreme opinions. Those opinions are reflected even more so in the community. Somehow the matter has to be resolved. I do not support either Senator Harradine ‘s proposition or Mr Martyr’s amendment but I think that all honourable senators are concerned about the unborn child. That can be judged by the honourable senators who have spoken.
What the Opposition has said is true, in that we should be paying attention to the care of the mother, and to the conventions and covenants which talk about welfare and care, because we are talking about something which has turned into a moral question. I say that only to explain the position I take. I do not think that there will be a great hardship to the Commission. It may well be that the Commission, in reacting to the complaints which will come forward, will be able to show to the Parliament a path upon which the community generally can converge. Most covenants, international conventions and meetings involve a consensus. The matters that can be agreed on are agreed on and the difficult issues are left aside. I suppose that to some extent that is what the argument is here- to put aside the difficult issues which cannot be determined and about which the doctors, biologists, specialists and lawyers can argue. In summing up, I believe it would be in advantage to try the Simon amendment, and I have given my reasons for supporting it.
– I would like the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) to take one minor aspect into consideration. Senator Puplick talked, I think off the top of his head, about finance being made available for education. I put very strongly a plea that any finance which is made available for education should include finance to enable an evaluation of that education to be undertaken before large amounts of money are spent on it. I know that Senator Puplick would agree with me on this because he is a great believer in evaluating programs as they are implemented, but he did not mention it. It may have escaped his mini at the time. I just put to the Attorney-General a special plea that any finance made available for education should have attached to it finance to enable an evaluation of the education programs undertaken with that finance.
– I speak again in this debate for two reasons: The first is to deal with some matters which were raised in the course of the debate, in particular to deal with one question which was put to me; and the second is to explain my attitude to the amendments in the exercise of the conscience vote which has been accorded every honourable senator on both sides of the chamber. Early in the debate Senator McLaren asked me a question concerning the situation of a pregnant woman who was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment under a Commonwealth law- I think the situation would be the same irrespective of whether the sentence was imposed in the Australian Capital Territory or elsewhere under a Commonwealth law.
Senator McLaren pointed out that the Commonwealth does not have any gaols and that the State gaols accept Commonwealth prisoners. He asked what the position of an unborn child would be in that situation if it were accorded rights. The position is that any Commonwealth prisoner who is lodged in a State gaol is there under Commonwealth law and that Commonwealth law would continue to apply even though a prisoner was in a State gaol. Therefore, if the Human Rights Commission is established it will have jurisdiction in relation to any rights which the unborn child might have in that situation.
I wish to comment upon some other matters which were raised in the debate. Firstly, the question was raised of whether the amendments would be valid because under them the Human Rights Commission would not be specifically administering the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. I think that that was the issue about which concern was expressed. The position is that the Human Rights Commission legislation is not dependent upon the external a/fairs power. The Commission would seek to use the external affairs power only if it were sought to be applied to State law. I think it is clear that ample Commonwealth power exists to set up a commission to advise the Commonwealth Government and the Commonwealth Parliament in relation to their laws and practices. The power to establish a commission is contained in the powers under which the Commonwealth laws, which would be under question by ;he Commission, are passed. But I do not think that that would be a serious factor in the consideration of these amendments by honourable senators.
– Speak for yourself, Minister.
– I meant that generally it would not be a serious factor. It is a pity that Senator Missen ‘s and my differing views on these legal issues perhaps do not excite other honourable senators as much as they do him and me. There is no doubt that that power exists.
– Hear, hear!
-I thank the honourable senator. Another matter I mention is that some honourable senators have expressed concern that perhaps the Commission would be presented with floods of complaints or at least would be faced with additional major questions if these amendments were passed. I am not at all sure that that necessarily would be the case. Undoubtedly, it would be the case that people would endeavour to place before the Commission an argument that, under the existing Covenant, the rights of an unborn child should be considered. There may well be justification for that. I am sure that there is a high probability that that would occur.
All that the amendments which have been transmitted from the House .of Representatives and the amendment which Senator Harradine has moved would do would be to define, certainly with more clarity than is the case with the legislation as it stands, the ambit of the jurisdiction of the Commission and the powers of inquiry and report by the Commission. I expect that, in any event, such matters would be brought before the Commission. But I point out that the Human Rights Commission will have before it a number of very difficult, very sensitive, issues. If the issue of abortion does come before it, as I expect it would do in any event, the Commission already will have many other issues of great sensitivity and great importance before it.
What we are proposing to establish is a commission of sufficient competence, expertise and authority to be able to deal with these matters and to report to this Government and this Parliament. I would be surprised if the Commissionestablished as we would hope to establish it- was not able to deal with the problems which would be presented to it if any of the amendments before the Committee were carried. I have great confidence that it would be able to do so. If these amendments are accepted and they do present the Commission with additional problems, I do not see why those problems will be of such a character as to be beyond the competence of the Commission. I say that in view of the very many difficult issues which already the Commission will have before it.
I have been a little concerned about some aspects of the debate which, I think, revealed a misunderstanding of what the proposed Human
Rights Commission and the amendments which are before this Committee are about. Senator Harradine ‘s amendment and the amendments transmitted from the House of Representatives seek simply to define with greater precision one area of the Commission’s proposed jurisdiction and powers. Paragraph 1 of Article 6 of Part III of the Schedule to the Human Rights Commission Bill states:
Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
The amendments seek to make it quite clear that the meaning of life in that sense extends to the life which exists in the unborn child. The whole exercise of establishing a human rights covenant and of having an international covenant on human rights is about a declaration of rights. It does not resolve the very grave conflicts about human rights which occur between people. It is our responsibility, as parliamentarians, to do that. What we are trying to do now is to get an affirmation of rights. The ultimate resolution of conflicting rights is another problem altogether.
This whole human rights debate is about declarations of what are the fundamental rights by which we live and which we, as parliamentarians, observe. We may have to qualify those rights. We are doing that all the time. That is what parliament is all about. That is what government is all about. It is about the process of trying to resolve conflicts of rights. But what we are doing now is simply trying to make declarations on what we really believe about the rights of people. I believe that the rights of the unborn must be accorded the same character as the rights of the living.
I moved the amendments from the House of Representatives because I felt that they were a method of compromise, perhaps a means of resolving a conflict between the views expressed in another place and a Bill which emanated from this chamber and did not contain what the House of Representatives required. The issue has been raised; it has to be faced. It is no good running away from this issue. It is no good our saying that if we pass these amendments we will have numerous debates on abortion or that the Commission will have additional work and so on. I assure the chamber that this problem will continue to be with us whether we change this Bill or not. The problems are real and they pose real threats to large numbers of people in the community.
As I said, I strongly believe that the unborn child has rights and that those rights begin at conception. I think that that fact has been recognised by most honourable senators who have spoken in this debate, if we consider that the unborn child has rights it logically follows that we have to recognise them as arising at conception. As I have said that does not in itself resolve the questions of what those rights are at any particular time or how conflicts between the rights of the mother and the rights of the unborn child may be resolved by any particular law or in any other way. Those are other issues. I am affirming that the child has rights and that those rights ought to be considered when these very difficult questions come before us as legislators for resolution. In those circumstances and because of my personal views in relation to this matter, I propose to support Senator Harradine ‘s amendment. It does not appear as though there will be great support for his amendment. If his amendment fails, I hope that there will be support for the amendments which have been proposed by the House of Representatives and which I have put before the Senate.
