Election 2001

Response of the coalition to NSW Human Rights Education Committee's survey:

(The response below was provided by Lynton Crosby).

1. How would you work to promote freedom from discrimination?

The Coalition is committed to working to eliminate discrimination in the Australian community.

Australia has a well established system of anti-discrimination laws. The Coalition has initiated important legislative changes to improve this system and make it even more effective in promoting freedom from discrimination.

· The Coalition has undertaken legislative and policy changes to ensure that employers and employees better understand their rights and responsibilities in respect of pregnant women.
· The Coalition has amended human rights legislation to provide an equitable system to enable people to obtain binding decisions in anti-discrimination actions in the Federal Court or Federal Magistrates Service.
· The Coalition has amended the Disability Discrimination Act to allow for standards to be made for disabled access to premises. We have worked hard with industry and disability groups to develop transport, building and education standards.

This legislative framework is important, however, the most lasting and meaningful way to reduce, and hopefully eliminate, discrimination is to change discriminatory attitudes. The key is to encourage tolerance and fairness. We all need to accept responsibility for the way our society treats its members. Even where there is an elaborate legal structure in place for the protection of human rights, it may be of little use if the society in which the law operates does not believe in the value and need for human rights protection.

The Coalition believes that the best way to protect human rights is through better education of the community about their rights and responsibilities. Human rights affect all Australians, not just interest groups.

The Coalition established a National Committee for Human Rights Education to educate the community about human rights issues in a constructive way. The Committee is a tri-partite organisation, bringing together the expertise of business, the community sector and government. An important aim of the Committee is to ensure that all Australians have a fair opportunity to learn about human rights values: mutual respect, individual dignity and equal opportunity and, in doing do, to promote and protect human rights. Seed funding and secretariat support have been provided by the Howard Government to the Committee in its establishment phase and the Committee has been given tax deductible status for donations.

To further reinforce the value of educating the community about human rights the Coalition has proposed a number of structural reforms to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The reforms are designed to ensure the Commission remains well-placed to protect and promote human rights into the future. They are designed to focus the Commission's work on educating Australians about their human rights and responsibilities.

The Coalition Government finalised the Charter of a Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society (Charter) to ensure that government services are responsive to our culturally diverse client base.

A re-elected Howard Government will work closely with the Council for Multicultural Australia to increase awareness of the Charter in the private sector, so that they are able to use it as a blue print to enhance their own service charters that cater effectively to our multicultural community.

The Coalition Government's New Agenda for Multicultural Australia and Productive Diversity strategies are working to highlight that access and equity in the workplace is not about quotas, but about having a diversity of staff on board that can deliver bottom line business benefits.

The Coalition Government also introduced the Living in Harmony campaign to address racism and promote community harmony. The campaign focuses on 'what makes us all Australians' and emphasises our common values.

Central to the initiative is the community grants program, recognising that communities are best placed to recognise local problems and develop solutions to address them and combat racism at the grass roots.

John Howard recently announced that a re-elected Coalition Government would commit $3.5 million annually to the Living in Harmony initiative to enable these programs to be ongoing.

All these initiatives work to reduce discrimination and promote tolerance and equality of opportunity.

2. What are your views about a Bill of Rights?

The Howard Government does not believe that a Bill of Rights is necessary in Australia.

Australia has a system of laws for the protection of human rights which is second to none in the world. We have independent institutions that ensure that those laws are upheld and we have a system of democratic government which protects the rights and freedoms that we are fortunate enough to take for granted.

One of the best guarantees of individual rights and freedoms is the existence of autonomous and effective democratic institutions. Australia has a strong independent judiciary whose independence is entrenched in our constitutional arrangements. We have a system of representative and responsible government, certain important constitutional guarantees, explicit protections in legislation including specialised human rights legislation, and protections in the common law. Our democratic institutions hold governments accountable. They limit potential abuses of power. They support a democratic civil culture. They protect and promote human rights.

Importantly, parliaments make laws in this country. In doing so, they make decisions about how competing rights and freedoms, including those of the community at large, are to be balanced. A bill of rights would enmesh our courts deeply in political issues and shift the important balance between the role of democratically elected parliaments and the courts.
A bill of rights does not of itself change behaviour or attitudes. A bill of rights does not assist in working out how best to protect the rights of individuals. The literacy and numeracy of indigenous children will not improve because of a bill of rights. It will not improve the accessibility of our public transport systems to people with disabilities. Practical action is required to improve the situation of our most vulnerable.

3. In what ways would you engage with issues of concern to indigenous Australians?

The Coalition acknowledges the special place that Indigenous Australians occupy as the original inhabitants of this country and recognises that Indigenous Australians are the most disadvantaged group in Australian society.

