THIS WEEK’S HUMAN RIGHTS NEWS

By Eva Csik and Bec Devitt

11 May 2012

Federal Government announces budget

On Tuesday, the Federal Government announced its budget for 2012-2013 which included plans to scrap billions from company tax cuts and redirect money to welfare payments. The Government also announced expenditure of $1 billion towards the National Disability Insurance Scheme and $513 million to improve dental services.

The Victorian Council of Social Services has supported measures to make a fairer tax system but highlights the budget’s lack of support for single parents and its failure to address Australia’s housing affordable crisis.

The budget aims to put extra funds into encouraging parents with young children to move back into the workforce. Over four years $225 million will be set aside to help cover childcare costs so that parents can go back to work or get extra training.

George Williams highlights Australia’s hypocrisy with human rights

George Williams has expressed his opinion highlighting the damage created by Australia’s willingness to promote human rights abroad but not within Australia.

Williams uses the example of Australia’s rejection of the UN’s decision that Australia had breached its human rights obligations in regards to the decision to deport Stefan Nystrom following criminal charges despite him arriving in Australia four weeks after his birth.

Nystrom lived out his life in Australia and has no real ties elsewhere other than simply having Swedish citizenship. Deported in 2006, he now lives on the streets in a country where he does not speak the language, has no employment prospects while also suffering mental illness.

George Williams points out that this decision means that someone such as Nystrom has no remedy available when an international body finds Australia has breached its human rights responsibilities.

He also states that not only was the deportation of Nystrom “…a breach of international law, it was also inhumane. Nystrom was certainly a major problem. However, he was our problem rather than Sweden’s.

Members of expert panel urge referendum to be delayed till after federal election

Members of the expert panel to recognize Indigenous people in the Australian Constitution say that the referendum should be post-poned till after next year’s federal election to avoid the ‘toxicity’ associated with the next federal election.

Increase in captions for deaf and people with a hearing impairment

The Australian Human Rights Commission has announced that captioning levels on subscription television will be increased over the next three years as a result of an agreement with the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA).

Commissioner Graeme Innes “Over two million Australians who are deaf or have a hearing impairment will have more choices in the programs they can watch as a result of this agreement.”

One Mile Dam community health concerns

One Mile Dam community is on the edge of the Darwin CBD and the Aboriginal Development Foundation has held a lease on the site for more than 30 years. Country Liberals planning spokesman Dave Tollner has called on the Northern Territory Government to close the community stating that it is now used by mainly non-indigenous homeless people and has become a health hazard.

Government Business leader Chris Burns feels the issue should passed along saying the Commonwealth Government is better placed to respond to Mr Tollner’s concerns.

Harsher sentencing for child sex offenders

Child sex offenders will face longer prison terms under a new approach to sentencing to be imposed by the Baillieu government.

At the Request of Attorney-General Robert Clark, the advisory body has listed 30 serious criminal offences – including six child sex charges – that would involve a minimum non-parole period, limiting the court’s discretion. However, the courts will still be able to adjust the suggested non-parole periods based on a range of sentencing principles and factors such as guilty pleas and co-operation with authorities.

Professor Arie Freiberg, chairman of the Sentencing Advisory Council has said the changes would result in greater complexity and make it likely that fewer people would plead guilty.

Patient denied opportunity to vote takes legal action

David Paulin, an involuntary patient in a psychiatric ward plans to take legal action after he was denied the opportunity to vote at the last state election.

Mr Paulin is articulate and politically engaged, his professional background includes disability advocacy and is deeply disturbed that his health status was apparently used to deny his right to vote.

Two days before the election Mr Paulin had heard on the hospital PA system that Victorian Electoral Commission staff were on site to take pre-poll votes. “I heard the announcement, and asked the nurses if I could vote – I was repeatedly ignored” Mr Paulin said.

Mr Paulin asked again on the day of the election, which would have required hospital staff to escort him to a polling booth outside the hospital, but was again ignored.

Lawyer Aaron Eidelson, who is preparing the discrimination claim said “Voting is a fundamental right, and if a psychiatric hospital can rob you of that right it is the ultimate administrative offence.

Beth Gaze, a Melbourne University discrimination law expert has said that there is nothing in the electoral laws that would disqualify anyone in Mr Paulin’s position from voting and this denial could also be disregarding Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights.

Mabo 20 years on and former chief justice speaks out

Despite longstanding judicial convention that judges do not comment on cases they have sat, former chief justice Sir Anthony, has spoken publicly on the historic High Court Mabo judgement.

Sir Anthony was in the majority of judges who overturned 200 years of Australian common law by finding that in 1788 British sovereignty had not extinguished native title and despite the fragmented dispossession that followed, the remnants belonged to native title owners.

There was criticism that such a significant change of the law should have been left to a democratic political process. The former chief justice has said in response that “It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie than raise an issue which could cause division and controversy…the sleeping dog is the belief that Indigenous people had no title to land.”

The former chief justice believed the media played a crucial role in inciting racial intolerance stating that the media created “..an atmosphere of apprehension and fear, the notion that Indigenous people might jump over your backyard fence and stake out a claim to your land…well that was nonsense.”

 

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