I believe that the amendments are a satisfactory way of resolving a difficult problem. If the problem is not resolved by these amendments, we will be faced with a continuing issue between the two Houses. I do not know whether the issue can be resolved in any other way. No doubt we will find out. If the Committee is anxious to have the issue resolved quickly, I believe that the adoption of the Simon amendment is probably the most satisfactory way of doing so. I hope sufficient numbers of honourable senators support it. Thereby we will achieve the passage of the Human Rights Commission Bill, which will enable us to go ahead, by clear affirmation of what this Parliament believes to be fundamental rights in our community, to establish machinery which will be in existence to enhance those rights and to advise us as parliamentarians and the Government.
– Because of the need to vote on this matter before 6 p.m., I will not debate the first answer that the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) gave me. I thank him for giving me that answer. He has overlooked answering my second question. I asked: What will be the commencement date for the payment of a family allowance if these amendments are carried and the unborn child is deemed to be a human being?
– I am afraid that Senator McLaren’s question is an example of the confusion which exists about this whole debate. We are not proposing to pass new laws. We are proposing to establish a commission which will consider matters and advise us on how our laws relate to the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and, I hope, on the amendments that are proposed to it.
Amendment to amendments negatived.
Original question put-
That the amendments made by the House of Representatives be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator C. R. Maunsell)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
-Mr President, Standing Order 226 states:
In any case when a Bill is returned to the House of Representatives with any of the Amendments made by the House of Representatives disagreed to, the Message containing such Bill shall also contain reasons for the Senate not agreeing to the Amendments proposed by the House of Representatives; and such reasons shall be drawn up by a Committee of three Senators to be appointed for that purpose . . .
In accordance with Standing Order 226I move:
– I ask whether there ought to be a representative on the committee of those honourable senators who voted for the motion as well as representatives of those who voted against it.
– We can avoid appointing a committee merely by sending the results of the division to the House of Representatives with a copy of the debate. Surely members of the House of Representatives can work out the reasons why the amendments were not agreed to without our going through the tortuous procedure of drawing up those reasons. That seems to be the simple procedure. The three honourable senators could merely carry across to the other place a copy of the Hansard and the result of the division.
– If there is to be a conference between the two chambers, I presume that there would be representation of the people who voted for the motion.
– There is to be no conference. Is Senator Baume’s motion seconded?
– I second the motion. In so doing I indicate that it is the view on this side of the chamber that such a committee, before presenting the views of the Senate to the House of Representatives, would report back to the Senate on the nature of its report. I think that would resolve some of the difficulties which have been raised by various questions in the last few moments. I have pleasure in seconding the motion and urge its adoption by the Senate.
– I point out that the report would be returned to the Senate from the other place and it could then be debated.
– Whilst I support the motion, I query the basis on which Senator the Right Honourable Reginald Withers has been included on the committee given that it is not clear what the honourable senator’s views are on this or any other topic. In the entire time I have been a member of this place he has not opened his mouth once to speak in the chamber.
– I wish to move an amendment to the motion. I would like to delete one member of the Committee and replace him with Senator Tate or with any honourable senator who voted for the motion. I will explain my reason for doing that. I think there is a grab bag of reasons why some honourable senators voted for the motion. I would prefer to see a report sent to the House of Representatives which reflected the range and variety of reasons put forward rather than the views of a particular group. I do not know whether any of the honourable senators nominated will volunteer not to be on the committee. I do not want to remove a particular honourable senator.
– Who will volunteer?
– I will not pursue the amendment.
– I raise a point of clarification. Will the report of the committee come back to this chamber and be debated?
– That is so.
-In that case I support the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Sitting suspended from 5.53 to 8 p.m.
General Business taking precedence of Government Business at 8 p.m.
Motion (by Senator Rae)- by leave- agreed to:
That the General Business, Notice of Motion No. 1 standing in my name relating to the Ministers in the Senate and Chairmen of Senate Standing Committees be postponed to the next day of sitting.
-by leave-Without being over-critical, I would like to say that I was not aware that this item was to be postponed. With that being the case -
-A number of people within your party were aware of it. If you would like to check with the senator immediately in front of you you might find out something.
-Thank you for the information, but that still leaves me in a little bit of a bind because it is a very important item which I anticipated would be debated at great length. Strangely enough there would have been some measure of support from this side.
– I am delighted to hear it.
– We have not sorted out our thoughts. We would have welcomed the debate tonight. However, I think it is wise for
Whips to know when a substantial item in General Business is to be postponed because it does affect the rest of the program. Unfortunately I have two motions to move which will postpone another couple of items. If everyone wishes to go home early perhaps we can come to some mutual arrangement. It does make a mockery of General Business if postponements are to come at a late stage.
– by leave- In the light of the statement by Senator Georges I would like to say that in no way did I move the motion tonight with a view to the matter not coming on. A considerable amount of work has been done to prepare a paper which I trust will reach the stage of being circulated to honourable senators prior to the motion coming on so that there is some basic document on which they can disagree, agree or make contributions, additions or what have you. That document has been held up by various matters, some of them beyond my control. I am looking forward to this matter coming on for debate. It is not with any intention that it not come on that I moved for it to be deferred, but rather that when it does come on we have the most effective debate we can on a matter which raises a whole series of questions in relation to the future of the Senate. When it does come on I would hope that it will occupy the time allowed for General Business on a Thursday night. I indicate to Senator Georges that I did tell a number of members of his party of my intention tonight.
– by leave- I would like to add to that by acknowledging Senator George’s comments and suggesting that on these matters perhaps we do need to consult and look at the whole matter.
-At the request of the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Wriedt, I move:
I apologise for not informing the Government Whip. I think the boot is very much on the other foot.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
It would seem that the third time is lucky on matters of General Business tonight. I want to make a few comments about the Commonwealth Grants Commission Special Assistance to the Northern Territory First Report issued on 9 October 1979. The Commonwealth Grants Commission Amendment Act 1978 made provision for any application by the Northern Territory for a grant of special assistance to be referred to the Commission for inquiry and report and defined such a grant for special assistance in similar terms to those relating to applications by a claimant State. This report is the first to be issued by the Grants Commission relating to the Northern Territory. It is historic for that reason because it deals with the first application made by the Government of the Northern Territory. In addition to being historically important it is important for the ramification of its findings. It also sets a base year against which other claims will be developed in future years. The report discusses three things basically; the submission made by the Northern Territory Government and the departments of the Government; the Commonwealth Treasury submission; and then the final section looks at conclusions and recommendations.
I would like to comment briefly on the main features of the Northern Territory submission because this is necessary for an understanding of the later comments which I want to make. The Northern Territory submission was commented on in this way: In its main Treasury submission the Northern Territory claimed that as a result of a number of factors and circumstances it suffers disabilities in raising revenue and in providing services. These would justify a grant of special financial assistance to enable the Territory to function at a standard not appreciably below that of the States. The revenue base of the Northern Territory is much smaller in most taxation areas than it is in the States. The Northern Territory’s submission put forward the fact that it had made reasonable efforts to raise revenue. It pointed out that there were expenditure difficulties of two types. It referred to these as expenditure disabilities. The first was that the Northern Territory is obliged to maintain expenditure levels at the same quantum as those set by the Commonwealth prior to self-government. It claimed also that the Northern Territory suffered disabilities in the provision of services, the economic environment, diseconomies of small scale, dispersion, remoteness and population characteristics.