Perhaps the most compelling consequence of that disadvantage is the fact the Indigenous people, on average, have a life expectancy that is 20 years less than that of other Australians. The Coalition aims to bridge the life expectancy gap.

The Coalition is committed to the ongoing process of reconciliation. The Coalition government's focus on practical reconciliation as the best means to address disadvantage is resulting in real improvements for Indigenous Australians.

The Coalition's approach is based on a strong focus on delivering outcomes and accountability, a belief in partnerships with Indigenous people as the best way forward, new and innovative approaches to the way in which we do business and a preparedness to tackle the hard issues.

A re-elected Coalition government will ensure that progress continues and will take steps to increase the rate at which that progress is achieved.

The Coalition has listened to Indigenous leaders and a groundswell of opinion focusing on the devastating effects of welfare dependency and suggesting new ways forward. In response, a Coalition Government will continue to strengthen local decision making, target resources in line with the findings of the Commonwealth Grants Commission and ensure that states and territories accept their rightful responsibilities to their Indigenous citizens.

A Coalition Government will motivate and encourage initiative through promoting leadership, effective community management and shared responsibilities to create a new era based on a national commitment to Indigenous affairs.

In a third term, the Coalition will maintain its commitment to boost spending on Indigenous affairs by more than $327 million over the next four years as part of its ongoing commitment to reconciliation, increasing self-reliance and reducing Indigenous disadvantage. The Coalition is currently spending a record $2.39 billion on indigenous programmes to address the disadvantage of indigenous people.

4. How do you think Government could improve procedures for responding to asylum seekers?

The Government's approach to the problems of irregular migration and people smuggling has been constructed around an integrated, comprehensive approach, which recognises that these are international problems that require international solutions. In particular, these problems are intertwined with the longstanding and unresolved refugee caseloads around the world for which the international community needs to develop solutions.

The Government's approach comprises three main elements:

1. prevention of the problem by minimising the outflows from countries of origin and secondary outflows from countries of first asylum;

2. working with other countries to disrupt people smugglers and intercept asylum seekers, while ensuring that those people in need of refugee protection are identified and assisted as early as is possible; and

3. developing appropriate reception arrangements for unauthorised arrivals who reach Australia, focussing on the early assessment of the refugee status of the individual, the prompt removal of those who are not refugees, or who are refugees but can access effective protection elsewhere. The Government has also removed additional benefits not required by the Refugees Convention to minimise the incentive for people to attempt illegal travel to Australia.

A key component of each of these elements is the development of a broad international consensus on the need for action and strengthened cooperation. The Government has been working to this end through our relationships with source, first asylum, donor, destination, and transit countries, in international fora and with the UNHCR and other international organisations over the past three years.

Initiatives undertaken through this strategy include:

· seeking reform of the international protection system to ensure that protection is available to those who need it, in the countries where they first seek asylum;
· providing $12 million in 2000-01 in targeted humanitarian aid to ameliorate the range of "push" factors in countries of origin and first asylum;
· allocating an additional $14.3 million in 2001-02 to support initiatives to resolve the situation of displaced Afghans;
· engaging the international community to increase its humanitarian support to countries of origin and first asylum;
· conducting an external market research program aimed at refining messages that might be used in other countries;
· establishing cooperative disruption arrangements with Indonesia and Cambodia;
· increasing penalties for those involved in people smuggling;
· introducing temporary protection visas to reduce the attractiveness of Australia for those seeking to enter illegally and claim asylum;
· introducing legislation to exclude those who have access to effective protection elsewhere from Australia's asylum process;
· introducing legislation to prevent abuse of the judicial process to extend the stay of people who have no entitlement to be here;
· introducing legislation to protect the integrity of the Refugees Convention and to ensure that its definition is brought back to what was originally intended;
· improving detention capacity and shortening processing times for unauthorised arrivals; and
· increasing dialogue with countries of origin and first asylum aimed at putting in place an interlocking web of return and readmission agreements.

5. What is Australia's role in achieving a balance between the global economy, the environment and the social good?

Governments must manage competing priorities when making any decisions. Fortunately the three areas in the question - the global economy, the environment and the social good - can often be pursued at the same time. The better performing the global economy, the more social benefits to Australians in the form of higher wages, increased employment and greater opportunities. Indeed, a healthy global economy is the most successful method of making social progress. Similarly when dealing with the environment, the better the condition of the global economy, the more likely it is that environmental needs can be taken into account. Australia does not necessarily need to balance these priorities - it can pursue multiple objectives at the same time.

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