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Government Policy Disturbing UN

A United Nations' committee has delivered a scathing attack on Australia's treatment of Opposition party members.

The report, delivered by a UN working team visiting Australia which labeled the Government's attitude disturbing has quickly been dismissed by Liberal Government MPs.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock defended the Government, suggesting the report was a feeble attempt to bolster flagging Labor support.

"This report is nothing but an attack on democracy. They should be ashamed of themselves. I am not embarrassed at all," he said.

Committee head Justice Louis Joinet highlighted a list of criticisms including that Question Time was biased, and Opposition members suffered from depression.

Justice Joinet went on to say he was relieved children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, the elderly and other minorities were not encouraged to sit in Parliament House.

"Heaven knows how they would cope," he said

Amanda Vanstone said she would be happy to take on board any constructive advice from the UN committee.

"We cannot be held responsible if Opposition members are depressed.

"We try to treat them humanely and not ridicule their stupidity. But we cannot be held accountable for their political in-fighting. We have adequate medical facilities and they are not barred from seeking help," she said

Justice Joinet said his committee witnessed serious depression amongst all opposition groups across the country, especially in Canberra where both the minor and major opposition have been severely depressed.

"We believe this collective depression syndrome may be attributable to the fact that Opposition members live day-in, day-out with agonising uncertainty --- an uncertainty about the next election, uncertainty about leadership, uncertainty about policy," Justice Joinet said through an interpreter at a Sydney media conference.

Mr Ruddock blamed groups, such as the UN committee, for the alarming rise in incidents of Opposition members harming themselves.

"They are just not used to being given so much attention - it goes to their heads," he said. "It is not our fault they fight amongst themselves."

Mr Ruddock denied their had been any deaths in Opposition.

"There have been a few incidents. These are being investigated but it would be incorrect to refer to them as political suicides," he said.

Justice Joinet attacked Australia's political process, where parties are allowed to form dangerous factions and encouraged to fight amongst themselves which has lead to a "culture of self-harm".

"These people have been held in opposition for years with no chance of freedom. Criminals are treated better," he said

Justice Joinet also questioned the legality of allowing the media to lay down the law, using talkback radio and the tabloid press.

This has been evident in the hostile public opposition shown to Labor leader Simon Crean at state conferences.

"It is not for the UN to interfere in Australia's media policy unless it breaches UN conventions to which it is a signatory," he said.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he had told Justice Joinet Australia had no intention of changing policy just to protect Opposition members.

"This would undermine the integrity of our political system," he said. " We have a gun control policy but cannot stop anyone from shooting themselves in both feet."

John Howard, still disappointed at not being invited to the Queen's Jubilee was not available for comment.

 
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