It is clear, without going into these in any great detail, that there are special qualities of economic environment and that those require a larger amount of assistance. There is no doubt that there is a high potential in the Northern Territory but with this high potential is required much more expenditure to set it in motion. The remoteness and the dispersion of the population caused a number of things. I do not think that I have to go into great detail about these, but obviously there would be high transport costs and high fuel costs. It is clear that there would be damage to vehicles travelling over country roads to remote areas and of course damage to the goods being carried in those vehicles. All of these problems are exacerbated by the fact that there are two seasons in the Northern Territory. In the wet season transport is difficult.
We draw attention also to the fact that there is a high proportion of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and it is increasing. The birth rate among the Aboriginal people is higher than that of the white population. In addition there are high and increasing levels of expenditure needed to enable the Aboriginal people to achieve self-management. I think all of us would agree, without going into great detail, that the communities will develop self-management only if they are given the opportunity to provide the services themselves. It is accepted that there will be additional costs for the provision of these services in the early stages. The Northern Territory Treasury submission might be summed up in these words: It dealt with the general impact of expenditure disabilities experienced by the Territory in providing the range and the level of Government services for which the Territory is responsible. It also dealt with the difficulties arising from the Territory’s below standard revenue raising capacity. The report states:
The departmental submissions-
These were put in by departments which had been Commonwealth departments but which were now State departments-
Gave the Commision a valuable insight into the nature of the special cost disabilities confronting the Territory in the delivery of State-type services … By and large, the most commonly experienced general disabilities outlined in the Northern Territory Treasury’s submission (economic environment, diseconomies of small scale, dispersion, remoteness, physical environment and population and demographic characteristics) influenced in varying degrees the operations of all departments . . . Each of these departments invited attention to the severe disabilities of small scale operations and the problems involved in the provision of services to isolated communities. In addition to these general disabilities, however, the departmental submissions also elaborated on the effects upon their own operations of the more specific problems mentioned in the Treasury’s submission, such as:
backlog of research and lack of research establishments:
b) lack of a home market in the Northern Territory:
higher recruitment costs to attract qualified personnel;
travel and accommodation costs associated with inservice training of officers in southern States;
problems associated with the development of town sites and mining communities in remote and isolated areas; and
extended deliver)’ delays for essential items of plant and equipment.
The Commonwealth Treasury submission, as might be expected, asked that the Commission should be conservative in the assessment of the advance grant, and it spoke of the difficulties of assessment, given the inadequate data. There was a suggestion of some criticism of the Northern Territory Government, and I would like to put paid to that one very quickly. We have to be reminded that the Northern Territory Government has only operated since 1 978 basically and the infrastructure was not there to enable it to carry out a great deal of research and to gather the data that was necessary. I make the point that we do not interpret any criticism in the report.
The conclusions of the Commission basically were that the Ministers have executive authority, in their words, ‘Not below the standard of the States’. It did recognise that the Ministers of the Northern Territory Government had these responsibilities and had this executive authority. The Commission, in its conclusions noted that the Northern Territory did not have experience in revenue raising and expenditure in many areas for which it now had responsibility. It accepted the proposition put forward by the Northern Territory submission that many of the expenditure policies in 1978-79 must reflect the Commonwealth Government decisions taken in the two or three years prior to the self-government of 1978. We are drawn to the conclusion that the Northern Territory has a lower capacity to raise revenue than the States. We are drawn to the conclusion that the Northern Territory does suffer substantial expenditure disabilities. We are reminded again of the words that I have used so often in speaking of the Northern Territory- the unique nature of the Northern Territory. The report, in its conclusions, commented that it doubted whether the normal methods of measuring fiscal capacity were appropriate when looking at the Northern Territory. In its conclusions it did say that more investigation is needed, as I have already said, and that more data is required, but the recommendation was that there should be an advance grant of $ 10m.
I think that when we look at this grant we must see the advance grant of $ 1Om in the light of what was asked for by the Northern Territory Government. It asked for- this was an estimate to carry on the need for existing service $2 1 .8m. In addition to this it drew attention to the need for a freight equalisation subsidy of $ 1 5m. It said that Sim would be needed for mental health services, and asked for $600,000 for tertiary education facilities and $5.6m for services related to mines and energy. In other words it asked for a total of $43 m. So that less than a quarter of what was asked for is being given. An advance grant of $ 10m is being given, compared with $43m which was requested.
It is all very well to say that there will be some further moneys coming in the completion grant, and I certainly look forward to seeing $33m come in the completion grant. But we recognise that that will not come until the following financial year. It means that at the present time some services cannot be provided. Once again, in the words that we have used in this place, it leaves the Northern Territory as the poor relation. One wonders, perhaps, why Canberra rejected selfgovernment, if this is the sort of treatment that is meted out. I wonder also whether the Northern Territory would have rejected self-government if it had been given the opportunity. I do not think it would have, and I certainly would not. The people who sit in this place from the Northern Territory certainly would not have seen selfgovernment. We want self-government but with it a realistic appreciation of our difficulties and some tangible assistance from the Federal Government of the completion grant the report stated:
In accordance with the Commission’s normal procedures, the amount of the advance grant recommended in this Report will be adjusted by way of a recommended completion grant in 198 1-82 when full information and financial data in respect of 1 979-80 become available.
I make the point that the Commission seems to have developed a good appreciation of the difficulties facing the Northern Territory Government, and I commend it for this. I also commend the Northern Territory Treasury, the Northern Territory Government and the departments of the Government for the presentation of the case which they put before the Commission. I call on the Government to have, likewise, some appreciation and provide encouragement to the Commission to provide a complete grant at an appropriate level.
At a social function recently in Alice Springs, associated with the opening of the council chambers, we were advised that the South
Australian Premier and the Northern Territory Chief Minister had had talks. Among some of the things they discussed were the Stuart Highway and the completion of the rail link between Adelaide and Darwin. One hopes that the Commonwealth Government will get the same feeling of unanimity as did the Premier and the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory and will give support along the lines which it has promised over the last few years. In addition to this, there are some other needs which must come before the Commission and the Government. I draw attention once again to the most important matter of freight costs. I recall that in the report the Northern Territory Government asked for $ 15m. We want to see this not only as freight equalisation, but as longer term support. In the long term, obviously, this will involve a south road and links with Queensland.
