This Week’s Human Rights News

By Eva Csik
Right Now Radio Logo

2 February 2012

Alarming increase in detention rates among young Indigenous people

Yesterday, Greens Senator Penny Wright drew attention to the alarming increase in the number of Indigenous youth in detention. The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2012 showed that juvenile detention rates for Indigenous people aged between 10 and 17 years increased by more than 20 per cent in 2009 -2010.

The high rate of Indigenous young people in detention “deprives Indigenous communities of the hope and potential that young people represent,” Senator Wright said.

Senator Wright used the opportunity to urge the Federal Government to urgently implement policies to address Indigenous over-representation in the criminal justice system, stating that “high levels of incarceration are both a symptom and a cause of indigenous disadvantage”. The Greens have suggested that the Federal Government’s high imprisonment costs would be put to better use in localised programs and services which seek to address the underlying causes.

Refugees face detention for life without explanation

ASIO are refusing to explain why four refugees that could be detained for the remainder of their lives are a threat to Australian security. Volunteers from the Darwin Asylum Seekers Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) say the refugees are traumatised because they have not been given reasons as to why they failed the test.

DASSAN spokeswoman Fernanda Dalstrom believes that ASIO has broadened its definition of refugees who are considered a threat to security and that there has been an increase in people from persecuted ethnic groups being negatively assessed.

Ms Dalstrom stated that more than 50 refugees are in similar situations Australian wide. Once refugees fail security tests they are unable to challenge ASIO assessments.

Outrage over allegations of strip-searching of child

There is increasing public outrage over allegations that police strip-searched a 12-year-old girl during a raid on a house in Hobart. Police say that female officers searched the girl with her mother present. Greg Barns from the Australian Lawyers alliance and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre are calling for a review of police powers. Deputy Commissioner of Police, Scott Tilyard has said the strip search was justified despite the girl being searched by officers twice.

Fair Work Australia orders pay rise for community sector workers

Fair work Australia has ordered that the wages of community sector workers such as social workers and carers be increased by between 19 and 41 per cent. Last year Fair Work Australia found that one of the primary reasons why community sector workers were underpaid was because of gender. Australian Council of Social Services chief executive Dr Cassandra Goldie has said that, “for far too long the workers in the sector have led a life of work providing important vital services to the community and have themselves faced a life of experiencing poverty.”

‘Special Circumstances’ to be considered before imprisoning in lieu of payment for unpaid fines

The Supreme Court has held that infringement officers and courts may have a duty to inquire whether a person has ‘special circumstances’ – such as intellectual disability or mental illness – before imprisoning that person in lieu of payment of unpaid fines.

This duty to inquire follows court hearings whereby Justice Emerton overturned an order that a person with an intellectual disability who had failed to pay fines should be jailed. In 2009 Mr Taha appeared before Broadmeadows Magistrates court in relation to unpaid fines, mainly public transport related and an order was made that Mr Taha pay the fines in monthly installments or face automatic imprisonment. When Mr Taha ceased making payments he was contacted that he would be imprisoned for 81 days and consequently sought assistance from Victoria Legal Aid.

Mr Taha’s case was taken before Supreme Court stating that his rights to recognition and equality before the law, liberty and fair hearing were infringed. Her Honour found there to be first a denial of procedural fairness and second, a jurisdictional error, in that the Magistrate did not consider whether ‘Special Circumstances’ applied. ‘Special Circumstances’ are defined in the Infringements Act as: any mental or intellectual disability, disorder, disease or illness, a serious addiction to substances or even homelessness which render a person unable to understand that they are offending or control their conduct.

Community contributions to Drug and Alcohol Reform

The Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association (VAADA) are looking to bring into place a new alcohol and drug strategy and the Victorian Government seeks to call on the Victorian community for contributions.

The Minister for Mental Health, Mary Wooldridge, said that the Victorian government wishes not only to engage with but also to learn from people in all sectors that are impacted by alcohol and drug issues.

Executive Officer for VAADA, Sam Biondo said “We hope that these consultations will contribute ideas from people in the community and marginalised groups – young people, homeless people – to feed the process”.

Victorians who wish to contribute can visit



  • Gavin R. Putland

    If you are fined more than you can afford, you should plead not guilty on the best ground you can find, and promise that if you lose, you’ll ask the magistrate to deduct the fine(s) from the compensation owed to you for higher prices and reduced job opportunities caused by PAYROLL TAX – arguing that payroll tax, in so far as it applies to labour embodied in goods, is a duty of excise in violation of s.90 of the Constitution (see ). You should also indicate that if compensation is disallowed or can’t be quantified, you’ll seek an injunction requiring abolition of the unconstitutional tax, so that you can more easily earn and save enough income to pay the fine(s).

    If it’s too late to plead not guilty, you can still run the constitutional argument if you are hauled before a court for inability to pay.

    As soon as you get a trial date, you’ll need to notify the Federal & State Attorneys-General that a constitutional issue is to be raised in the magistrates court.

    The State will write off any amount of fines rather than risk having a major tax declared unconstitutional.

    If enough people use this tactic, the State Parliament will be forced to means-test fines, e.g. by specifying fines in terms of a “penalty unit” which is defined in terms of some measure of the offender’s capacity to pay. That’s what should have been happening all along.

  • Gavin R. Putland

    The Australian Government does not have, and cannot have, the power to detain refugees indefinitely on the basis of non-reviewable “security” assessments.

    The legislative power is limited to the making of law, which by definition must be compatible with the rule of law. The existence of a court presupposes the rule of law and therefore precludes the court from entertaining any proposition incompatible with the rule of law. The existence of a constitution, written or unwritten, presupposes the rule of law and therefore renders unconstitutional any attempt – by any means, legislative or otherwise – to circumvent the rule of law.

    And the rule of law cannot abide a situation in which the freedom of one person depends on the arbitrary will of another, without appeal to the judicial branch on questions of law and fact.

    Civil libertarians need to stop writing polite letters and start serving writs. They need to stop campaigning for a bill of rights and start enforcing the one we already have: the rule of law.