Australia Avoids an Uncomfortable Conversation with the UN Committee against Torture

In early November, the Australian Government was scheduled to appear before the UN Committee against Torture to discuss Australia’s compliance with the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment over the last 5 years.  Less than a week before the review, the Australian Government withdrew, citing that an election had been called and the Government entered ‘caretaker mode’.  At best, this is a very weak rationale.  At worst, it is a blatant attempt to avoid human rights scrutiny in the context of an election. 

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Civiliter Mortuus? Not Me?

Civiliter Mortuus?  Not Me?

On 3 September 2004, in the County Court of Victoria, I, Vickie Lee Roach, Indigenous woman, mother of one child and the daughter of an aging mother, was sentenced to ‘death’. Okay – so I won’t be ‘hanged by the neck until dead’, or strapped to a trolley and fed an intravenous cocktail of lethal drugs.  I won’t face the gas chamber, nor blindly await a volley of rifle shots with my back against a wall.  The truth is, under the law as it stood that year, I and thousands of other prisoners, faced a death sentence of a different kind; in attracting a prison sentence of 3 years or more, we also incurred the additional penalty of forfeiture of our civil rights, expressly, the right to vote.

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It’s Easy to Give Financial Equality to Same-Sex Couples and their Children

It’s Easy to Give Financial Equality to Same-Sex Couples and their Children

In June this year the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (‘HREOC’) published a report called Same-Sex: Same Entitlements.  We put federal laws under the human rights microscope and we found that 58 of them breach the right to equality before the law and the right to be protected from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The discrimination against same-sex couples is there on the statute books in black and white.  And the discrimination exists around basic issues of employment entitlements, workers’ compensation, tax, social security, veterans’ entitlements, health care, superannuation, aged care and migration.

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Eureka! The Government Wins Again

Eureka!  The Government Wins Again

In 1854 a small group of miners staged a rebellion against the Victorian Government.  It was an armed rebellion with a strong ideological purpose.  Measured against today’s laws, it was plainly a terrorist offence.  Nevertheless, in the complex weave of Australian values, it holds an honoured place in our history and heritage. Eureka’s visible symbol is the flag of the Southern Cross.  It was sewn by the miners’ wives and partners and remains a treasured part of our history.  Now, it has become an offence for some Australians to show the Eureka flag.

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Indigenous Rights 40 Years On: Participation, Not Paternalism, Remains the Answer

Indigenous Rights 40 Years On: Participation, Not Paternalism, Remains the Answer

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum that saw more than 90% of eligible Australians vote in favour of the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as fellow citizens.  Our country's most successful referendum enabled Indigenous Australians to be counted in the national census of the population and gave the Commonwealth Government power to make specific laws in respect of Indigenous people. While the referendum was a turning point in Australian history, commemorations of the event are also a stark reminder of the problems that still exist for Indigenous Australians.

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Safeguarding the Crown Jewels: The Need for Effective UN Human Rights Experts

Safeguarding the Crown Jewels: The Need for Effective UN Human Rights Experts

Torture, the sale of children, arbitrary detention, unlawful killings, extreme poverty and attacks against human rights defenders are all abuses that are investigated and often prevented by independent United Nations human rights experts.  However, the UN Human Rights Council (‘Council’) is considering measures to eliminate or weaken the role of these effective human rights champions.

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Australian Government Must Get Serious About UN Human Rights Reporting

Australian Government Must Get Serious About UN Human Rights Reporting

The Australian Government recently signed the new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in a ceremonial opening of the Convention on 30 March 2007 at the UN Headquarters in New York.  This is a significant achievement for people with disability in Australia and globally, many of whom have been engaged in the development of the Convention over many years.  The Australian Government is to be congratulated for its contribution to the development and signing of the Convention and for taking this important step in the development of international human rights law. Sadly, however, the signing of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is one positive step amongst an accumulation of much reluctance on the part of the current Australian Government.

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Human Rights are Common Sense

Human Rights are Common Sense

Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities has now been in force for three months.  Although it is too early to evaluate the Charter’s impact, some early insights and reflections are timely. UK Daily Times columnist Melanie Phillips (The Age, 21 March 2007) would have us believe that Victoria has enacted a ‘judicial delivery system for cultural Marxism’.  Conservative politicians and commentators made similarly dire predictions prior to the Charter’s commencement, deriding it as a ‘monstrous attack’ on democratic traditions that would empower minority groups and left-wing judges.  Meanwhile, the Charter’s proponents describe it as landmark legislation that will strengthen democracy, promote accountability, and ensure respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.

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