THIS WEEK’S HUMAN RIGHTS NEWS

By Bec Devitt and Eva Csik
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27 April 2012

Indigenous communities in West face losing a generation

The small community of Mowanjum, which is a 10 minute drive from mining hub of Derby in the West Kimberly have had to face six suicides in six months.

Gary Umbagai, the chairman of the Mowanjum Aboriginal Corporation, and a mine worker has expressed his concern that “There is something dreadfully wrong in our community, but what can we do?” Mr Umbagai has said that Mowanjum and Derby have the highest suicide rates in Australia.“There is a terrible crisis here but nobody in authority except the police acts if there is a crisis.

A document reveals that in four months from July last year, 18 females and 22 males were admitted to Derby hospital for self-harm, attempted hanging, overdosing and suicidal thoughts. Most of these cases involved indigenous people.

Children as young as five are witnessing these suicides. “Kids grow up thinking this is normal and that any little problem can be solved this way. There is virtually no counselling, nobody comes to investigate why this is happening in Mowanjum. So much money is being spent on suicide prevention in the Kimberly but we don’t see it” says Mr Umbagai.

Steve Austin, the chief executive of the community states that “We have made applications for a youth co-ordinator to keep kids occupied with programs but they have all been rejected. We get back a generic letter saying we don’t meet the criteria. We get no help.

Referendum to acknowledge Indigenous Australians in constitution unlikely before 2013

The government had agreed to hold a referendum to acknowledge Indigenous Australians in the constitution before the 2013 election, but it now seems as though that timeframe is increasingly unlikely.

Former ALP national secretary Tim Gartrell will become the campaign director to build momentum for the “yes” campaign in the referendum to acknowledge Indigenous Australians in the constitution.

While the government take their time in organising the referendum Mr Gartrell says “we have to crack on preparing for a grass roots campaign that unites all Australians around this important case.

Victorians to have greater control over their deciding on life-saving treatment

At present a person can only refuse medical treatment in relation to a current medical problem. Victoria’s Law Reform Commission has proposed a law that would enable people to decide about healthcare and medical treatment for conditions they do not have yet.

This would mean that people could give their doctors binding instructions to ensure they are not treated for future conditions such as strokes, dementia, head injuries or brain damage.

Health Minister David Davis strongly supports the reform, stating that it would be giving people the choice to refuse treatment which could result in a life that is “unpleasant, uncomfortable and may, in some cases, be futile.

Commission acting chairman David Jones said the proposal was designed to empower people to make decisions about their lives, while they are still capable of doing so.

Parliamentary committee receives avalanche of submissions on gay marriage

The house and Senate committees have received a staggering number of public contributions, reaching almost 300,000, in relation to the three bills seeking to amend the Marriage Act. Most inquiries tend to generate only several hundred responses at most.

Just over 200,000 responses were from the parliamentary online survey. Crickey feels that the problem that this online survey faces is that “we’ve been trained not to take online polls seriously.

While it is considered research and analysis by experts in the field that provides that which an online survey can not, it is reported that there has been a decline in the quality of advice that government has been receiving.

Northern Territory prison conditions reaching crisis point

The Prison Officers Association has reported serious overcrowding in Northern Territory prisons is putting enormous pressure on prison staff.

NT Prison Officer Association’s Phil Tilbrook says inmates are sleeping on the floor in appalling conditions.“We don’t have enough bunks, so we’ve got mattresses on the floor and they’re sleeping within one metre of a toilet that 14 other prisoners have to use.

The potential for prisoners to spill out all these frustrations on themselves or on officers is huge.

The Criminal Lawyers Association president, Russel Goldflam has said that there are a number of people in these prisons who in actual fact “haven’t been found guilty of anything but can’t get bail.

The Northern Territory’s shadow attorney-general John Elferink says “The Northern Territory has forgotten its important function, or its most important function, which is to provide a safe community.

Ease on ‘sexting’

Victorian Law Reform Commission have proposed changes that would result in young adults who are caught sending explicit images of minors from their mobile phones to no longer be placed on the sex offenders register.

The register which includes serial paedophile would mean these youths are banned from working in professions such as teaching and nursing.

The commission said automatic registration of every adult sentenced for sex offences involving children should be placed by a more individualised approach.

New hospital could possibly ban certain medical procedures due to religion

A West Australian Hospital in Midland that is due to open in 2015 may possibly ban abortions and contraception procedures. St John of God Health Care is likely to be the operator of the new hospital and it does not allow it’s doctors to perform these procedures.

Labor MP Roger Cook has said “It’s not good enough for the minister to impose, by proxy, particular religious views on what sort of services are provided at Midland Hospital.

These procedures will however be available free of charge in the community or other public hospitals.

Workplace drug testing

State-owned electricity company, Endeavour Energy is appealing against a Fair Work Australia (FWA) ruling so it can conduct urine tests on its employees. They are arguing that they have a right to determine whether its staff are chronic drug-users.

FWA determined last month it would be “unjust and unreasonable” for Endeavour Energy to conduct urine tests because the test could show a positive result from drug use days earlier. Senior deputy president of FWA, Jonathan Hamberger, ruled the company should instead use oral swabs, which generally detected drugs taken only in the preceding hours.

Scott McNamara, energy manager at the United Services Union, says “Urine testing is done to basically socially monitor people, and has no effect in identifying fitness for work.

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