Protecting and promoting human rights in Australia

What an extraordinary privilege it would be to be appointed the first law officer of this country and at this time in our history. There is such energy and enthusiasm for new and ambitious projects and such economic, environmental and cultural vitality in our community that opportunities abound to address the issues confronting those who are vulnerable and falling behind. If I had to choose a few keys projects to tackle, they would include –

Addressing the rights of Indigenous Australians by progressing, through a spate of community conversations and government-led actions, the case for substantive reform to the constitution, including recognition in the body of the constitution of the prior occupation and the unique relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders to the land and resources of Australia. I would move to build support within cabinet for the implementation of the principles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and promote native title reform.

Promoting equality and non-discrimination, by changing all laws and policies that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, including amending the relevant provisions of the Marriage Act to refer to marriage as “the union of two people to the exclusion of all others voluntarily entered into for life.”

Abolishing indefinite mandatory detention and removing the mandatory and punitive features of Australia’s immigration detention policy, such as improving the conditions of immigration detention, prioritising the rights of unaccompanied minors and restoring full rights of review of refugee status decisions including security assessments.

Reviewing Australia’s anti-terrorism laws, such as control orders and preventative detention orders, to strike a better balance between the law enforcement powers of our protective agencies and the rights of those under investigation to the presumption of innocence and fair trial. I would also support the establishment of a national Integrity Commissioner and national Anti-Corruption Agency with the power to investigate claims of misconduct or corruption across the federal parliament or Commonwealth agencies.

Creating a comprehensive national victim compensation scheme for victims of Commonwealth crimes including access to non-pecuniary payments for pain and suffering in cases of terrorism, people trafficking, slavery and exploitation-type offences, avoiding the need for victims to agitate a case for compensation by utilising administrative assessment processes.

Apologising to the victims of forced adoption and fostering in Australia at the hands of the Commonwealth and its agencies, including hospitals, churches and charitable organisations, the occurrence of which has profoundly affected a generation of mothers and their children.

Protecting human rights by pressing for comprehensive legislative protection for human rights at the federal level, including the creation of a Commonwealth Charter of Human Rights incorporating both civil and political, and social and economic human rights, into the Australian legislative and policy lexicon.

And then I think I should consider the agenda for the second year!

Fiona McLeod is a Senior Counsel at the Victorian Bar.