The Northern Territory police’s excessive lock up powers are being used unfairly and disproportionately against Aboriginal people, which in turn increases the risk of deaths in custody, the Human Rights Law Centre has told an expert panel undertaking a review of the Northern Territory’s alcohol laws.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities are being denied basic rights, equal treatment and fair payment for work as a result of Federal Government policy, the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency and the Human Rights Law Centre told a Senate inquiry. In separate submissions to a Senate Committee examining the appropriateness and effectiveness of the Government’s Community Development Programme, both organisations have highlighted the inherent discrimination of the social security program.
In a submission and evidence given to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, the Human Rights Law Centre raised serious concerns over the Government’s bill to water down both the wording and objective test in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA). The bill would have removed the terms “insult”, “offend” and “humiliate” from 18C and replaced it with “harrass”. It would have also changed the objective test against which courts assess whether racial vilification has had serious and profound effects – from the reasonable member of the relevant racial or ethnic group, to ‘a reasonable member of the Australian community.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Adrianne Walters said, “It is racial and ethnic minority groups that suffer the impacts of racism, not the Australian community as a whole. We cannot and should not expect a reasonable member of the Australian community who has never had the distressing and degrading experience of being called a coon, "a black c*#t", a terrorist, or being told that Hitler should have finished you, to understand the impact of such statements and the fear and sense of exclusion they create.”
In a submission to a Victorian Parliamentary inquiry the Human Rights Law Centre said the Victorian Government must address the underlying causes of damaging incidents in youth justice centres including staffing and lockdowns.
“Locking children down in isolation, staff shortages and failing infrastructure have all contributed to problems which have plagued youth justice centres,” said Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre. “Successive governments have been on notice about the problems but have failed to properly address them.”
The Human Rights Law Centre made a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights stating there is no case for changing important racial vilification protections in the Racial Discrimination Act.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Adrianne Walters said, “The push to weaken the laws by some has run aground. It’s hard to imagine what those pushing for change want people to be able to say that they currently can’t. Any move to weaken the law itself would have sent a green light to racism. We need to move on and focus on the fight against racism.”
In a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Human Rights Law Centre has supported the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (Improved Oversight and Resourcing) Bill 2014 that seeks to ensure strong and robust oversight of Australia’s counter terrorism and national security laws.
“Counter terrorism and national security laws provide extraordinary powers to police and other security and intelligence agencies. It is critical that these laws do not allow unnecessary or disproportionate intrusions upon peoples’ fundamental human rights,” said Emily Howie, director of advocacy and research at the Human Rights Law Centre.
The Human Rights Law Centre and NACLC have made a joint submission with support from the Inner City Legal Centre (a specialist LGBTIQ legal service in NSW) to the inquiry into the Recognition of Foreign Marriages Bill 2014 (Cth).
The submission reiterates that the Marriage Act (Cth) in its current form unacceptably discriminates against LGBTI people.
While the Bill does not remedy the discrimination central to the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act, it is nevertheless an important step forward towards marriage equality in Australia.
The submission strongly supports the Bill with some amendments, set out in the submission.
The Northern Territory Government proposes to introduce the Correctional Services Bill 2014 which will govern the operation of custodial facilities and the management of prisoners throughout the NT.
In a submission to the Office of the Commissioner of Correctional Services, the Human Rights Law Centre has said the new laws will not address the endemic over-imprisonment of Aboriginal people and fail to respect basic rights. Along with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, the HRLC has called on the NT Government to amend the Bill to better protect the rights of prisoners.
The Human Rights Law Centre has made a submission to a Parliamentary Committee reviewing a proposed new law that will decriminalise abortion in Tasmania.
The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Rachel Ball, said abortion is currently the only publicly funded health service that is criminalised.
“Criminalisation creates uncertainty and barriers to accessing important services. It undermines women's right to non-discrimination, health and privacy. We welcome these overdue reforms and encourage other states to take note,” said Ms Ball.
The HRLC submission considers the human rights compatibility of three key aspects of the Bill:
(a) access to abortion;
(b) conscientious objection; and
(c) access zones.
Download a copy of the submission here.
The HRLC welcomes the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 as a culmination of many years of research, discussion and advocacy around the need to strengthen, modernise and streamline federal anti-discrimination laws. While there are aspects of the HRAD Bill that could be strengthened, the HRLC considers that the Bill improves protections against unfair treatment and makes anti-discrimination laws more effective, accessible and cost-efficient.Read More