Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights’

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.


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.


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.)

Media Release: 18-11-2007: Democrats Defend Gay Rights


Bring Back Balance

ACT Democrats 2007

Media Release 18 November 2007

Democrats Defend Gay Rights

“Discriminatory laws against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (GLBTI) people must be changed” says Australian Democrats candidate for Fraser, Darren Churchill.

In August, the Australian Democrats introduced a Same-Sex Entitlement Bill into the Senate. The Bill aimed to amend the 58 discriminatory laws identified by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in their report of May 2007, Same-Sex: Same Entitlements, as being discriminatory against same-sex couples.

“A truly liberal democratic society would have ended these intolerant, discriminatory laws long ago” Mr Churchill said. “They are laws that encourage and entrench bigotry and homophobia and this cannot be allowed to continue.”

“The Liberal/National coalition and the Labor party have a bad record on issues aimed at ending discrimination against GLBTI people. Only the Democrats have consistently supported equality on sexuality and gender identity issues.”

“We’ve made a number of attempts at getting anti-discrimination laws passed to protect the rights of GLBTI people. Our Sexuality and Gender Identity Discrimination Bill and our Sexuality Anti-Vilification Bill are just two examples.

“Democrats initiatives have managed to get property rights extended to same-sex in relation to private superannuation funds. We will keep the pressure up to get the same entitlements extended to same-sex couples under public superannuation schemes.”

“I call on the coalition and the ALP to commit to redressing the laws which discriminate against same-sex couples, and to recognise that all Australians are equal.”

“It doesn’t matter whether a person is gay, straight or whatever. We are all human beings. And in sharing a common humanity, in the name of love, all people have a right to be treated with dignity, respect and equality under the law.” Mr Churchill concluded.

Darren Churchill

Australian Democrats candidate for Fraser

0412 196 473

Media Release: 16-11-2007: Democrats demand full Inquiry into anti-terror laws


Bring Back Balance

ACT Democrats 2007

Media Release 16 November 2007

Democrats demand full Inquiry into anti-terror laws

“A full and wide ranging inquiry is needed into Australia’s anti-terror laws!” insists Australian Democrats candidate for Fraser, Darren Churchill.

Inquiries have been announced by both the Inspector-General of Intelligence & Security, Ian Carnell and the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty.

Mr Churchill said, “That’s not enough. It’s far too simplistic to assume that public confidence can be restored in our Federal police and Intelligence agencies by internal watchdog inquiries”

“There’s far too much power been given to our enforcement agencies under the government’s anti-terror laws. The courts have recognised the risk to basic human rights under the laws. At the very least, we need a Senate Select Inquiry to investigate the matter and redress the balance. The Ul-Haque and Haneef cases clearly show there are major problems”

“These intrusive and unfair laws were passed by the collusion of both Liberal and Labor. Only the Democrats have consistently questioned the lack of accountability under the laws.”

“I’ve often stated that our Parliament, courts and security agencies need to be accountable. That our freedoms are precious and need to be protected, not given away through legislation that seeks to control the very people it is supposed to protect. It is society at it’s worst when poor decisions in relation to our laws fail to uphold the very freedoms they claim to protect” stated a deeply concerned Mr Churchill

As recently as Tuesday, Mr Churchill had called for a review of the anti-terror laws, in the light of the Ul-Haque decision by Judge Michael Adams.

Darren Churchill

Australian Democrats candidate for Fraser

0412 196 473

From the ABC news website


Migration Act needs to be changed: Democrats candidate

Posted Wed Nov 14, 2007 6:29pm AEDT

Democrats candidate for the seat of Fraser Darren Churchill says if elected, he will push for change to the country’s refugee detention laws.

Mr Churchill says recent coverage by the ABC’s Lateline program on Vietnamese man Tony Tran, who was detained in 1999 despite having a visa, shows the impact of the laws on the mental health of detainees.

He says it is time the Migration Act was changed.

“I’ll introduce the same amendments that the Democrats Senators have introduced in the Senate,” he said.

“And try to get the whole matter debated in the House of Representatives and by hopefully introducing what would basically be a private members bill, I’ll be able to get things changed.”

(This is a copy of an item that was posted on the ABC News website:

Media Release: 14-11-2007: Time for Action on Refugee Rights



Media Release 14 November 2007
Time for Action on Refugee Rights

“Mandatory detention is cruel, heartless and totally lacking in common sense and compassion!” declared Australian Democrats candidate for Fraser, Darren Churchill.

