8 March 2012
Australia’s Peak Public Health Body announces opposition to Stronger Futures Bill
The Public Health Association of Australia has announced its opposition to the Federal Government’s Stronger Futures Bill. The Bill proposes to introduce compulsory income management on social security allowances and penalties for possessing alcohol in order to tackle issues related to education, alcohol abuse and land reform.
The Vice-President of the Association, Vanessa Lee, has said that compulsory management of social security allowances could have a detrimental effect on Indigenous Australians and that in fact “universal compulsory income management violates Australia’s human rights commitments and the principles of citizenship.”
A previous Right Now news segment reports of the Australian Human Rights Commission also highlighting human rights issues in the Stronger Futures Bill.
Criticism of changes to parole system for federal prisoners
Prisoners in the federal system serving sentences of 10 years of less will be denied automatic parole if legislative changes introduced by the Gillard Government are passed. Currently, prisoners serving sentences of under 10 years are automatically released after serving a non-parole period. These legislative changes mean that prisoners serving less than 10 years will be on the same level as those serving more.
Although the Australian Law Reform Commission has recommended that automatic parole be abolished, it was on the condition that the discretion to release prisoners is exercised by an independent body. Under the proposed changes, the discretion would be in the hands of the Attorney-General who may be swayed by political considerations.
A representative of the Attorney-General’s Department has argued that “at the moment there is no incentive for anyone in their non-parole period to attend rehabilitation classes…it could mean that child-sex offenders who do not attend appropriate rehabilitation arrangements in prison still have to be automatically released at the end of the non-parole period.”
The Law Council of Australia is opposed to the changes in legislation.
Victorian Disability Act strengthened to promote the rights of people with an intellectual disability
The Victorian Government has outlined proposed changes to section 199 of the Disability Act 2006 which will strengthen the Act’s ability to protect the human rights of people with intellectual disabilities. Currently, the Act allows a person with an intellectual disability to be detained for up to 28 days for the purpose of assessment without the right to appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
The Disability Amendment Bill 2012 proposes amendments to the legislation that include a person with an intellectual disability that is detained must be given reasons for the order; that the Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) be informed of the person has been detained; and for the person to have the right to apply to VCAT for a review of the order.
Community Services Minister, Mary Wooldridge has said that the proposed changes to the bill “promotes the right to a fair hearing and the right to liberty and security of the person.”
Nine out of ten Indigenous Prisoners in NT suffer significant hearing loss
Research to be published in the Indigenous Law Bulletin has found that nine out of 10 Indigenous prisoners in the Northern Territory suffer considerable hearing loss. Michael Cahill of the Victorian Criminal Bar association has said that there was ‘a real risk of injustice’ if the accused does not understand a trial and if they are incapable of understanding information provided to them by defence lawyers.
Dr Damien Howard and Troy Vanderpoll began research following a case in which an Aboriginal man convicted of murder in the NT, went through the whole court process only later to be found by an audiologist to be clinically deaf. Dr Howard says that widespread hearing loss among Aboriginal adults was the result of endemic childhood ear disease.
Adding to communication concerns in court are complaints by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services of severe underfunding by the federal government for indigenous interpreters.
In related news, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has released figures that show adult prisoners are 18 times more likely to be Indigenous than non-Indigenous, a figure which has more than doubled in 20 years.
Extradition and mutual assistance changes slip in under the radar
Federal Parliament have passed the Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. According to the Government’s press release, the Bill is aimed first and foremost at “streamlining the extradition process and cutting delays.” For a more comprehensive analysis of the changes, including changes allowing people to be extradited for minor offences and changes to the wording of the death penalty prohibition in extradition cases, see Adam Fletcher’s excellent blog post for the Castan Centre.