In line with the Australian Government's commitment to reclaim its 'reputation as a leader in the international protection of human rights', particularly in the Asia-Pacific, the Joint Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade is conducting an inquiry on human rights mechanisms in the Asia-Pacific. The Centre has made a Submission on Australia's Role in Promoting Human Rights in the Pacific which sets out a framework for regional engagement and dialogue around human rights. The submission focuses on Australia's engagement with Pacific Island countries.
During its 92nd and 93rd sessions held in March and July 2008 respectively, the Human Rights Committee initiated the drafting of a new General Comment on States parties' obligations under the first Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee has sought comments on the Draft General Comment from interested parties, in particular State parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, UN specialised agencies and non-governmental organisations.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was tabled in parliament on 26 August 2008. In our September 2008 Submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, the Human Rights Law Resource Centre unreservedly supported Australia's accession to the Optional Protocol. In addition, the HRLRC emphasised that the Optional Protocol should be ratified in its entirety to ensure the full benefit of accession is realised.
On 16 May 2008, the Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment issued its Concluding Observations on Australia. The Concluding Observations included 27 recommendations concerning Australia’s compliance with its obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The Australian Government has called for submissions from NGOs on the Concluding Observations and for suggestions as to what follow-up action might be taken. On 1 September 2008, the Human Rights Law Resource Centre made a submission to Government regarding domestic implementation of the Committee's Concluding Observations.
On 15 September 2008, the Centre made a Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws–General Law Reform) Bill 2008. The purpose of the Bill is to eliminate discrimination against same-sex couples and the children of same-sex relationships in 68 Commonwealth laws. The Centre congratulates the Australian Government on these proposed reforms, which will address and reduce discrimination.
However, the Bill does not fully eliminate discrimination against individuals who are in same-sex relationships because it does not enable same-sex couples to marry and it does not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and status as a same-sex couple.
The Centre has made a Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee in support of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Laws Bill 2008. The Centre considers that the operation, effectiveness and implications of terrorism laws should be subject to independent review to ensure that there is transparency in the manner in which those laws are interpreted, and to ensure that there is public confidence in the manner in which those laws are applied.
On 26 June 2008, the Senate referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee the matter of the effectiveness of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (SDA) in eliminating discrimination and promoting gender equality. The Centre's submission focuses on the extent to which the SDA implements the non-discrimination obligations contained in international human rights law.
On 29 May 2008, the Joint Standing Committee on Migration announced an inquiry into immigration detention in Australia. The Centre's Submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration focuses on the need for Australia’s immigration detention regime to ensure the full implementation of Australia’s obligations under international human rights law.
The Corrections Amendment Bill 2008 (Vic) was introduced to Parliament in July 2008. According to s 1 of the Bill, it 'provides for the creation of prisoner compensation quarantine funds for the purpose of paying into those funds certain damages awarded to prisoners and to provide for the payments out of those funds of certain amounts recoverable by victims and others from prisoners.' On 11 August 2008, the Centre made a Submission to the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee regarding the Corrections Amendment Bill 2008.
In August 2008, the Centre made a Submission to the Northern Territory Emergency Response Review Board in relation to the practical implications of the Northern Territory Emergency Response legislative package and related implementation measures. The submission identifies particular human rights issues arising from the NTER and recommends that a human rights approach be taken in the review and reform of the NTER.