This Week’s Human Rights News

By Eva Csik
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24 December 2011

Robert Manne encourages self-scrutiny on asylum seeker policy

The recent sinking of a fishing boat that was carrying asylum seekers to Australia from Indonesia has incited Robert Manne to assert that there is “probably no alternative to some form of offshore processing”. Manne has expressed that those on the left of politics have failed in not acknowledging the role that the Pacific Solution, introduced by the Howard Government, played in deterring boats. Manne asserts that for “all Australians with an interest in the wellbeing of asylum seekers … the tragic events of the weekend demand self-scrutiny and a search for some plausible new policy”.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the Government would accept processing on Nauru “in the spirit of compromise even though the Government doubted its efficacy”.

The Cabinet has given Mr Bowen authorisation to offer support for the reopening of the processing centre on Nauru in return for “Coalition support for legislation allowing its plan to exchange 800 asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat for 4000 proven refugees from Malaysia”.

Mr Abbott believes the reopening of the Nauru processing centre would send a signal to people smugglers that the “game was up” and suggested that “if you’ve got Nauru, you don’t need Malaysia”.

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young asserted that “this is a very sad moment for people who wanted their government to stand firm and treat asylum seekers humanely” and that “ignoring our international obligations to assess people’s claims onshore by expelling them to Nauru or Malaysia or elsewhere for short-term political gain won’t prevent people who will continue to try escaping persecution”.

The Refugee Council said the move was a setback for refugee protection. Chief Executive Paul Power said the Government was entertaining a return to a system Ms Gillard had dismissed six months ago as ‘costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle’.”

Indigenous recognition in the Constitution

It has been reported that removing sections of the Constitution that allow for racial discrimination are the top priority of the expert panel on Indigenous Recognition in the Constitution.

The prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race has been met by opposition from commentators such as Greg Craven, a professor of law and Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor. Mr Craven asserts that while he is “hugely in favour” of recognising Indigenous people in the Constitution, a non-discrimination clause is not about recognition and is instead a “one-clause bill of rights”. Marcia Langton, a member of the expert panel, has defended the clause by asserting that it is nothing like a bill of rights.

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser said the he supports a statement within the Constitution prohibiting discrimination, although he would have preferred a Constitution “that makes no mention of race, of any kind”.

You Me Unity is the national conversation about updating our Constitution to recognise our first peoples and define equality for all Australians. The document “A national conversation about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Constitutional recognition”, among other topics, offers a background to the Australian Constitution; why recognition is important; and the reasoning behind changing the constitution.

Some ideas You Me Unity suggest have already been raised by constitutional experts for constitutional change and include:

  • Acknowledgment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ distinct cultures, identities and heritage, their prior ownership and custodianship of the land, and their ongoing contribution to Australian society.
  • Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within the fundamental values of our society, such as our personal freedoms, the rule of law, racial and gender equality and our commitment to democratic government.
  • Repeal or amendment of provisions in the Constitution currently based on racial discrimination.
  • Creation in the Constitution of a new guarantee of non-discrimination and racial equality.
  • New powers for the Australian Government to legislate to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and heritage, and to redress historical disadvantage.

Age discrimination report

A new report – entitled “Stereotype Threat and Mature Age Workers” – has been released providing evidence that age discrimination has a detrimental impact on the employment experiences of older workers. The report, released by National Seniors, found that among 1428 employees surveyed that were aged between 50 and 75, 44 per cent experienced medium levels of stereotype threat.

Age Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Ryan said “the negative pressure of these stereotypes often result in older people internalising their own discrimination, buying into belief in the stereotypes and self-selecting themselves out of the workforce”.

Under the Age Discrimination Act 2004 individuals can lodge complaints of discrimination with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Jon Stanhope calls for introduction of corporate murder laws

Jon Stanhope, former ACT chief minister, has called for all deaths in custody to be covered by corporate murder laws. Corporate murder laws would allow officials guilty of negligence that led to a death in custody to be prosecuted. Deaths in custody would include deaths in immigration detention centres. Mr Stanhope drew attention to the fact that there have been 27 deaths in immigration centres since 2000.

Death toll in Syria reaches 5000

The UN rights chief has called for the UN Security Council to launch a crimes against humanity case against Syria as the death toll from a supposed Government crackdown reaches 5000. Syria is not a signatory of the International Criminal Court Statute, therefore only the Security Council can refer the case to the ICC.

Time Magazine labelsthe Protestor

Time Magazine has chosen “the Protester” to be its annual person of the year for 2011.  The prominence of “the Protestor” in 2011 began with a street vendor in Tunisia setting himself on fire. In 2011, citizens around the world mobilised themselves against crime and corruption in many different contexts, including the Arab Spring Uprisings, the global Occupy movement and the recent Russian protests.

This report was compiled using the sources attributed in hyperlinks listed throughout. Don’t forget to tune in to Right Now Radio each Thursday at 6 pm on 3CR 855 AM to hear more human rights news. You can also stream live at www.3cr.org.au.

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