The last two nights, the ABC programme Lateline has reported at length the wrongful detention of Vietnamese man, Tony Tran. Mr Tran’s physical and mental health has suffered as a result of being wrongfully imprisoned in a detention centre in 1999, despite having a visa.

“It’s time to close the barbaric and inhumane detention centres and remove mandatory detention from the Migration Act.”

“Cases like Mr Tran and Cornelia Rau are clearly not isolated incidents. It is offensive to any concept of human decency, that in a society claiming to be civilised we continue to gaol people who are totally innocent. Human beings (including children) are being locked up, under the Migration Act, for nothing short of political expediency”, said Mr Churchill

Mr Churchill called for an end to the practice and a return to the values of compassion and tolerance.

“We urgently need legislation which protects the rights of all who live in Australia and all who seek a better life in Australia”

“It is cruel, heartless, and totally lacking in any concept of intelligence and compassion that basic human rights are ignored by the Migration Act. It’s time to pay proper attention to human rights” concluded Mr Churchill.

Darren Churchill

Australian Democrats candidate for Fraser

0412 196 473

Media Release 13-11-07: Anti-Terror Laws Need Urgent Overhaul

Media Release 13 November 2007

Anti-Terror Laws Need Urgent Overhaul


Basic rights are being eroded under anti-terror laws claims Australian Democrats candidate for Fraser, Darren Churchill.

National Nine and ABC News tonight detailed a report of a case in Sydney, where Judge Michael Adams had rule that ASIO officers had falsely imprisoned and used “oppressive conduct” in interrogating a medical student Izhar Ul-Haque

Mr Churchill, who last week addressed The Justice Project “Human Rights Forum” at Dickson College on the topic of accountability and human rights in the face of increased anti-terror laws, tonight echoed the Australian Council for Civil Liberties belief that “the judge’s findings indicated serious problems with the way ASIO operated.”

The court has shown the ridiculous “power creep” that has happened under the anti-terror laws introduced by the government and supported by the opposition.

It’s a question of accountability. And the court has shown that our enforcement agencies are becoming ‘overenthusiastic’ and indeed are overstepping the mark.

The fact that agencies such as ASIO and the police are there to protect us should not exclude them from scrutiny and accountability” Mr Churchill said.

“The treatment of Mr Ul-Haque is abhorrent and totally outside the principles of a civilized society. I welcome the court’s decision in upholding the principle of a person’s basic legal rights as a citizen. We need accountability and need to make sure our laws uphold the freedoms they set out to protect.” stated Mr Churchill.

Mr Churchill called for a complete review of anti-terror laws to include safeguards to protect the privacy and legal rights of citizens, as a matter of urgency.

Darren Churchill

Australian Democrats candidate for Fraser

0412 196 473

(Link to Australian Democrats “Human Rights Policy”:

(Link to Senator Stott Despoja’s “Human Rights Media Release”: )

My speech to The Justice Project – Human Rights Forum, Dickson College, 08/11/2007


(Thanks Kurt. I thank Matilda for her welcome and I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet).

Anti-terror laws are supposedly about risk mitigation, protecting us from a present risk of terrorism. What is the “present” risk of terrorism? The government is using the perceived risk of terrorism. to frighten us. The government thrives on creating a climate of fear. It used to be “reds under the beds” in the old days of the Cold War. Now it’s “terrorists behind the lampposts” or some other such phrase, for fostering fear, and making us suspicious of anyone who is visibly different from “us” (whatever “us” may be taken to mean). The perceived risk of terrorism is high. But the actual risk of terrorism is minimal by comparison.

Accountability is all about contestable decisions being heard by a court. The right to trial, the principle of habeas corpus, is a protection of liberty and enables people to challenge unlawful custody. There is a right to be heard: for decision makers to be unbiased, the right to know the evidence used against you and the right to know the case against you. This is referred to as “natural justice” (also known as “procedural fairness”). It prevents inaccurate results and means that you are able to defend yourself in court, where only relevant information is taken into account and irrelevant information is put aside (this is why the Haneef case was such a travesty) The courts have a role to act as a balance to the decisions of the executive. They can also act as a protection of peoples’ rights against overenthusiastic law enforcement agencies. (Especially when the government and opposition collude to increase the powers of those agencies, as happened recently).

