This Week’s Human Rights News

By Eva Csik
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26 January 2012

Tent Embassy 40th Anniversary Demonstrations

Australia Day this year marked the 40th Anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Tent embassy was founded on Australia Day in 1972 to protest the decision by the government to reject a proposal for Aboriginal Land rights. Today Tent embassy serves to represent the broader Indigenous Movement.

Demonstrations became fueled on Australia Day this year and protesters became angered after Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was believed to of called for the removal of the Tent Embassy. Approximately 200 protesters gathered outside The Lobby restaurant where Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Mr Abbott were attending an awards ceremony.

Mr Abbott denies that he made any suggestion that the Tent Embassy removed. The comment made by Mr Abbott that the Protesters were believed to be reacting to was made earlier that day. Mr Abbott was asked if he believed Tent Embassy to still be of relevance today or whether he felt it should be moved and responded by saying: “I think the indigenous people of Australia can be very proud of the respect in which they are held by every Australian and, yes, I think it probably is time to move on from that”.

A number of reports suggested that Protesters were becoming violent and it was due to this that Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott were hurriedly taken away by security. A day after the event Ms Gillard said that “what I utterly condemn is when protests turn violent, the way we saw the violence yesterday”. Tent Embassy spokesman, Mark Murtie said that “The only violence you can see came from the police, so don’t say it was a violent protest, it was a violent reaction to the protest”.

Newer developments report Ms Gillard confirming that her media adviser, Tony Hodges, had asked Unions ACT secretary Kim Sattler, to send protesters to The Lobby to respond to Mr Abbott’s remark. Ms Sattler denied having any contact with Mr Hodges and had learnt of Mr Abbott’s presence by others in the crowd at Tent Embassy.

Central Australian Aboriginal Activist, Barbara Shaw had informed the crowd about Mr Abbott’s comments after Ms Sattler had made the suggestion to do so.

Michael Anderson, one of the founders of the Tent Embassy, feels the whole incident was a set-up. “Someone set us up…they set the Prime Minister up. They set Abbott up” Mr Anderson said.

Expert Panel Report

The expert panel on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has released its final report to the Federal Government. The changes proposed in the report include recognising Indigenous culture, language and heritage; removing racist elements in the constitution; and prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic or national origin. Importantly, if the recommendations are accepted at a referendum, the Federal Government will only be able to make laws to advance Indigenous people. The expert panel has reported that strong levels of support for constitutional change exist within the community, with 82% of Australians supporting recognition in a recent national Newspoll.

Tony Abbott’s latest asylum seeker policy announcement attracts criticism

Tony Abbott’s plan to turn away all asylum seekers in boats has attracted scrutiny from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Indonesian police. Abbott’s policy has caused the UNHCR’s regional representative to assert that, “any such blanket approach would potentially place Australia in breach of its obligations under the Refugee Convention and other international law obligations…”

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has advised Abbott that his policy which directly counters Indonesian policy may be harmful to the relationship between the two countries. “Indonesia has said very clearly and repeatedly that they will not accept boat turnarounds…they just won’t co-operate with it” reports Bowen.

Military lawyers and senior naval commanders are also opposed to Tony Abbott’s policy. “Tony Abbot’s plan to order warships to tow asylum-seeker boats back to Indonesia is unworkable and based on highly dubious legal grounds”. It has been reported that military lawyers have privately informed Mr Abbott of the Australian Defense Force’s opposition to the plan.

In related news the Greens will introduce a bill into parliament next month that calls to end the mandatory five-year jail term for people smuggling. Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has said that the sentence has targeted the wrong people and being handed out to vulnerable Indonesian fisherman while the organisers of the people smuggling syndicates continue to send people off in unsafe boats.

Rachel Ball, of the Human Rights Law Centre, has said that the bill will “fix flawed legislation that puts Australia out of step with other modern democracies”.

Smart Justice spokesperson speaks out on ‘Tough on Crime’ approach

The spokesperson for Smart Justice and Executive Officer of the Victorian Federation of Community Legal Centres, Hugh de Kretser, has spoken out against the Victorian Government’s ‘tough on crime’ approach on The Drum. De Kretser asserts that while being tough on crime is as simple as promising more police and longer sentences, “dealing with the economic and social costs of punitive populism is much harder.” De Kretser argues that longer and harsher jail terms are expensive, do little to deter offenders and can increase the risk of reoffending.

New push for gay marriage

Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson Young has announced that she will push for a second inquiry on her bill to legalise same-sex marriage. The bill was first introduced in 2009 and still has not gone to vote. While there is a significant number of people in Parliament and in the community who are open to marriage equality, Senator Hanson-Young states that the practical implications of the change still need to be discussed. The Greens have expressed within their sexuality and gender identity principles and goals that discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender identity is a significant cause of psychological distress, mental illness and suicide.

Australian Marriage Equality convener, Alex Greenwich has said that, “if a Senate inquiry helps to win over the hearts and minds of undecided MPs, then it can only be helpful in achieving a reform most Australians want.”

 

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