We heard the South Australian Premier talk of a channel through the centre. He made the comment that the east and the west coasts had had a go and that it was now time for the centre. I think most of us who live in the Territory would like to see links not only to South Australia- our natural friends over the years- but also to Queensland and maintained with the rest of Australia. We want to see a completion of the railway link so that there will be a good link from Adelaide right through to Darwin. We want to see also in this matter of freight costs in the short term, and to a degree in the long term because it means planning, some acknowledgment of the high costs of freight and air fares. Obviously, there ought to be some action to assist this. I leave the mode of this assistance to the Government. The Opposition has already indicated how it would handle the situation. The second item that will have to be looked at in the next few years is the one of water supplies for the Northern Territory. We are a small population, we will not be able to carry the cost of this ourselves, and some assistance will be needed. The report indicates that the Commission appreciates the differences. It recognises the uniqueness of the Territory, and this is an encouraging sign to all of us. I trust that the Government will accept the recommendations which have been put down by the Commission, and that it will see the need for an adequate completion grant and not fight against it as it has tended to do in its submission in this last case. I trust that the Government will also see the needs which I have highlighted and others which will become apparent. I conclude by congratulating the Northern Territory Government and the departments for their submissions. They have some work to do, and no doubt this is already in train and will be completed. When this is done, it will lay firm foundations for future submissions which I have no doubt will be put in by the incoming Labor Government of the Northern Territory.
– I am glad to see that the other honourable senator from the Northern Territory shares my optimism for the Northern Territory. Tremendous moves have occurred there because of the way the Northern Territory Government has participated in the developments that have taken place since the declaration of selfgovernment on 1 July 1 978, This is incredible to see. When we look back in history we see that the Territory was first founded in 1823, and belonged to New South Wales until 1 868, I think. After a number of years it became part of South Australia. In all those years the population of the Northern Territory remained virtually stagnant. There was very little expenditure and no development. There is no doubt that the Northern Territory was the very poor cousin of Australia.
The strange thing is that in those years, when there was tremendous development in the States, Australians did not realise the potential of the Northern Territory. Of course, Territorians realised it, but from 1911 it became stagnant as far as representation in the Federal sphere was concerned. In fact, there was no representation. Under an administrative arrangement the Federal Government oversighted the Northern Territory, and there was very little development. Through political striving and with the benefit of a report on the Northern Territory by a Federal Government committee, we reached the situation where we had a fully elected Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, in which you participated, Mr President. To the joy of most Territorians, on 1 July 1 978 the Northern Territory achieved self-government, and it has worked amazingly well in the last 18 months. I have no doubt that in this decade the Northern Territory will not remain a territory but will take its rightful place alongside the States of Australia and become a State.
At the moment we are looking at the report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission on special assistance for the Northern Territory. This Commission has a very important function in the Northern Territory, and I think I have touched on this matter in the last couple of days. I have indicated that when negotiations were taking place between the Executive of the Northern Territory Government and the Executive of the Federal Government, including the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), it was put very strongly by the Northern Territory Government that it wished to participate in the Commonwealth Grants Commission. Since the Commission first came into being, I think in 1937, it has done tremendously well for the States of Australia, particularly those in poor circumstances. One can look at the various States and see what has happened in Western Australia, for instance, through the assistance of the Commissioner over the years. It was agreed that the Treasury, the bureaucracy, would not be the authority which would arrange and negotiate the financial return to the Northern Territory of taxpayers’ moneys and other revenues but that an independent organisation, the Commonwealth Grants Commission, would be brought in. In fact, that is what happened. The Northern Territory’s submission to the Grants Commission states: . . it suffers disabilities in raising revenue and in providing services; these would justify a grant of special financial assistance to enable the Territory to function at a standard not appreciably below the standards of the States.
It goes on to say: the Territory suffers disabilities in the provision of services by reason of the economic environment, diseconomies of small scale, dispersion, remoteness, physical environment and population characteristics. Each of these disabilities was claimed to entail a high measure of needs.
I hand it to the Federal Government that in the negotiations that took place it was agreed that if the Territory suffered special disabilities, then financial arrangements would be made to ensure that there was no hardship. That is what the 1979 First Report on Special Assistance to the Northern Territory is all about. At the beginning of the report it is suggested that, in the interim, financial assistance of $10m be paid to the Northern Territory. When considering that amount one should look at the 1979-80 Budget Speech of Marshall Bruce Perron, the first Treasurer of the Northern Territory. He also commented on the Commonwealth’s financial relationship with the Territory. In presenting the Budget, he said:
I have mentioned the sound financial approach established in this Budget. Honourable members will recall that the last financial year was called the ‘transitional year’.
It was quite an important year, moving from Federal responsibility, Federal administration, to Northern Territory Government responsibility, with the people of the Northern Territory having a say in their own affairs. He went on to say: . . in accordance with our agreement with the Commonwealth their subvention in that year was a single global amount of $280m.
A Memorandum of Understanding, sets out the financial arrangements that now apply to the Northern Territory. The
Memorandum provides that 1979-80 is the base year for future funding by the Commonwealth. Under this arrangement, recurrent funds will escalate by the percentage increase in net personal income tax collections, multiplied by the percentage increase in the Territory’s population. Capital funds will vary by the same proportional increase as that which applies to the States from year to year. For 1979-80. the total Commonwealth payment to the Territory is $442m.
The keynote of all this is a most important factor, namely, predictability. The Northern Territory now has an assured level of funding and with it the capacity to provide governmental services and the infrastructure support essential to entrepreneurial development. The day of stable financial funding has arrived in the Territory. I cannot overemphasise just how important this is to all of us.
So said Marshall Perron, the Treasurer of the Northern Territory. He continued:
In this context, honourable members will quickly appreciate the significance of the base funding figures in this Budget. The overall level of funding was settled by agreement between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory Governments. We made sure before reaching this agreement that there was full recognition of the above average population growth pattern we are facing, and that the 1979-80 subsidy for the Electricity Commission has yet to bc finalised and agreed. This year’s subsidy may prove to be as high as $45m.
I think it might have exceeded that amount because of the costs incurred by the Commission in its oil-fired operation. He went on:
The requirement for fair and equitable treatment of the Territory was, of course, set out in the Memorandum of Understanding which this Government successfully concluded with the Commonwealth upon the grant of selfgovernment on 1 July 1978.
I commend both governments for the partnership that has been achieved. In the first 18 months of its operation, self-government has been a tremendous success. Mr Perron continued:
I have been referring to Commonwealth assistance in terms of principles and in this our base year of funding arrangements it is appropriate for me to give a brief overview of the precise forms of financial assistance provided to the Northern Territory under the base year arrangements.
The Northern Territory Treasurer went on to describe the general purpose revenue payments. As we are talking about the special purpose grant through the Grants Commission, I will quote what he said about that. He said:
During 1978-79 we applied for this grant of special assistance in relation to 1979-80 and the Grants Commission has completed its preliminary work. This part of their inquiry, referred to as the advance assessment, was conducted within the constraint of an understandable shortage of past and present quantifiable and comparable data. The data problem will only be corrected in the course of time.
As Senator Robertson has said, it will occur with increased staffing and improved documentation as the acceptance of responsibility continues. The Treasurer continued:
In these circumstances, the Grants Commission recommended an advance grant of $ 10m.
This is what the report is all about. He continued:
As we are guaranteed $20m by the Commonwealth, the recommended advance grant of $10m does not apply. I will report further to the Assembly -
That is, the Northern Territory Assembly- on this matter upon receipt of the Commission ‘s full report.
The point I am making here is that because of the very substantial understanding between the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government the flow of advances, grants et cetera from the Federal Government to the Northern Territory Government has been extremely good. This has enabled considerable development to take place. As well as that, honourable senators would be interested to know that there are general purpose capital payments, specific purpose payments and so on. In regard to the specific purpose payments to the Territory in 1 979-80, $66m was for recurrent purposes and $42m was for capital purposes.
