Posts Tagged ‘Speeches’

Some Thoughts on Human Rights

23/11/2007

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.)

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

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)