This Week’s Human Rights News

By Eva Csik
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19 January 2012

Expert Panel hands over report for the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the constitution to federal government

The Expert Panel consisting of Indigenous and community leaders, constitutional experts and parlimentary members was established a year ago in order to advise the government on recognition of Indigenous Australians in Australia’s constitution.

Constitutional recognition panel co-chairs Patrick Dodson and Mark Leibler handed over the report Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution to Prime Minister Julia Gillard on 19 January at a ceremony at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

We gather to take a remarkable step forward – forward to a nation that acknowledges its history and heritage in its founding document” and “although our cultures are old as time, they are a beating pulse of our nation’s identity. What a grand thing it is that Australia is custodian of one of the oldest continuous living cultures in the world” Mr Dodson said.

The Australian Labor Party upholds that “constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians is a significant step towards building a nation based on strong relations and mutual respect, which recognises the unique and special place of our first peoples”. At the ceremony Ms Gillard expressed that “as a nation we are big enough and it is the right time to say yes to an understanding of our past, to say yes to constitutional change, and to say yes to a future more united and more reconciled than we have ever been before”.

Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott has said that he has ”some reservations about anything that might turn out to be a one-clause bill of rights” and that he “would want to look very carefully at the legal ramifications of putting anti-discrimination provisions into the Constitution“.

The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law stresses that “our Constitution currently fails to safeguard the basic human rights standards that we might (mistakenly) assume are recognised and enforced”.

Federal Court rules in favour of Jetstar in disability law case

The Federal Court has rejected the claim that Jetstar discriminated against a 75 year old woman with a disability by refusing to allow her to fly on a flight from Adelaide to Brisbane. The respondent accused Jetstar of contravening the Disability Discrimination Act because of its policy to only allow two people requiring wheelchair assistance onto a domestic flight. Joanna Shulman, the head of Redfern Legal Centre and Ms King’s adviser, has said that the ruling demonstrates that Australian law needs to be strengthened to provide adequate protection for the rights of people with a disability and that “limitations on access to transport can affect a person’s ability to work, access health services, spend time with family or enjoy travel”.

HRLC prepares briefing paper for Nicola Roxon

The Human Rights Law Centre has prepared a Briefing Paper for the new Attorney-General outlining a Human Rights Agenda for 2012-14. The Briefing Paper details seven actions which the Attorney-General could take to demonstrate principled human rights leadership. The Actions include, but are not limited to, enhancing anti-discrimination laws, prioritising ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, Ordering a review of the people smuggling offences under the Migration Act and committing to the full implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

People of Australia ambassadors to boost multiculturalism

40 “people of Australia” ambassadors were appointed to boost multiculturalism in Australia by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Senator Kate Lundy. The ambassador program is central to the Federal Government’s national multicultural policy, The People of Australia. The Race Commissioner, Dr Helen Szoke has said that the program will “ensure that our culturally diverse communities remain harmonious and cohesive” and that “strong local leadership is imperative in order to encourage people to participate and join in community activities”. The 40 ambassadors will work with the government and the Australian Multicultural Council offering effective ideas which will assist in promoting inclusion and diversity in Australian communities.

Law Council of Australia calls for law reform for victims who are intellectually disabled

The Law Council of Australia has joined calls for the South Australian justice system to change the way it treats people with an intellectual disability. The ABC has reported that a number of cases involving alleged sexual assault against people with an intellectual disability have been dropped before going to trial because victims have trouble communicating what has happened to them. The Law Council of Australia has called for increased penalties for sexual crimes if they are committed against people with an intellectual disability.

WA Library bans Refugee Photo Exhibition

The local library in Bridgetown-Greenbushes shire in country WA has banned Amnesty International’s Faces Of Asylum photographic exhibition. The exhibition which showed in a number of other WA libraries tells real life stories of people who left everything they knew to escape persecution. Bridgetown-Greenbushes shire acting chief executive Elizabeth Denniss said that banning the exhibition “was in the best interests of the community” because of it’s political nature and that that it is “not the role of local government to get involved in those issues”. Ms Dennis also claims that Amnesty International displays in the past have caused offence to library patrons. A number of locals believe that most members of the community would actually be interested in the exhibition. Bridgetown-Balingup Amnesty International co-convener Gerry Georgatos said that the ban is a type of censorship and that it encourages “pernicious racism”.

Leading Jewish body protests againsy SBS drama series

A leading jewish body seeks to halt promotion and DVD sales of The Promise, a four-part drama series, which screened late last year. Set in Israel and the occupied territories, it portrays a young British woman retracing the footsteps of her grandfather, a soldier in the final years of the British Mandate in Palestine. The series has been likened to Nazi propaganda.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry said the series was anti-Semitic, displying historical inaccuracies and ”consistently negative portrayals” and was in direct violation of the SBS code covering prejudice, racism and discrimination.

Peter Kosminsky, its Jewish writer-director has said that ”If criticism of Israel becomes entirely synonymous with anti-Semitism, it becomes almost impossible to attempt any kind of reasoned analysis of what is clearly one of the saddest and most intractable conflicts facing the human race today”.


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