As I have mentioned before, in the last 18 months considerable development has taken place in the Northern Territory. It would be wrong for anybody in Australia now to believe that the Northern Territory is the poor relation. The Territory is coming of age very rapidly. Development has taken place in its main industries. It would be true to say that in years to come the Northern Territory will more than play its part in revenue earning in the financial structure of Australia. An economic statement tabled in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly in February of this year indicated that an amount of $24m was new money over and above the Budget of last year. That means that, despite the optimistic Budget presented this financial year, the Territory has been forging ahead in so many ways and that there is excess money within the system amounting to some $24m.
Due to the rapidly increasing population and the expanding enterprises, the demand for vehicles, homes and land is creating higher than predicted revenue increases. The unprecedented growth in population, jobs and activity meant above estimated receipts from the major areas of payroll tax, land sales, stamp duties and motor vehicle registrations. As honourable senators would be aware, a casino is operating in Darwin and $725,000 has been received in casino taxes and fees. Land sales are up $6m on the Budget estimate. Payroll tax yielded an extra $3.4m. The Territory has established itself as a national leader in payroll tax relief with the concessions granted totalling Sl.lm. For stamp duties, $780,000 was received over the Budget prediction. For registration and licence fees, $400,000 was received over the Budget prediction. Of course, these increases are directly tied to the development taking place in the Northern Territory today.
There was a $3.2m allocation in addition to the total of $ 13m in the Budget for the home loans scheme. I add that the home loans scheme for people in the Northern Territory is the most advanced in Australia. It has the lowest income rate and provides the highest amount for the people who are being attracted to the Northern Territory to participate in its development. The sum of $300,000 has been earmarked for housing for Aboriginal members of the Northern Territory Public Service. It is worth noting that in the days of Federal administration of the Northern Territory the Aboriginal members of the Northern Territory Public Service were few and far between. Under the new Administration, Aboriginals are participating and are being encouraged to participate in the Northern Territory Public Service.
An extra $2. 8m has been allocated for education, including $250,000 for school furniture, $200,000 for school equipment, $376,000 for independent schools assistance, $70,000 for an additional classroom at Bathurst Island, and $50,000 for Garden Point school. The sum of $550,000 has been allocated to community colleges in Darwin and Alice Springs for trade courses and equipment. I add that the figures to which I am now referring relate to the disbursement of funds that are surplus within the Northern Territory. For local government there was an extra $5.2m. It is of interest to note that in the last two months there has been once again an indication of the co-operation between the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government. The figures I have show how extra funds have been disbursed. Darwin City Council received $498,669. Alice Springs received $232,392, Katherine received $84,852 and Tennant Creek received $155,820. Much of this expenditure on local government was encouraged at the same time as the commencement of self-government activities in the Northern Territory and local government participates very much in the new structure.
An extra $3m has been allocated to meet increased salaries due to the national wage case decision. For the construction and maintenance of roads, including the upgrading of the Daly River, Elliott and Pine Creek roads and the access to the airstrip, $1.6m has been made available. For the upgrading of rural Darwin roads, $100,000 has been made available. For maintenance and capital expenditures on public works, $1.3m has been made available. An additional $472,000 has been made available for community welfare, including Aboriginal community workers. The sum of $280,000 has been made available for mines and energy. For police aid and cadet schemes the sum of $ 1.1m has been provided. The cadet schemes that are being developed in the Northern Territory will be of interest to Senator Bonner. We are now seeing Aboriginal police cadets participating. They will play a very important part in this scheme. For parks and wildlife, $343,000 has been made available.
The tabling of the Commonwealth Grants Commission’s report gives an indication to anyone looking at the financial structure of the Northern Territory of the development that is taking place and of the success of selfgovernment in the Northern Territory. It is indicative that once the Federal Government had the faith in the people of the Northern Territory to encourage them to play a part in their own administrative arrangements and the running of their affairs the result has been a success story. In the very first year af self-government in the Northern Territory- from 1 July 1978 to June 1979- the Territory’s population grew at least three times faster than the national average. Darwin’s population grew at a rate four times the national figure.
The Territory’s job creation rate showed a growth of 7.6 per cent in the 12 months, although unemployment increased. The average annual increase of 85 per cent in unemployment- before self-government- has slowed to 23 per cent. I suggest that if the figures for the last few months were available, we would see that unemployment is dropping even further with the tremendous development taking place in the Northern Territory. For instance, at Tennant Creek the development by Peko Mines N.L. is proceeding with some $35m being spent. This is creating tremendous employment opportunities. The mineral industry is the Territory’s leading industry. Mine and quarry production amounted to $249m in 1978-79.
The Treasurer in his speech went on to say that there are four major uranium projects in the Alligator River region. Total production could amount to 330,000 tonnes, 20 per cent of the world ‘s known reserves and equivalent in energy terms to the oil reserves of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Already 1,200 men are working at the Ranger and Nabarlek uranium projects. The regional town, Jabiru, which I shall be visiting within 48 hours, is being developed at an estimated cost of more than $80m over the next 2’/2 years. Uranium will give the Territory the start that gold gave Victoria. There are also proven oil reserves- an estimated 300 million barrels at Mereenie- and 600 million cubic feet of gas at Mereenie and Palm Valley, as well as good prospects off the northern coast where in the next few years $42m will be spent on exploration in four main areas.
- Senator, if you keep this up you will not get any special assistance next year.
– That would be quite all right. As I have indicated before, we should not look on the Territory as a poor relation. I am sure that the Territory will not get any more or less than it deserves from the Commonwealth Grants Commission but, as Senator Robertson has said, because of the isolation of the North, there is much work to be done on the roads and in other areas.
Let us now look at tourism. The industry has demonstrated a dazzling growth rate, with Territory visitor traffic in 1978-79 at 300,000 persons, compared with 110,000 visitors in 1976 and a mere 26,000 in 1966. The Territory is forging ahead. The Northern Territory is a success story, particularly since self-government. As honourable senators will realise from their visits to the Northern Territory, at about the time of selfgovernment, people were concerned about whether they were doing the right thing in accepting self-government. But they did accept it, and now we are seeing the Territory going from strength to strength.
I look forward to receiving further reports from the Commonwealth Grants Commission. The Territory is very pleased to be participating in this matter with the Grants Commission. In the years to come we will see the revenue of the Northern Territory growing considerably. I believe that the time will come, perhaps in this decade, when the Territory will not be a mendicant State, but will be able to support itself in its own right.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
-At the request of Senator Mulvihill I seek leave to withdraw General Business, Notice of Motion No. 4.
Notice- by leave- withdrawn.
Motion (by Senator Georges) agreed to:
That consideration of General Business, Notice of Motion No. 5 be postponed until the next day of sitting.
- Mr President, on 6 November last year I gave notice of a motion which I now move:
That the Senate condemns the Government for its failure to ensure that the Australian Broadcasting Commission retain rights to televise national sporting events, and its subsequent failure to provide through the Australian Broadcasting Commission a television coverage of the 1979 Melbourne Cup to many rural areas of Australia.
It is not normally my role to condemn governments in motions such as this. I am usually a more placid character than that. Normally I would put down a Notion of Motion seeking that the Senate ask the Australian Broadcasting Commission to do something. But I was caught up in the anger that was prevailing in many rural areas in Queensland at the time. On 6 November last year- the day that I put this Notice of Motion on the Notice Paper- the Melbourne Cup was run in Melbourne.
