Just Do It: Leadership and a National Human Rights Charter

Just Do It: Leadership and a National Human Rights Charter

Imagine if we could get all of Australia to start a slow hand clap.  And then, over the top of it, comes a plaintive chant ‘Why are we waiting?’. It probably wouldn’t be long before it collapsed into a national Mexican wave (clockwise?), but before the nation, inevitably, turned to mindless entertainment they would have made a point: stop procrastinating and just do it.  Enact a charter of rights.

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National Consultation and Legislative Bill of Rights Essential to Best Serve Human Rights

National Consultation and Legislative Bill of Rights Essential to Best Serve Human Rights

Five years ago I began my term as the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, confident in the ability of the common law and a robust democracy to protect human rights.  I leave convinced we need a major legal and cultural overhaul in order to deal with the human rights challenges of the 21st century.

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60 Years On: How Universal is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

60 Years On: How Universal is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

10 December 2008 is the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly, the first general catalogue of the rights of individuals to be made the explicit subject of international standards.  A 60th birthday is usually the moment to celebrate a life well-lived, success in public and private life, and perhaps to anticipate a comfortable retirement.  But these are not apt measures for the UDHR.  It was and remains a controversial document.

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Time to Get Real with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Time to Get Real with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Almost a year ago to the day, on 13 September 2007, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.  The Declaration enshrines a body of core minimum principles and common sense values, including the rights of Indigenous peoples to non-discrimination, freedom from genocide, forced assimilation and destruction of culture, intended to ensure Indigenous peoples can live with dignity and participate in and contribute to the broader community. 143 UN member nations voted for it.  4 voted against it – Canada, New Zealand, the United States and Australia. Australia’s opposition was vehement.  Regrettably, this and subsequent commentary have had more to do with perpetuating myths than debunking them, however honestly those views are held.

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‘Making Equality Real’ in Australia

‘Making Equality Real’ in Australia

When the Sex Discrimination Act was introduced into parliament in 1983 it was derided as the brainchild of radical feminists and a death knell to functioning society.  A quarter of a century later much of the smoke blown on the debate has cleared and the SDA has emerged a constructive, but flawed document. In its current form, the SDA is only capable of addressing some forms of discrimination, some of the time.  It employs a narrow definition of discrimination, applies to limited areas of public life and fails to provide the tools necessary to address systemic discrimination and promote substantive equality.

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Human Rights, Aid and Development: A Complex Relationship in Complex Environments

Human Rights, Aid and Development: A Complex Relationship in Complex Environments

Despite the dire humanitarian conditions, on 4 June this year the operations of all aid and development NGOs in Zimbabwe were suspended by the Government. As was widely reported, it is reasonably clear that this action was taken to mimimise witnesses to the acts of intimidation and violence that the Government used to influence the outcome of the election.  Since that time, limited operations have re-commenced; however, the future for NGOs operating in Zimbabwe remains very uncertain.

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Australian Foreign Policy and Human Rights: How much will the Rudd Government Change?

The Government has started well.  It appears to be taking a more compassionate view of people in detention.  It has abolished Temporary Protection Visas.  It is holding an enquiry into the ‘Citizenship Test’ and will hopefully create a test that makes more sense, does less damage, and is not so heavily biased. But the Government has not said anything of which I am aware about our interrogation laws, about the greatly increased powers, including powers to detain those known to be innocent, given to state and federal police and ASIO in the so-called ‘War on Terror’.

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A National Charter of Rights:Some Reflections from the United Kingdom

A National Charter of Rights:Some Reflections from the United Kingdom

I have been asked to give an assessment of the British Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), now in its eighth year, and to suggest some lessons that Australia might draw from the British experience.  Inevitably, the latter leads one to focus on the more negative aspects of our experience, so I want to start with the good stuff before dwelling at greater length on the problems that you might want to avoid.

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