Election 2001

Response of Australian Democrats to NSW Human Rights Education Committee's survey.

(the response below was provided by Jeff Malone, Senator Stott Despoja's Office)

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

The Democrats have a long and proud history of campaigning against discrimination.

As outlined below, we have been leaders in promoting reconciliation and equality for people of all races. On the issue of asylum seekers, we have consistently pushed for a more tolerant approach.

In relation to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, the Democrats have repeatedly and consistently moved legislation to remove discriminatory aspects of legislation related to superannuation, immigration, defence force personnel, and others, usually to be defeated by the combined votes of the Coalition and the Labor Party.

The Democrats' bill of rights proposes to entrench comprehensive provisions dealing with discrimination. We have consistently argued for greater funding of and an increased role for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

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

The Australian Democrats have this year introduced in Federal Parliament an Australian bill of rights. The Bill enacts into law the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It protects a broad range of fundamental rights and freedoms by giving them legal force. It also promotes the observance of human rights standards by empowering the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to inquire into any act or practice that may infringe the proposed bill of rights.

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

Last year was an exciting year for national reconciliation. We had the major events of the walk across the Harbour Bridge and the word 'Sorry' emblazoned in the Sydney sky; followed by the lighting of the flame by Cathy Freeman and her subsequent win in the 400 metres. These, linked with the euphoria of the Olympics, were indeed grand symbolic gestures. They provided a true measure of the aspirations of our nation to co-exist in harmony with people of all cultures and in particular with Indigenous peoples.
Much of this seems to have been forgotten in the current climate of anxiety and global uncertainty - yet it must not be forgotten. Reconciliation is still one of the most important social issues facing Australia as a nation. Real political leadership is needed to keep the reconciliation ball rolling. We must not let the two leading political parties sideline Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders yet again.
True Reconciliation encompasses much more than symbols and rhetoric. It requires the nation to deal with the "unfinished business" of our past, like the stolen generations and the social and economic disadvantage that has resulted from dispossession. It will require us to respect and value Indigenous cultures and be proud of their contribution to the national identity.
The Democrats are the party which continues to provide leadership on this issue. We recognise that Australia cannot maintain its integrity and standing in the community of democratic nations, if we do not address with urgency the key issues of reconciliation.
This is why we have:
1. Always called on the Federal Government, together with the Australian Parliament, to formally apologise to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples for past wrongs.
2. Introduced the Reconciliation Bill into the Senate to progress the decade of work completed by the Council for Reconciliation, and provide a legal framework to begin national discussions on a treaty or formal agreement that resolves the 'unfinished business'.
3. Been strong advocates of the establishment of a reparations tribunal for the stolen generations to provide a workable and compassionate alternative to our adversarial, expensive court system.
4. Pledged to work with all levels of Government, the private sector and the wider community to address the economic, social and political disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians as a result of dispossession;
5. Initiated a motion in the Senate that was unanimously passed by all parties, to work with Indigenous people, and State and Territory governments to review the national strategy against Indigenous Deaths in Custody. The Senate made this commitment with the aim of reducing the rate at which Indigenous peoples appear in court and the rate at which they are taken into custody. We believe it opens the way for more culturally-appropriate strategies and diversionary programs - which some Indigenous communities are already implementing with little or no support. If we are to save the next generation of young Indigenous peoples from our gaols, this commitment has to be acted on as a matter of urgency; and
6. Recognised that the vision for reconciliation is 'A united Australia which respects this land of ours; values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage; and provides justice and equity for all.'

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

The Australian Democrats' approach to this issue differs markedly from that of the major parties.
The Australian Democrats:
1. Oppose mandatory detention
2. Have consistently argued that asylum seekers should be informed of all their legal rights, including the right to representation and legal advice and therefore support moves to increase funding to community legal centres providing this advice;

3. Believe that asylum seekers should have adequate access to interpreter services;

4. Support increased funding to providers for torture and trauma counselling;

5. Have consistently opposed and called for the abolition of temporary refugee visas;

6. Advocated for the replacement of detention centres with reception or processing centres where health and asylum claims are processed over a short time period;

7. Support Australia working more with other countries to improve their ability and willingness to assist refugees and other displaced people.