Thousands of people in the State that I represent were not able to view the running of last year’s Melbourne Cup. They were justifiably angry at not being able to view it. That anger spilled over to me and prompted me to place this Notice of Motion on the Notice Paper. I am glad that I did. It is worth while now to look back at last year’s Melbourne Cup with some dispassion and really see what happened on that day back in November. The thousands of people in my own State who could not view the Melbourne Cup were of course also joined by many other people in other States who were not able to view it. On that day the Melbourne Cup was not shown on the ABC network. If people were not able to receive the broadcast of a television station other than the ABC on their television sets, they just missed out on what is an important national event. These people who contacted me about that time-people from the north-west, central and south-west areas of Queenslandwho were not able to receive the broadcast of a station other than the ABC on their television sets, were justifiably angry. After all, the Melbourne Cup is a major national sporting event.
Many people watch races once a year only, and that is when they watch the Melbourne Cup. Some people watch the Melbourne Cup not even knowing the horses running. They may know one or two horses if they draw them in a sweep. But it is one of the national sporting events which is a legend in Australia, and people throughout Australia stop for a few minutes on that day to watch it if they can. Certain people in the area to which I am referring could listen to the broadcast of the Melbourne Cup on the radio, but they could not see it on television. Of course, many of us listened to the broadcast of the Melbourne Cup on radio before we had television in Australia. But there is not as much enjoyment in listening to the radio broadcast as there is in actually seeing it on television. My motion goes far wider than covering just the Melbourne Cup last year.
I would like to outline some of the difficulties that people have in some remote areas of Queensland. Although I am talking about Queensland, of course that situation applies to other States. I know the situation in Queensland better than I do in the other States. In some parts of Australia it is not possible to receive television. When I go to those places sometimes I am torn by conflict. Sometimes I like the idea of communities without television, because they tend to create their own entertainment and enjoyment. On the other hand, television provides not only good entertainment but also some educational facilities for young people.
As I have said, some areas in Australia cannot receive television. In other areas there is no problem receiving four televsion channels. That cannot be done in Canberra; we receive two channels. It is not unusual to be able to receive four television channels in the major capital cities, and thus have a wide variety from which to choose for entertainment and enjoyment. There are some areas in Australia- I speak mainly with the knowledge of Queensland- that can receive only one television station, and that is the Australian Broadcasting Commission. These people rely on the Australian Broadcasting Commission for their entertainment. One channel viewing has some definite disadvantages. For a start, there is a lack of variety. If one does not like the program on the one channel, the alternative is to switch it off and do something else. One cannot change to another channel.
Of course, another disadvantage involves repeat programs. Sometimes the same programs are used three or four times. In the capital cities there is a choice and if we have seen a program we can turn to another channel. In more isolated areas the people either watch it and know what is coming next- and one does get to know what comes next after a program has been seen two or three times- or they look for some other method of entertainment. In addition to this, the people in some areas of Queensland who receive only one channel- the ABC- last year could not see most of Australia’s most popular sport. I refer to cricket. It is history now that the Packer organisation televised cricket in Australia during last season. I do like watching cricket on television but it was bad enough being in the metropolitan area, where the cricket was being televised on a commercial station, and trying to watch the little snippets of cricket, peppered with commercials. One soon lost all interest in the cricket.
If a person does like it that way, why does he not go to the cricket ground and watch it there? I do. I enjoy going to the cricket and one of my young sons enjoys it immensely too. We both go and watch the cricket whenever possible. Certain people in the metropolitan areas have contacted me about the fact that cricket was being shown only on commercial television. The people who contacted me were those who could not go to the cricket. Some elderly people and some invalids who like watching the sport had to be subjected to all the commercials on television while they watched their cricket.
I was interested to read that a survey was carried out in February this year. Sometimes surveys are carried out to show self-evident truths, and this was one such survey. It showed that cricket watchers preferred to see cricket on Australian Broadcasting Commission television and, surprise, surprise, the reason they wanted to see it on the ABC was because there were no commercials. This survey may be of interest to some honourable senators. If they want to have a good look at it and see the details, they will find them in the Sydney Morning Herald of 8 February. Yet, even though there were some people who were not interested in seeing cricket on commercial television, some people in the community could not see it at all. If they could pick up only the ABC, they could not see cricket. If a person was in a remote area, he could not follow the test cricket. Australia had a feast of cricket last year but people in some outback areas could not follow it. Of course, it can be followed on radio but there is no comparison between watching cricket on television and listening to it on the radio.
I have taken some time to look at Hansard reports from last November to see whether the problems of television in remote areas had been brought before the Senate as much as my memory told me they had been. I wish to run through a few of the snippets that might be found in Hansard of November last year relating to complaints of honourable senators and members of the House of Representatives who represent people in remote areas about the lack of sporting coverage on ABC television last year. On 6 November- the same day on which I placed this motion on the Notice Paper- Mr Katter, in the House of Representatives, asked a question about the Melbourne Cup. Mr Lucock also complained about cricket telecasts. He said: five Sheffield Shield games have been played and not one of them has been televised.
On the same day Senator Maunsell complained about television rights for sporting events, and he also mentioned the Melbourne Cup. On 7 November Senator Chaney replied to Senator Maunsell and Senator McAuliffe about the Melbourne Cup not being televised in country areas. On 8 November Senator Douglas McClelland asked a question about the non-televising of national sporting events by the ABC. On that day in the House of Representatives Mr Porter spoke about the lack of cricket telecasts in remote areas. He mentioned that it was a pleasure to be able to view David Hookes when he almost set a new record for a succession of centuries in Sheffield Shield cricket. He saw that on television. On 21 November Senator Douglas McClelland again raised the matter of the televising of national sporting events by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. On the same day Senator Maunsell spoke of cricket telecasts, and on 22 November there was an answer to a question on notice by Mr O ‘Keefe about Test cricket telecasts.
I mention those examples because they give an indication of the concern that was shown in the Parliament about the lack of sporting telecast facilities on the Australian Broadcasting Commission last summer. Of course, Parliament rose in late November and there was no further discussion in this place about it. By the time we came back the cricket season had almost finished. From the way we in Queensland went in the Sheffield Shield it was just as well that the season had almost finished!
Because by the time we came back here the summer sporting season had almost finished, the same sort of indignation as that which was felt back in November was not shown here. A recent announcement about cricket and television rights suggests that perhaps the next summer season might be a little better in Australia. Earlier this week I was interested to hear on the radio program AM that some test cricket matches will be shown on ABC television this year. I shall read from a transcript of that AM program, which indicates what will happen with test cricket and ABC television. The transcript, in part, reads:
Test cricket returns to ABC television later this year following a deal with the English Test and County Cricket Board. The arrangement gives the ABC exclusive coverage of the centenary test in England next August, the one day Prudential Cup matches for the next two years, and the 1 98 1 Ashes Series in England.
That is fine. It looks as though we will get some cricket telecasts. But the problem with all of that is that it will be shown at night. It will not provide us with any entertainment during the day, especially at the weekend when we have been used to seeing cricket on television. But I suppose it is a breakthrough and for that we should be grateful.
