Wednesday, 5 February 2020
Human Rights Committee; Report
As a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, I wish to make a few brief comments. I support all that Senator McKim has said. I am new to this committee, and this appals me when this committee is meant to be non-partisan and is meant to be seeking to ensure that our parliament does comply with the highest standards of human rights in what we do as legislators.
And I'm saddened that, during the period I've been there, there have been two dissenting reports now, from the Greens and the Labor Party, in relation to this. I want the Senate to understand this: that this is not a joyful thing to be doing. It's quite disturbing and sad to see that, for a committee that was set up to be as objective as possible, and to be responsive as possible to the legal advice in relation to the meaning of the measures and standards required for the rights of human beings—in whatever conditions they might be; whether they're children or people that are adversely affected by something or Indigenous peoples—dissenting reports are now becoming a feature. I think that the Senate ought to take stock of this and bring it to truck, because it does no credit to this chamber to have people like Senator McKim or myself coming here to recite the differences we have within a committee that should really come to a considered and concluded view before we report to this important chamber.
I want to make those remarks because it is one of the few committees of the Senate where we can transcend the partisanship which we normally engage in, and we can think to better conditions for the rights of others, and we can seek higher standards being implemented in our legislation. And that applies to whoever is in government, whether it's the Labor Party in government or someone else. It should apply without any equivocation. These standards are there for us to emulate as global citizens—not just to be played with because of particular political opportunism or to preserve embarrassment against the current minister or the government or whomever. So I would simply appeal to senators to read closely the report, but also read closely the dissenting reports, and, more than that, to take stock of the marked shift in this committee's work. It is a committee of the Senate, and it's here to do the work of the Senate on the most treasured things: that is, the rights of individuals, and to uphold those rights to the highest standards. And, when that's not done, then we—unfortunately—have to point that out. I regret to say that one of the touchstones to our authenticity as a civilised, mature nation is how we, in fact, uphold international standards and rights. To tamper with them, particularly when that's contrary to legal advice by experts in the field, is an appalling thing.
I may say something further: I was appalled at the fact that the dissenting reports weren't mentioned by the chair. Those dissenting reports related to the three particular bills that the chair specifically spoke to, but the chair neglected to highlight the fact that there was dissent by members of the Greens and by ourselves on these particular matters. I could go to the substance of what we said, but I will just go to one. I will go to the cashless benefit card legislation, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Income Management to Cashless Debit Card Transition) Bill. What we have said by our dissent in relation to that bill was that, as such, the dissenting members consider it has not been clearly demonstrated that the extension of the cashless benefit card trial is a justifiable limit on the rights to social security and privacy, or, to the extent that the trial has a disproportionate impact on Indigenous Australians, that it is a reasonable and proportionate measure and therefore not discriminatory.
So we draw the human rights concerns to the attention of the minister in the parliament. It's not as if we simply want to raise these things to embarrass our chair, or to bring embarrassment and be odious to this chamber, but, if we persist if this way, I'm afraid we will be bringing disrepute to this house.