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

We need to ensure that all policy decisions are directed towards maximising returns on the triple bottom line, that is the economic, social and environmental objectives. None of these objectives can be pursued successfully in isolation from the other. Countries need a balanced approach if they are to succeed.

The Democrats are committed to such balance, we are not a single issue party, nor did we ever support the unbridled support of economic growth at the expense of the environment or equity. It may be harder to judge performance when you are trying to achieve multiple objectives, but when they are all interrelated, it is essential to do so.

Unless a broad range of factors are considered when decisions are being made the results will be incompatible with the range of concerns shared by Australian citizens.

We have issue sheets outlining our policies and record on a number of the issues raised by your question, available at www.democrats.org.au

To provide an example of our activities in one area, listed below are some highlights of our environmental work.

The 1980s
· Since 1981 the Democrats have introduced 23 pieces of legislation dealing with nuclear issues. None have been supported by either old party.
· Democrats introduce the Rainforests Preservation Agreements Bill, the first attempt to protect Australia's rainforests.
· Democrats recommend the Franklin River be protected as a matter of national priority.
· Democrats' World Heritage Properties Conservation Bill passes the Senate.
· Democrats introduce Queensland Rainforests Conservation Bill to protect rainforests of North-East Queensland.
· Democrats introduce Bill to prohibit passage of nuclear powered ships through Australian waters.
· Democrats introduce the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment (Prohibition of mining or drilling activities) Bill.
· Democrats introduce the Koongarra Project Area Repeal Bill to return the Koongarra area to Kakadu National Park
· Democrats begin parliamentary fight to protect Jervis Bay from becoming a naval armaments depot

The 1990s
· Democrats negotiate a bounty to make ethanol cheaper and more available.
· Democrats call for moratorium on sand mining and for inquiry into sandmining industry.
· Democrats introduce the Nuclear Power, Uranium Enrichment and Reprocessing (Prohibition) Bill to prohibit nuclear activities in Australia.

· Democrats co-fund a legal challenge to woodchip licences in Tasmania in conjunction with the Tasmanian Conservation Trust.
· Democrat amendments to Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Conservation Bill, tightening restrictions on commercial developments in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
· Democrats move amendments to ban offshore exploration or mining in marine parks or marine reserves. The ALP and Coalition vote against the
· Democrats move amendments to allow tax deductibility for donations of land to natural heritage conservation. organisations. Voted against by the ALP and Coalition.
· Democrats lead parliamentary fight to protect the Hinchinbrook area.
· Democrats move an Urgency Motion debate in the Senate criticising the Government for its inadequate response on greenhouse gases.
· Democrats table legislation banning export of woodchips.
· Democrats convene Greenhouse 95 Conference in Adelaide.
· Democrats successfully amend Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act to include the precautionary principle.
· Democrats introduce Constitution Alteration (Ecology, Diversity and Sustainability) Bill into Senate that would amend the Constitution to include federal powers to protect ecosystems and biodiversity.
· Democrats first call of many for labelling of genetically modified foods.
· In response to Ok Tedi, the Democrats call for a code of conduct for Australian Companies operating overseas; a call to be repeated (and ignored by government again) after the Esmeralda disaster in Romania on 2000.
· Democrats launch and chair inquiry into marine pollution
· Democrats successfully call for inquiry into airport noise at Sydney Airport
· Move to re-instate sales tax exemption for recycled paper defeated by ALP and Coalition.
· Democrats gagged by ALP and Coalition in attempt to ban export of uranium to France
· Democrats lead parliamentary efforts to protect the rediscovered Mahogany Glider
199l Prohibition of Exportation of Uranium (Customs Act Amendment) Bill
· Uranium Mining in Australian World Heritage Properties (Prohibition) Bill
· World Heritage Properties Conservation Amendment (Protection of Wet Tropics of Tully) Bill
· Natural Heritage Trust Fund Bill
· Democrats take lead in Canberra in opposing Port Hinchinbrook Development
· Democrats oppose Effects of Line Fishing Experiment
· Democrats expose Tandem Thrust joint military operation in dugong protection area.
· Democrats instigate Senate committee into powers of the Commonwealth in environmental protection.
· Democrats amendments strengthen the Natural Heritage Trust Fund Bill.
· Democrat amendment adds precautionary principle to fisheries legislation.
· Democrat motion to control trade in toxic wastes, defeated without ALP support.
· Democrats motion to stop the Koongarra uranium mine defeated.
· Democrat disallowance motion prevent abolition of Energy Research and Development Corporation, investigating alternative energy.
· Democrats gain Senate agreement for Hinchinbrook Channel Inquiry.
· Motion calling for proclamation of all of Kakadu as World Heritage and stopping the Jabiluka Mine forever failed.
· Motion calling for moratorium on logging old growth forests in WA defeated.
· Democrats launch Marine Legal Fighting Fund.
· Draft amendments to strengthen the radiation protection and nuclear safety bill. Unsuccessful.