When I listened to that AM program I wondered what the cost was to the ABC because one of the arguments which was used last year for cricket not being shown on ABC television was that the Packer organisation had been able to bid a much higher amount for the television rights than the ABC was able to bid. Quite naturally, the people in control of cricket in Australia accepted the higher tender from the Packer organisation because it meant more money would come to the cricket organisation. The argument which was put forward fairly vocally last year, especially around the November period of which I have been speaking, was that if the Australian Broadcasting Commission had had sufficient funds available it would have been able to tender sufficiently highly to enable it to gain the television rights. Had it gained those rights, not only would the people in the remote areas I have mentioned have been able to view those sporting programs, but also the people in the metropolitan areas would have been able to view them without being subjected to commercials which detract from cricket telecasts.
Indications were given in this chamber that perhaps the funding was not important. I think that the funding would have been important because, as I said, the higher the tender by the ABC the more likely it would have been to have gained the cricket telecast rights. I was interested to hear what it was to cost the Australian Broadcasting Commission to bring the cricket telecast from England to Australia during the next English summer. The interviewer on the ABC program was interested in that too and asked:
Well how much is it going to cost the ABC?
Graham White, who was being interviewed, replied:
Well I can’t disclose that and the Test and County Cricket Board and we have, for very obvious reasons I think, agreed not to disclose the price.
That is a fairly reasonable approach to adopt. If one is entering into a commercial contractual relationship such as that, one does not really need to disclose the price to all and sundry. But it is interesting to know that the Australian Broadcasting Commission at least was able to bid for some of the television rights to coverage of the next cricket season and was able to win the tender.
I think the whole issue is fairly well-known, namely, that some people in Australia would like to be able to see some of our sporting events on television but cannot do so because the only television programs they can receive where they are living are those of the ABC. Other people in the community also would like to see a greater coverage of sporting events on ABC television. I think that the whole issue is well enough known for me not to have to dwell on it any further, so I will not do so. In conclusion, I make a plea to the Australian Broadcasting Commission to do what it can to bring sporting events by television to the remote areas of Queensland as well as to the areas of the other States which do not receive sporting telecasts. People who live in isolated areas would be very grateful to have that type of entertainment on television. I ask the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Government, if it has anything to do with the funding required by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to enable it to bid successfully for these types of programs, to remember that people in rural areas like sport. They like to be able to watch sport and they deserve to be able to watch the programs which they were able to watch for some years prior to the last cricket season.
– In the interests of General Business and the points that Senator Colston has made, I would like to contribute briefly to this debate. As one who was an officer of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for some time, I sympathise with the honourable senator in what he said. I feel that he raised basic matters. What he said applies not only to sport but also to any business in this country, to documentaries and to general analyses of the things in this country, that make it work. There are other important areas of the Australian Broadcasting Commission- I refer to programs such as AM and PM - but I do not think I am being irrelevant in getting off sporting programs because, after all, broadcasting programming is a universal area in which the ABC has done certain things which are of value. I have a feeling that sections of this communityperhaps not those who listen but those who decide policy- do not understand that there are certain values in what the ABC is doing in those areas.
Senator Colston made a basic point. If Australia is to have a national broadcasting service it should not be seen merely as a government broadcasting service. It should be seen as something which provides to the community a service of value. I think that this is not too fine a point that has been lost sight of. The ABC should be a body which provides a community service and which has an obligation to provide sporting and other events, which one could say were of national importance- I do not discount sport in that regard as sport is very important- to the community at large. The ABC has an obligation to provide that service. But there is an obverse side to that coin. The obverse is that the ABC has certain rights in that regard as well. In other words, any individual, any organisation, cannot be expected to respect an obligation unless that individual or organisation is given that obverse, which in fact is its being given certain rights. Recently in this country there has been a significant erosion of the rights of the ABC in this direction.
What is the ABC? I might say that since I left the ABC staff I have maintained an amicable relationship with many members of it. In my experience, the ABC is comprised of a group of people who are dedicated broadcasters, who are dedicated to the interests of not only truth but also the actual presentation to the community of events as they happen- that includes the broadcasting of sport- which is not necessarily found in other areas of the community. This is not a criticism of mine, but when a person goes to a commercial broadcasting station or a commercial television station it is found that those stations are obviously motivated by economics. This has to be so. A commercial television station or commercial radio station is a business. Its job is to make money. Its job is to attract advertising. I make the point tonight- I think it is a basic one- that that function should not be confused with the function of providing a sporting service, a general national service covering events, to the community. I believe this function has become very obscured in Australia in recent years.
I think we have the idea- it is also an erroneous idea- that because the commercial broadcasting service takes advertising in some way the service costs less. In other words, people say to me: It is good for radio and broadcasting services to broadcast sport and other things because they advertise and in that way it is not costing us anything. The point of the matter is that no function in the community occurs without costing something. It is true that commercial broadcasting and television services cost exactly the same to the community as the ABC costs. The only difference, of course, is that the ABC has a certain responsibility to the Parliament and to the people of Australia, whereas the commercial broadcasting service does not. I do not have to dot the Is and cross the Ts. Sporting coverage has diminished in this country in recent years because this idea has not been sufficiently recognised. Senator Colston has submitted that the Australian Broadcasting Commission should retain the rights to televise national sporting events. I support him absolutely. We need something in this country far more like the British Broadcasting Corporation. We need something which gives to this nation a sense of its own ethos, a sense of its own life and a sense of its own reality, and we must permit it to do so.
One of the things which distresses me about the ABC is the degee to which some influence or other- I hope the influence is not coming from the Government because it would be very shortsighted and more stupid than I think it is if it tried to do so- has said to the ABC: ‘You have somehow to justify yourself more on what appear to be the ratings. You have to use overseas programs. You have to do what you can to compete with the television services of the commercial stations’. If the Government is so silly as to be like that, I suggest it has not really begun to understand the problem at all. The ABC should be permitted to be the impartial area of broadcasting and information communication in this country. It should not be influenced by commercial events or money matters. As intelligent human beings we should know that the function of commercial broadcasting is altogether different. I have nothing against commercial broadcasting and television; I have great friends in that area. It is a function to provide to the community certain types of entertainment which are justified by what they will warrant in terms of their advertising pull. Those of us who think that commercial television is anything else than that have never talked to a television executive or are hopelessly naive. Although the Government shows signs of naivety, I hope that it is not quite as naive as that.
I make a plea to the Government to recognise something which I feel it has not recognised before. I think it should be said plainly to the Government that it has demoralised the ABC over the last five years. Because of a most wicked system of staff limitation two or three years ago, some of the ABC’s best broadcasters left the Commission. I will spell out this aspect because the Government might not understand it. In any broadcasting service’ the people who are doing the best and most creative job are not the people on the staff; they are the people who are on contract. There are very good reasons for this. The best, most independent people are those who are not wishing to be tied in the sense of a staff situation. When the Government cut back ABC program funds it effectively- the Government may not realise this- removed from the ABC some of its brightest and best people in the programming field. Those people did not worry. I know some of them very well. They went to England to Rediffusion and the BBC and got damn good jobs. They did not suffer; Australia suffered.
