Page 736 - Week 02 - Thursday, 10 March 2011

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dialogue model. It creates a culture of human rights compliance within agencies and within portfolios.

What is wrong with that? What is fundamentally threatening about that? The only people who are threatened by it are those who believe that executive government should act in a manner which has no regard to those issues or which can easily dismiss such arguments. And that of course goes straight to the heart of how a Liberal government in this place, should it ever be formed, would operate. It would not have regard to those rights. It is saying it is not important to develop legislation in a way that has regard to those universal principles and rights enshrined in our act. That is what Mr Seselja is really saying today. He is saying that a Liberal government would not have regard to those matters when it comes to the development of legislation to be put before this place. And he should be held to account on that.

Of course we also heard the absurd argument from Mr Seselja that a statutory officer, the Human Rights Commissioner, should not speak out and publicly defend and remind people about the operations of a piece of law passed by this place. Mr Seselja says that, under the human rights framework, parliament’s power is diminished and then he goes on to criticise a statutory public officer who actually reminds Canberrans in a public debate about what this place has said is discrimination.

Let us be very clear about that Lanyon high school example. What did Dr Helen Watchirs do? She said it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of a person’s age. That is a provision of our Discrimination Act, a law made by this place. And he has the temerity to criticise the commissioner for saying what the law is. That really highlights the confused and bizarre approach we see from those opposite. It highlights their fundamental lack of understanding of how discrimination law operates, how the Human Rights Act operates, how the dialogue model operates, and it shows that they are more interested in scoring a cheap political point than actually bringing any credit to themselves and demonstrating any knowledge of how human rights and discrimination law operates in this place, let alone anywhere else in the country.

So the government stands by its support for Dr Helen Watchirs, because all she was doing was saying it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of a person’s age. And it was not Dr Watchirs’s decision to say that that was the law. It was this place. This place determines that it is unlawful.

Mr Doszpot: Where is there a right in education, Mr Corbell?

MR SPEAKER: Mr Doszpot, that is really enough.

MR CORBELL: We now have the proposal from Mr Seselja to amend the law and, of course, that is at least a more legitimate avenue to advance his argument. Rather than criticising a public office holder who is simply doing her job and protecting the laws made by this place, he is at least proposing there should be a change to the law.

The government will explain what its position is in relation to that proposal in due course, but at least now we have got Mr Seselja focused on the fact that it is about laws made in this place that count when it comes to these matters, not how statutory office holders discharge their functions.

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