· Motion requesting production of documents relating to Jabiluka successful.
· Motion asking that Senate never permits the setting up of nuclear dump sites in Australia, successful.
· Motion referring the Jabiluka approval process to Senate Inquiry, successful.
· Motion calling on the Government to ban human reproductive cloning and review lack of regulation of the use of cloning, successful.
· Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Bill passed with over 400 Democrat amendments significantly strengthening the Act.
· Report on Jabiluka, chaired by Democrats, is tabled. Confirms long-held concerns.
· Democrats set up most comprehensive review to date of Australia's policies to reduce global warming.
· Motion rejecting Pangaea nuclear waste dump, successful.
· Democrats oppose Regional Forests Agreement Bill.
· Democrat motion for urgent action in regard to use and regulation of genetically modified food receives no support from either old party.
· Democrat motion calling for Australian delegation to the WTO to support labelling of genetically modified foods successful.
· Democrat amendment allowing tax deductibility for land donated for conservation successful.
· Democrats oppose the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Bill, parts of which may prevent rights of peaceful protect. Bill passes with ALP support.

The 2000's

· Democrats call for enforceable code of conduct for Australian companies operating overseas. Unsuccessful.
· Democrats get support from some State Agricultural Ministers to pursue national labelling laws and community consultation about battery cage eggs.
· Democrat motion calling for conversion of Federal fleet of cars to gas, successful.
· Democrat amendments to the Fisheries Legislation Bill (No.2) which would have improved monitoring of the fishing industry, unsuccessful.
· Democrat amendments to Taxation Bill allow tax deductability for land donated for conservation purposes.
· Democrat motion to protect grey headed flying fox colony in Melbourne Botanical Gardens successful.
· Democrat call for inquiry into genetically modified organisms successful.
· Successful Democrat initiative Product Stewardship (Oil) Bill encourages greater collection, recycling and reuse of waste oil.
· Democrat motion calling for phase out of battery cages as soon as possible, successful.
· Democrat initiative, Fuel Quality Standards Bill, successful. Will improve urban air quality and human health and sets national standards to ensure fuel quality.
· Alternative Fuels Conversion Program, a Democrat negotiated initiative, sees to ethanol buses on streets of Melbourne.
· Democrats oppose renewable energy bill, which makes native forest products eligible sources of renewable energy. Bill passes with support from ALP.

· Democrats amendments to the EPBC (Wildlife Protection) Bill significantly strengthen the protections for endangered and native species. Over 70 Democrat amendments were rejected by the old parties.
· Democrats successfully amend the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill to improve provisions preventing pollution by ships
· Democrats propose amendments to the Export Markets Development Grant Bill which would ensure that subsidies are not paid to industries that damage native forests or produce greenhouse emissions. Old parties vote against the amendments.
· Democrats propose amendments to tax bill, which would make public transport eligible to receive fringe benefit tax breaks. Old parties vote against the amendments.
· Democrats' call for radiation levels in cell phones to be disclosed finally acted on by Government.
· Democrat resolution calling for rehabilitation talks to commence immediately in relation to Jabiluka passed by Senate.
· Democrats secure amendments ensuring greater protection for Sydney Harbour foreshore.
· Government heeds Democrat call to declare seismic testing in Great Barrier Reef as controlled action.

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