I think it is time that the Government realised that it cannot meddle in this financial way with something like broadcasting. I know that there is a terrible desire on the part of the Government to meddle. People say that the ABC is biased one way or the other. We are asked what we should do. Should we cut its budget or do something else? All that is nonsense. The ABC has learnt from hard experience that these things should not be done. If they are done national broadcasting will be ruined. The final cutback falls on the community, on the interests which this Senate is trying to preserve.
I have chosen to speak to this motion of Senator Colston’s because I believe it is basic. I feel that any nation is dependent very much on the value of basic institutions like the ABC. Those who presume to meddle with or diminish those values or to intrude in an area of expertise in which they know nothing and who come forward in a meddlesome, officious way and say that they will stop this or that because this or that has happened do not realise that by taking the action of bringing about a diminution of funds, influence or integrity because there are one or two people in the broadcasting service about whom they object they are diminishing the whole and not the one thing to which they object. They are suffering themselves, and the whole nation suffers as a result.
I make a strong plea to the Government- I think this is a good debate in which to make it- to let the ABC alone. Give it more independence. The Government should not fiddle with its commissioners. There may be a commissioner the Government does not approve of, but the Government should leave him there because there is good always in doing so. There is an old saying that it is not our enemies who do the worst things to us; it is our friends. It is a good thing for all of us to have an enemy on the Commission to check up on us, to do things for us and to say things to us.
The ABC is under threat. It has cowered down. It is being politically influenced. This is obvious not only to me but also to my friends and acquaintances who listen habitually to the ABC. They say that the ABC has been pushed down by the Government and ask whether it is because of the triennial funding or things like that. I say to them that it is interesting that that is obvious to them. I say to the Government that it should not proceed in this way against the ABC. It is meddling with something it does not understand. It is meddling with a national institution which is of great value. It is meddling with a part of the community with which, without very dire reason, any government has no right to meddle.
Debate (on motion by Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle) adjourned.
– I wish to refer to some remarks made last evening in the adjournment debate. Senator McLaren expressed appreciation of a new service to the Senate by Hansard and the Government Printer in providing an index to speeches made in the first three weeks of this sessional period. In responding to the honourable senator I said that I intended to make reference to this matter. I wish now to say that Hansard and the Government Printing Office have again, through continuing splendid cooperation and the Government Printer’s computerised phototypesetting equipment, been able to provide this service.
Subject to Hansard and the Government Printer continuing to overcome the many problems associated with the production of a progressive index, it is intended to print an updated speeches index in the first daily Hansard published after each short recess in our sittings. Last evening Senator McLaren suggested that I might express to Hansard and the Printing Office the Senate ‘s real appreciation of this further service to us, and that I happily and readily do. On behalf of the Senate, I thank Hansard and the Printing Office for this service, which I have no doubt will be of great assistance to all honourable senators.
Senate adjourned at 9.20 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 18 October 1979:
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Women in the ABC was a report produced by a subcommittee of the Task Force in 1977, and which identified areas where, contrary to Commission policy, some discriminatory practices were being followed. The report made a number of recommendations, some of which were accepted by the full membership of the Task Force committee. The ABC is currently holding interviews for the position of Equal Opportunity Officer (Clerical Officer Class 8), whose duties will include the continued follow-up of the TAFEO recommendations.
The Commission gave its full support to a submission by the ABC Staff Association to the Office of Child Care for a capital grant to convert property the Association owns into a Child Care Centre. The proposal was for a joint work and community-based service, and quite clearly provided a concerted attempt to implement the Joint Public Service Guidelines.
The Association also put the proposal to me and I strongly supported it in my representations to the Minister for Social
Security. The Minister has since advised me that she has agreed ‘in principle’ to a grant of up to $65,000 to the ABC Staff Association for the purpose proposed together with a grant of $5000 for equipment.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 20 February 1 980.
– The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Gueiler Government faces formidable economic and social problems. The decision to hold Presidential and Congressional elections on 29 June 1980 has improved the Gueiler Government’s chances of completing its limited term of office without military intervention, but with political uncertainty continuing this cannot be ruled out.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 19 February 1980:
Did the Uranium Advisory Council meet during the summer parliamentary recess; if so, what major decisions were arrived at.
– The Minister for Trade and Resources has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Yes. The Uranium Advisory Council met in plenary session in Canberra on 3 1 January and 1 February 1980. On 7 and 8 February 1980 a Council Sub-Committee met in the Northern Territory and inspected uranium mining project sites. The purpose of this visit was primarily to see the area during the wet season and developments since the Council was there in May of last year. I have not yet received advice from the Council on matters discussed during these meetings.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 27 February 1980:
What action has the Government taken following the receipt of the Bureau of Transport Economics’ economic evaluation in relation to inwards duty-free shopping at Australian international air terminals.
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
No specific action is required as a result of the receipt of the BTE report, which is a feasibility study related to the evaluation of this proposal.
Before a decision is taken, the evaluation will need to have regard to a number of issues, including the views of Governments of other countries, and those of industry representatives in Australia, in addition to the findings of the BTE report.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 5 March 1980:
– The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
There is less need to have wood pulp subject to export control. Wood pulp is competitively traded much more widely on the world market than wood chips; the processing aim has been met and there has been considerable social and economic benefits generated. Current exports and likely exports of wood pulp in the next two or three years are such a small proportion of the total Australian production that any limitation which the Commonwealth might seek to impose on exports would afford negligible additional protection to the environment.
Curfew at Brisbane Airport (Question No. 2510)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 5 March 1980:
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Inquiry into Aircraft Crash
-On 27 February 1980 Senator Keeffe asked me a question without notice concerning the crash of a Beech Kingair aircraft at Sydney Airport on Thursday, 21 February 1980.
The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
In accordance with normal practice the Air Safety Investigation Branch of the Department of Transport is conducting a full investigation into the circumstances of the accident in question. This will be a detailed investigation covering all aspects of possible relevance, intended to establish the cause and contributing factors of the accident so that the knowledge gained may be employed in the Department’s continuing accident prevention program.
Specific aspects mentioned by the honourable senator such as crew complement, single engine performance and the operating manuals of Beech Kingair aircraft, will be covered by the investigation.
Any matters which come to light during the progress of the investigation, which appear to be relevant to the operation of other aircraft, will be considered by the Department as they arise. The relevance of the specific accident investigation findings to other third level and commuter operations will be a matter for consideration once the investigation is concluded.
Multi-engined aircraft with a gross weight in excess of 3500 kgs, which are engaged on third level airline and commuter operations, are required to carry a flight manual, approved by the Department of Transport, which includes data concerning performance and loading of the aircraft. In addition, the Air Navigation Regulations require an aircraft operator engaging in commercial operations to provide an operations manual for the guidance of it’s operations personnel. The Department of Transport may direct an operator to include particular information in the operations manual and the operator is required to provide the Department with a copy of the manual. Flight manuals or operations manuals, as appropriate, for all third level airline and commuter operations include data, such as graphs, for establishing take-off and landing criteria. Continuing compliance with these requirements by operators is monitored by appropriately qualified surveillance officers of the Department.
Finally, all documentation relevant to the crashed aircraft has been taken into the custody of the Air Safety Investigation Branch for the purpose of the investigation. In accordance with normal practice, the documentation will not be made available for public scrutiny.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 20 March 1980, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1980/19800320_senate_31_s84/>.