Anti-racism, traditional Indigenous law and religious vilification laws: the human rights wrap up

By Eva Csik | 01 Sep 12

Australia’s Anti-Racism Strategy is launched

Led by the Australian Human Rights Commission, Australia’s National Anti- Racism Strategy, Racism, it stops with me, was launched last week calling on all Australians to say no to racism. The strategy “sets out a three year plan for Government to work with community partners to combat racism across schools and higher education, the media, government service providers, workplaces and the internet.

Minister for Multicultural Affairs Senator Kate Lundy has said that “racism discounts people’s contribution, locking them out of social and economic opportunities and entrenching disadvantage.

A number of businesses and sporting organisations have signed up to endorse the campaign and in doing so commit to actively taking a public stance against racism in the community.

Federal Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke has said “our readiness to acknowledge and address racism and the harm it causes shows that we’re setting our sights on greater possibility to tackle the issue.

Push for traditional law to be reinstated in Wilcannia

Members of the Indigenous community of Wilcannia, in far west New South Wales are calling for the reinstatement of their traditional laws as they believe it will encourage young people to become more engaged in their community and their culture.

Dr Thalia Anthony, a senior lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney, specialising in Indigenous law has said “it can make people feel more engaged with their community and more a sense of responsibility, and therefore less inclined to commit crime or acts of violence.

The most important thing is to have people live by those laws and principles and that doesn’t mean you know just talking about traditional forms of punishment as they may be called, it’s actually a way of life that many indigenous people already live by,” Ms Anthony said.

Sam Jefferies, co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples has said that interpretations of traditional law can be very broad and many the aspects of administering that law would have to be discussed.

Introduction of religious vilification laws

ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell has said that a controversial pamphlet about a proposed mosque in Canberra has prompted changes to the discrimination bill to make it unlawful to publicly incite hatred towards another person based on their religion.

Some of the material we’ve seen circulated in our community, always anonymously because of the very vitriolic nature of it, is simply unacceptable,” Mr Corbell said.

A call to end race-based welfare

Professor Marcia Langton, University of Melbourne’s Chair of Indigenous Studies proposes that social security and a wider policy system should be based on economic need rather than Aboriginality.

Professor Langton expressed her desire to engender a balance between bringing Indigenous people into mainstream society, while also continuing to acknowledge their status as essentially different.

Forced adoption for unfit parents

Discussions are under way in Queensland over the possibility of forcing couples with drug addictions to relinquish rights over their new born babies.

Corelle Davies, Brisbane-based Child Safety director, Queensland Health, has said that in the unfortunate cases where teenage youths are unable to take on the responsibility of being parents to their babies “stably placing and potentially adopting out younger children” may possibly be the most compassionate option.

It sounds terrible, but for the long-term viability of that child into the future it’s possibly a hard decision but a good decision,” Ms Davies said.

These discussions are a part of The Child Protection Inquiry, which at this present moment are still currently under way, and have found that approximately 8000 children are currently in state care.

Call for Australia to increase refugee intake

The Houston report on asylum seekers has recommended that Australia take immediate action to increase its yearly intake of refugees from 20,000 to 27,000 within five years.

Greens Senator Hanson-Young says that while the Government has adopted some of the aspects of the Houston report it must also implement the other recommendations for which “we have seen no commitment, no timeline, no genuine desire to implement.

Request for an ADF sexual misconduct unit

A review of the treatment of women across the Australian Defence Force has found that one in four women have experienced sexual harassment or abuse in the past five years resulting in a culture where women cannot flourish.

Among the review’s recommendations is a proposal to set up a unit that is dedicated to dealing with sexual misconduct allowing complainants to lodge complaints confidentially.

Sex discrimination minister Elizabeth Broderick has said that members quite often did not report incidents “because they feared that they’d be victimised, that their career would be jeopardised, that they’d be not believed or they would be subjected to a sometimes unresponsive chain of command investigation.

The executive director of the Australian Defence Association, Neil James has said the Navy and Air force are already making positive changes.

Females currently serving in the Defence Force overwhelmingly want identical treatment, not preferential treatment, and the Defence Association thinks we should listen to them,” Mr James said.

Laws to control cyber data

New laws will be introduced that will allow authorities to collect and monitor the internet records of Australians, including web-browsing history, social media activity and emails.

The new laws will give Australian state and federal police the authority to request telcos and internet providers to retain internet records of individuals suspected of cyber-based crime.

It is believed that currently some telcos and internet providers only keep data for up to a week, while some for even less. Authorities will only be allowed to view the data and data will only be retained once a warrant has been secured.

Greens communication spokesman Scott Ludlam has said that the laws go well beyond those set out in the European convention, and that the government has not stated as to why these extra measures are necessary.

Nationwide legal assistance services get a boost in funding

An additional $1.6 million will be dedicated to community legal centres in order to ensure access to justice for all and not just those who can afford it.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has said that “legal services play a critical role in ensuring that any Australian, whatever their means, has access to justice.

HRLC Rights Agenda – Special Children’s Rights Edition

The Human Rights Law Centre has published a special edition of the Rights Agenda bulletin focusing exclusively on the human rights and legal issues facing children and young people.

The Special Children’s Edition looks at a number of issues such as those surrounding the Immigration Minister’s responsibilities as the guardian of unaccompanied asylum seeker children; those of social media, sexting and cyber bullying; as well as the concerns between rights of children and the need for protection.

Same-sex marriage legislation

The ACT Labor Government has stated that it will work along side the Tasmanian Government to develop same-sex marriage legislation. The Tasmanian Government plans to introduce the legislation by the end of the year.