Some Thoughts on Human Rights

International Obligations on Human Rights
Australia must back up our international obligations with domestic legislation and action.  If people are acknowledged as refugees under the UN Convention, which Australia has ratified, we have at the very least a moral obligation to grant them protection.  We have accepted international co-operation as part of that convention and should honour our obligation as part of the international community. We have also ratified the international convention on human rights and we must ensure our laws are consistent with that agreement.

Refugees

Since when is it an offence to flee from persecution and war?  And to try to save the lives of your family members by taking them away from trouble?
In my opinion, the Australian government committed an offence under Australian law AND international law in 2001, when (with the co-operation of the opposition) it passed retrospective legislation to justify it’s actions in ordering our military to invade the Tampa (a Norwegian vessel carrying 400 frightened human beings) and took them without their consent to detention camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.  It should have allowed the ship to bring them to Australia!
Refugee asylum seekers should remain in reception centres for a maximum of fourteen weeks for processing and health checks.  The 45 day rule and Temporary Protection Visa system (which is discriminatory) should end. Refugee status should be determined efficiently and refugees be issued with a bridging visa and released into the community with access to services including medical services and English classes. This would bring them into line with asylum seekers who arrive on visas and apply for asylum once onshore.
There is a moral obligation to provide a safe-haven for people fleeing from persecution.  To send a human being back to somewhere they may be killed or tortured makes us just as bad as those doing the killing or torturing.  We have a moral responsibility and a duty under international law to protect people from being returned to persecution, torture or death.

A Bill of Rights?
Both the ACT and Victoria have Human Rights legislation.  But we really need national legislation on this issue. Introducing a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities would be the first step towards setting down clear guidelines for the treatment of our citizens and residents and it will be my first act if elected. I think the action taken by the ACT and Victoria has been the right thing to do.  I’d like to see the other states and territories following their lead.  But I’d also like to see Human Rights legislation enacted at the federal level.  And I’d like there to be consideration of enshrining it in the Constitution.

Accountability

A person should not be held in custody without a proper legal hearing.  Law enforcement must be accountable to the courts.  The right of habeas corpus has long been a protection of liberty in Common Law countries and has historically allowed people to challenge unlawful custody.  Only a court should determine whether a person has a right to be held in custody for any length of time; and people held in prison should always be brought to a speedy trial.  We need to guarantee this in Australia and fight for it to be the case when our citizens are held in custody on foreign soil.  No law should be exempt from this, including anti-terror laws.  The argument of “national emergency” should only apply if International Humanitarian Laws and the Geneva Conventions and their protocols are upheld.

Retrospective legislation should be opposed at all times.  Charging a person with an offence from a law tailored to fit the alleged offence makes the law all-powerful and denigrates the notion of a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.  Back-dating a law to the date of an announcement of intention for that law denies proper scrutiny and accountability to the parliament.  Regardless of the seriousness of the matter it is being legislated for, retrospective legislation is also (for the reasons I have just mentioned) a very serious matter.  It is “legislation by press release” and should not be a part of a democratic system.

Language Tests

The use of an English language test in qualifying people for Australian citizenship is potentially divisive and risks placing unnecessary stress on refugees and migrant who are educationally disadvantaged.  Government funded English language programmes for all migrants would help increase skills in our common language and if properly conducted would include it’s own assessment and measurements of proficiency.

The Death Penalty
Australia opposes the death penalty domestically and we need to take a strong, fearless stand against this and other human rights abuses and violations in our region.  We oppose the death penalty at home and we must also oppose it abroad, regardless of the circumstances.  We must show some leadership on this matter, especially in the Asia-Pacific (but also elsewhere)  and therefore, we must not allow our opposition to the death penalty to be seen as in any way ambiguous.

Indigenous Australians

Indigenous Australians have very good reason to be critical of the way the have been treated by Australian governments.  Forty years after the passing of the referendum which finally recognised indigenous Australians as people, there is still much disadvantage and inequality faced by indigenous Australians.  It is high time for tackling social, economic and political disadvantage; for targeting government services to indigenous communities; and for regional autonomy and an elected national voice for indigenous people.  This needs to be done in a way that is inclusive nad consultative with indigenous leaders.  The paternalistic ways of the past (which the government has shamefully revisited in recent months) are not the way forward.  The way forward is about fairness, equality and respect and negotiation.

(This document didn’t copy very well when I cut and pasted it from the original Word Document in which I wrote it.  I hope you were still able to read it with ease.)

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