A government has a duty and a fundamental responsibility to protect it’s citizens but this must be done in accordance with upholding the freedoms it is setting out to protect.

Even in the case of a “national emergency” such as war (or terrorism), basic human rights principles, our civil rights and freedoms (whether under statute or common law) as well as International Humanitarian Laws and the Geneva Conventions must be upheld.

There can still be a presumption against bail in dangerous and drugs cases. And if necessary an arrest order or warrant can still be issued in a very short period of time (about half an hour). But that doesn’t take away the right to have a person’s status determined by a court.

Politicians have an agenda. Courts, rely on evidence and development of the law. Keeping information “protected” from the court, or the defence, and closing courts from public view (except in cases justified to the court for the protection of one of the parties involved, eg. children, (or) domestic violence) (protected Information) involves a lack of scrutiny that risks poor decisions being made.

Our worst comes out when we justify poor decisions in the name of fighting threats of terror or war. When our rights and freedoms are eroded by government actions in the name of fighting some perceived threat to our freedoms, there is also an erosion of our morality. It occurs by undermining all we have worked towards in the evolution and historical development of our justice system. We throw it all out the window in a few short years when we fail to uphold the basic principles of justice on which our civilised society is built.

There is something morally wrong with imposing gaol sentences on journalists for reporting accountability issues. It is not about protecting people from terrorists. It is playing politics. Again, we have a situation of creating a climate of fear. No one is able to say anything, journalists become frightened to report anything for fear of imprisonment. This denies freedom of expression and a free press. It places our law enforcement agencies above the law, above scrutiny. It punishes freedom of information and takes away the publics’ right to be informed by a free and independent press

We need a balance, protecting us from excessive concentration of power by government . The separation of powers and the idea of responsible government as defined in the Australian Constitution is what is meant to give us the checks and balances between the branches of government without fear or interference. However, concentration of the government in the executive has increased with recent decisions by Ministers (such as the Attorney-General or Immigration Minister) to take powers away from the courts (as referred to above). We need to address constitutional reform to give greater clarification and definition to the relationship between the Executive, the Parliament and the Judiciary.

The Australian Democrats have long been the balance between the excessive power of Liberal (and) Labor governments. We will continue to fight for balance, for human rights and protection of privacy, freedom and accountability.

(Thank you).

(Speech given by me at the above meeting at approximately 6.45pm on 08/11/2007 addressing:

Does the “present risk of terrorism” justify:

– The new control orders. Which allow a person considered a threat to be restricted to their home where the person concerned has not been found guilty of an offence by a court?

– ASIO’s new power to detain a person suspected of being a terrorist but against whom there is not enough evidence to bring charges?

– laws that impose a 5 year gaol term on a journalist who reports the fact of a person held in detention under the powers referred to in the previous question?

- the new power of the Attorney-General to close courts to public view?

– the new power of the Attorney-General to prevent a litigant from seeing the evidence used against him or her?)

(Italicised parts of the main text are additional or “ad libs” to the original speech)

We must oppose executions in all circumstances


Isn’t it time somebody took a strong stand on human rights? That the perpetrators of the Bali bombings need to be brought to justice is and should be unquestioned. But the death penalty is not about justice. It is about revenge. It is about committing another wrong in the totally flawed expectation that somehow it will make right a previous wrong committed against us. It can only lead to an escalating cycle of violence and oneupmanship.

The taking of a life is a horrible and evil act, that we as a tolerant society rightly condemn. But if we are to continue to condemn the taking of a life, we must be consistent in opposing it. And that means opposing the death penalty.

It is the mark of a fair and compassionate society that we lead by example on human rights issues. The right to life is a fundamental human right. It exists regardless of race, nationality, religion, gender, creed or any other distinction.

Those who take life should be condemned in the strongest terms and brought to justice. But that does not involve retaliation by committing what is essentially the same crime. Two wrongs never have, and never will, make a right!

The strong stance taken by the Australian Democrats in opposing the death penalty, shows that that there is one political party in Australia prepared to take a stand on human rights. Labor appears to want to take a stand – but is frightened of the Howard government playing wedge politics. We need some consistency.

Australia needs to take a strong, fearless stand against human rights abuses and violations in our region. We must not allow our opposition to the death penalty to be seen as in any way ambiguous.

This is the full text of my letter published in the Canberra Times, October 11, 2007)