In Search of Our Rights

In Search of Our Rights

A new law introduced to Victorian Parliament by the Brumby Government will give Police the power to search people randomly, including by strip searching children and people with disability, in violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms.  A similar law has recently passed the lower house of the State Parliament in Western Australia. The Summary Offences and Control of Weapons Acts Amendment Bill 2009 (Vic) will give police the power to randomly search people who are in a ‘designated area’.  If passed, the Bill will enable police to conduct searches of any person in such an area, including children, even in the absence of any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.  The Bill also allows police to conduct strip searches in certain circumstances.  The power to conduct strip searches extends to the invasive strip searching of children.

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A Matter of National Importance

A Matter of National Importance

‘After 10 months of listening to the people of Australia, the Committee was left in no doubt that the protection and promotion of human rights is a matter of national importance.’ The National Human Rights Consultation Committee delivered its report to the Attorney-General on 30 September.  The report was publicly released on 8 October.

The Committee recommended that Australia adopt a federal Human Rights Act.

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Australia Can Impact on Human Rights in Burma

Australia Can Impact on Human Rights in Burma

As intractable as the situation in Burma may seem, Australia has policy options for making a positive impact on human rights there. Burma remains one of the most repressive countries in the world. There are strict limits on basic freedoms of expression, association and assembly. The intelligence and security services are omnipresent. Censorship is draconian. More than 2,100 political prisoners suffer in Burma’s squalid prisons, including many members of the political opposition, courageous protestors who peacefully took to the streets in August and September 2007, and individuals who criticised the government for its poor response to Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. All have been sentenced after sham trials that often take place in the prisons themselves.

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Religion Must not Provide a Licence to Discriminate

Religion Must not Provide a Licence to Discriminate

Last year a group which aims to raise awareness about the needs of same sex attracted young people planned a weekend forum.  Their request to book facilities was refused by an organisation affiliated with a Christian association on the basis that they were unable to accommodate ‘a group such as yours’. This event should not be surprising; it is lawful in Victoria to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, disability, marital status, race, sex and other attributes as long as the discrimination conforms to religious doctrines or is necessary to avoid injury to religious sensitivities.

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Why the Current UN Treaty Body Reform Process Cannot Fully Deliver

The discussion around the reform of UN human rights mechanisms in recent years has focused overwhelmingly on the creation of the UN Human Rights Council.  In this shadow, the UN human rights treaty bodies also enhanced their efforts to review disparate working methods following a 2006 proposal by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for a unified single standing treaty body.  Then High Commissioner, Louise Arbour, identified many challenges, including that ‘limited coordination and collaboration among treaty bodies, and different approaches, in particular with respect to the role of NGOs, NHRIs and the wider United Nations system, increase duplication and impede interaction with stakeholders, who find the system obscure.’  

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Rights in Rough Times

Rights in Rough Times

About 4 years ago, I was involved in consultations with more than 100 homeless or formerly homeless people across Melbourne about whether a Charter of Rights could make Victoria a more inclusive and rights-respecting community.  The terms of reference for that consultation were limited to considering civil and political rights and not economic and social rights.  While this may have made some (limited) sense to me as a lawyer, I was struck by how little sense it made to the homeless, to the rights-holders. 

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Global Efforts to Combat Racism are Essential for Local Responses

Global Efforts to Combat Racism are Essential for Local Responses

It is often the case that discussions about racism are heated and controversial; the recent Durban Review Conference and my participation in it was no exception.  In reflecting on this Conference, I would like to convey some important context for my attendance as Race Discrimination Commissioner and highlight some of the key outcomes.

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Equal Access to Quality Education is a Human Right

Equal access to quality education is a human right.  It is also a global imperative if we all are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.  But worldwide, minority and Indigenous children are disproportionately denied this right with drastic consequences for us all. This is as true in Australia as in other countries.  According to Australian government statistics, over 50% of Indigenous children drop-out of secondary school before completion.  For girls, the figure jumps to 80%.  More than twice as many Indigenous adult women than non-Indigenous women never attended school at all. 

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Australia Can Become a ‘AAA’ Human Rights Player

Australia Can Become a ‘AAA’ Human Rights Player

Australia has an opportunity and obligation to regain its reputation as a ‘AAA’ country when it comes to human rights, a high level government delegation from Australia has been told by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The delegation appeared before the UN Committee in New York on 23 and 24 MarchThe Committee, which comprises 18 independent human rights experts from across the world, commended Australia on a range of human rights advances, including the historic apology to the Stolen Generations, the abolition of the Pacific Solution and the current national human rights consultation.

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