Human Rights Yearbook 2006/2007

We are proud to present the Human Rights Law Resource Centre’s inaugural Yearbook for 2006/07. The Yearbook is divided into four sections.

Section 1 of the Yearbook provides an overview of some of the significant human rights issues and challenges that have confronted Australia during 2006/07.  Many of these issues have been at the core of social and political discourse and debate, including the need for a federal Charter of Rights, the human rights of Indigenous peoples (particularly in the context of the Federal Government’s intervention in the Northern Territory), the use (and arguable abuse) of counter-terrorism laws and measures, the detention of David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib in Guantanamo Bay, and Australian law, policy and diplomacy on the death penalty.

Section 2 of the Yearbook is a compilation of opinion articles written by some of Australia’s leading human rights advocates, activists and academics, including the Hon Elizabeth Evatt AC (former member of the UN Human Rights Committee), the Hon John von Doussa QC (President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission), Dr Helen Szoke (CEO of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission), Waleed Aly (Islamic Council of Victoria) and Brian Walters SC (immediate Past President of Liberty Victoria).

Section 3 of the Yearbook is a collection of articles on the topic of ‘If I were Attorney General…’.  In these articles contributors such as Julian Burnside QC, Senator Joe Ludwig (Labor spokesperson on legal affairs), Kristen Hilton (Executive Director of PILCH) and Hugh de Kretser (Executive Officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres) articulate their visions, strategies and actions in the areas of human rights and access to justice.

With the recent enactment of the ACT Human Rights Act 2004 and the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006, together with the proposed development of Human Rights Acts in Tasmania and Western Australia, it is both inevitable and important that domestic law be informed by international and comparative human rights jurisprudence.  Section 4 of the Yearbook is a compilation of human rights case notes – grouped by right – from international, regional and comparative domestic courts and tribunals. Particularly during the early years of instruments such as the Victorian Charter and the ACT HRA, a time when ‘the development of an Australian jurisprudence drawing on international human rights law is in its early stages’ (Royal Women's Hospital v Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria [2006] VSCA 85, [71] per Maxwell P), it is critical that domestic courts and practitioners have close regard to this jurisprudence. The Yearbook makes a significant contribution in this respect.

Since its establishment in 2006, the Human Rights Law Resource Centre has made a substantial contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights through law.  In the landmark High Court case of Roach v Electoral Commissioner [2007] HCA 43, for example, the Centre established, for the first time in Australian history, that the Constitution enshrines the right to vote and that this right may only be limited for a ‘substantial reason’ and in a way that is appropriate, adapted and proportionate to that reason. This resulted in the reinstatement of the right to vote for almost 10,000 Australian prisoners, of whom at least 2,500 are Aboriginal.  Since its inception, the Centre has made over 25 major law reform submissions to international and domestic bodies, including in relation to civil justice reform, same-sex entitlements, corporate social responsibility, the use of force against prisoners, and proposed charters of rights in Tasmania and Western Australia.  Many of these submissions have been substantially implemented.  The UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment on the Right to a Fair Hearing, for example, directly incorporates 4 of the Centre’s recommendations as to the normative content of that right.  The Tasmanian Law Reform Institute report on a Charter of Rights for Tasmania refers to the Centre’s submission as ‘persuasive’, ‘clear’ and ‘forceful’. Of course, this work is only made possible through the pro bono commitment and expertise of the Victorian Bar and firms such as Allens Arthur Robinson, Blake Dawson Waldron, Clayton Utz, DLA Phillips Fox, Freehills, Mallesons Stephen Jacques and Maurice Blackburn.

We are particularly indebted to the Mallesons Human Rights Law Group not only for their substantial human rights legal services and policy work, but also for designing and publishing this Yearbook.

With the adequacy and security of funding being an important determinant of our success, the financial and in-kind support of the Victoria Law Foundation, PILCH, the National Australia Bank, the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, the R E Ross Trust, the Reichstein Foundation, Allens Arthur Robinson, Blake Dawson Waldron, Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Qantas has been, and will continue to be, critical.