The Human Rights Law Centre, UNICEF Australia, Save the Children, Plan, the Human Rights Council of Australia and Children’s Rights International, made a joint written submission earlier this month outlining the grave human rights risks posed by the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 (Cth), introduced into Parliament by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on 25 September 2014.
In a detailed joint report, a coalition of non-government organisations has assessed Australia’s track record against the UN’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Australia signed up to in 1985. The report – endorsed by organisations such as People with Disability Australia, Save the Children and the Refugee Council of Australia – finds that overall, Australia’s standards are declining.
The report was prepared by the Human Rights Law Centre for the UN’s Committee Against Torture ahead of its review of Australia’s compliance with the Convention schedule to take place in November. The Committee, made up of independent international experts, will consider Australia’s track record and make a series of findings and recommendations.
A media release about the report can be found here.
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Proposed amendments to the Migration Act would significantly increase the risk of people being returned to persecution, the HRLC has said in a submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee.
HRLC Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, explained that a person is currently eligible for Australia’s protection under these treaties if there is a “real risk” they’ll face significant harm on return. The changes would raise that threshold to “more likely than not” – that is, a probability of greater than 50%.
The proposed reforms also require protection visas to be denied to asylum seekers who have refused or failed to establish their identity, nationality or citizenship or provided ‘bogus’ identity documents. The HRLC submission says such reforms overlook the nature of flight from persecution.
The HRLC’s submission made the following recommendations:
- that the existing threshold for complementary protection be retained;
- the proposed new sections requiring visas to be denied to asylum seekers who have failed to establish their identity, nationality or citizenship or provided ‘bogus’ documents be removed from the Bill; and
- the proposed new section imposing a legal burden of proof on asylum seeker to prove their claims be removed from the Bill.
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The Human Rights Law Centre has written to Attorney General, Robert Clark, to express its concerns about the Crimes Amendment (Protection of Children) Bill 2014.
The HRLC is concerned about the impact of the proposed laws on women and children experiencing family violence and considers that they would constitute unjustifiable limitations on human rights contained in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.
Child abuse is a critical issue that must be addressed as a matter of urgency and priority. However, clause four of the Bill, which creates a new ‘failure to disclose’ offence where a person does not disclose a sexual offence committed against a child, is not appropriately adapted to achieve this aim and risks punishing women who are themselves victims of violence.
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Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis released details on proposed changes to the racial vilification laws in March 2014 and announced a limited public consultation process on the changes. Submissions closed on 30 April 2014.
The changes outlined in the AG’s Exposure Draft would almost effectively abolish the current Federal legal protections against racial vilification and would send an appalling signal about the Government's views on racial tolerance.
The HRLC does not support the proposed changes. Our submission can be found here.
Racial vilification can cause serious harm to individuals and society. Racial vilification and hate speech increases the risk of racially motivated violence and needs to be actively combatted.
International human rights law specifically recognises the need to prohibit by law any advocacy of racial hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
Although opposing the proposed changes, the HRLC’s submission outlines how the worst aspects of the Exposure Draft could be mitigated, namely by giving the words “intimidate” and “vilify” their ordinary meaning; reinserting “reasonableness”, “good faith” and “public interest” requirements in the exemption; ensuring the community standards test requires some consideration of the impact on the relevant racial group affected by the conduct; and retaining sections 18B and 18E.
The rights of refugees shouldn’t be contingent on secretive, non-reviewable ASIO assessments, the HRLC has said in a submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee which is conducting an inquiry into proposed amendments to the Migration Act which would make eligibility for a protection visa dependent on not being assessed as a security risk by ASIO.
HRLC Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said that the proposed reforms entrench ASIO assessments at the centre of refugee processing but contain no safeguards to make sure the security assessment process is fair. Refugees have no right to appeal ASIO’s decision or to an explanation of the reasons behind it.
“It is vital that profoundly important decisions affecting the lives and liberty of vulnerable people be made through a process that is fair, transparent and accountable. The ASIO security assessment process is anything but” said Mr Webb.
The HRLC’s submission made the following recommendations:
- Applicants for protection visas should be afforded the same legal right as citizens and permanent residents to seek merits review of ASIO security assessments in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
- There should be legislative provision for regular (i.e. at least 6 monthly) consideration of whether the deemed security threat posed by a person can be addressed in manner less harmful and restrictive than detention.
- The national security grounds on which a protection visa may be refused should be confined to the exclusion grounds under the Refugee Convention.
A copy of the HRLC’s submission can be found here.
A media release on the topic can be found here.
In October 2013, the Victorian Department of Justice released a consultation paper outlining a number of options for reforming laws relating to sexual offences, including creating a new requirement that if an accused person’s defence relies on a belief that the alleged victim had consented, then that belief must be held on reasonable grounds.
The Human Rights Law Centre has expressed support for proposed changes to sexual assault legislation and is urging the Department to consider further changes to ensure adjudication in rape trials is fair, impartial and free from gender stereotyping and discrimination.
Click here for a copy of the HRLC's submission in response to the consultation paper.