By Eva Csik and Bec Devitt
Aerial photo of Nauru

29 June 2012

No clear end to the asylum seeker policy debate

Last week’s asylum seeker boat tragedy reignited the debate around border protection policies. After much debate Rob Oakeshott’s bill, calling for a revival of offshore processing, has been rejected by 39 votes to 29.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that she was willing to consider further changes to Labor’s border protection policy package that was put forward at the end of last year. This policy package involves sending asylum seekers to Malaysia, reopening the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island and a review into the use of Temporary Protection Visas.

The opposition refused to negotiate with the government, arguing that Labor’s plans to send asylum seekers to Malaysia for processing is an unacceptable policy.

The Greens proposed that a cross-party leadership group be set up in order to take advice from external experts and develop a workable border protection policy. The Greens are opposed to the removal of asylum seekers for offshore processing.

Ms Gillard has announced that Angus Houston has been appointed to lead an expert group to develop effective and acceptable asylum seeker policy.

Government plans apology for forced adoptions

The Australian Government last week announced the need to acknowledge and apologise to those affected by forced adoption practices.

This national apology was a key recommendation of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee’s report, the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices tabled on 29 February 2012.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has said the government will continue to consider other recommendations made in the Senate Inquiry’s report and a full response will be given later this year.

Examination of family surrogacy and parentage laws

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has announced the newly appointed Family Law Council will examine how issues of surrogacy and family formation are dealt with by the Family Law Act 1975.

Ms Roxon has said “surrogacy within Family Law is a complex and emerging issue that needs careful consideration as an increasing number of Australian families are being formed using artificial reproductive technology.”

Our laws need to be responsive to new family situations as well as provide adequate protections for children involved.

Australia’s compliance with the Convention of the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child have released a report citing a number of concerns including widespread discrimination faced by indigenous youth as well as inadequate numbers of newborns being breastfed by their mothers.

The Commitee’s report states that while Australia is “one of the most affluent countries in the world” it still lacks a comprehensive national law that focuses on children’s rights. Australia is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and therefore subject to the compulsory review by the international committee.

Assange’s future still unclear

Since the beginning of last week Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been seeking asylum at the Ecuador embassy in London in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning over alleged sexual assualt. Mr Assange fears that his extradition to Sweden will lead to a continued extradition to the United States to face trial over the leaking of classified US documents.

Mr Assange has criticised the Australian Government for not providing ongoing consular assistance and claims he has not had any contact with consular officials since December 2010.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said that Mr Assange has not met with officials in person as of recent because he has requested it and that he has received the same level of continued consular assistance that any Australian citizen who faces legal charges would.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr has said that a senior US official was asked whether they had any plans to extradite Mr Assange and although the US government hasn’t said they have any plans to extradite him, they haven’t been able to completely rule out the possibility.Senator Carr has said that Australia would step in if the US did in fact seek to extradite Mr Assange.

Australians not listening to warnings against illegal human organ trafficking

The World Health Organisation has warned of an alarming rise in the illegal trade of human organs, making up 10 per cent of transplant procedures. Organ traffickers are exploiting poor people in countries like India and Pakistan as needs for transplantation in Australia and other developed countries are not able to be completely met with donors within their own borders.

Professor Jeremy Chapman, former President of the Transplantation Society has said that Australian patients are going overseas despite warnings from their doctor and have died after receiving illegal transplants.

County Koori Court is here to stay

The Victorian Indigenous and legal communities have welcomed the announcement that the Victorian State Government will retain the County Koori Court beyond it’s four-year trial stage.

The Koori court, which began operation in 2009 in the Latrobe Valley, offers Indigenous offenders a trial process that is more engaging, inclusive and less intimidating than in the mainstream court system. The trials takes place with the judge, indigenous elders and the offenders all sitting alongside one another around a table.

An evaluation report has found that of 31 people sentenced by the court, only one was found re-offending. The report states that the Koori court has achieved it’s core aim in providing “fair, culturally relevant, and appropriate justice” for the indigenous community.

Entire board of Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission quits

Five members of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) have quit after Attorney-General Robert Clark vetoed the board’s unanimous choice for the head of the Human Rights Commission.  The commission is an independent statutory body and under the law, the Human Rights Commissioner is appointed by the board with the approval of the Attorney-General. Mr Clark’s veto has been seen by members of the board as political interference.

One board member Caroline Creswell said that the board came up with a candidate that they thought was “fantastic… just to get it rejected, which feels like just a political rejection, there is no real basis for rejection.”

The mass resignation of board members at the VEOHRC, leaves the commission with only one board member John Searle, who was personally picked by the Attorney-General and now leaves the state of Victoria without three independent commissioners including the Human Rights Commissioner, Freedom of Information Commissioner and Anti-Corruption Commissioner. The Attorney-General and the Baillieu government have greatly weakened the power of the Human Rights Commission since taking office including reducing the role of the commissioner.  The president of Liberty Victoria Spencer Zifcak stated that “the most important agency ensuring that the human rights of all Victorians are effectively protected is now in a state of disarray.”

Professor Gillan Triggs appointed as the next president of the Australian Human Rights Commission

Attorney General Nicola Roxon announced on Friday, the appointment of Professor Gillan Triggs as the next president of the Australian Human Rights Commission. Professor Triggs is currently the Dean of Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney and has previously worked as the Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law in London. Ms Roxon said of the appointment that “Professor Triggs is a distinguished and extensively published international lawyer with a strong foundation in human rights law and the Australian government looks forward to working with Professor Triggs on the protection and promotion of Human Rights in Australia.”

Victorian Disability Act to come into effect on July 1st 2012

The Victorian Disability Amendment Act 2012 will come into operation on July 1st 2012 and includes changes which will strengthen the extent to which the Act protects the human rights of those with an intellectual disability. A summary of some of the changes is provided below

  • The definition of a “residential service” has been amended to make it clear that accommodation can be provided by different disability service providers
  • Where the Senior Practitioner authorises the detention of a person for the purposes of an assessment under section 199 of the Act, the person can make an application to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a review of the decision.
  • The Disability Services Commissioner will be able to consider complaints about services provided by organisations contracted or funded under the Disability Act.

The Act can be accessed here.

Australian advisers to assist justice system in Afghanistan

The Foreign Affair Minister Bob Carr and Attorney General Nicola Roxon announced that Australia will be sending civilian justice advisers to Afghanistan to strengthen the country’s rule of law under a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States.  The Australian Justice advisers will be deployed by AusAID as part of the Australian Civilian Corps. The advisers will mentor local Afghan legal officers, aimed at developing the capacity of personnel within the Government of Afghanistan to administer justice.

Making the announcement, Attorney General Roxon said, “respect for the rule of law through a strong justice system is vital to long term regional and global security.”

Featured Image: Aerial photo of Nauru






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