My June 09 South Sydney Herald piece

Redfern has its say on Human Rights

May 7 Around thirty people from a range of backgrounds heard expert views at a Community Consultation on Human Rights at Redfern Town Hall.

Chaired by Sydney Peace Foundation Director Professor Stuart Rees, a panel outlined issues in a number of areas. Indigenous Australians were represented by Charmaine Weldon, women’s domestic violence expert at Redfern Legal Centre. Culturally and Linguistically Diverse matters were the area of Rosa Loria from Sydney Multicultural Services, while Annie Parkinson raised issues concerning people with disabilities. A former asylum seeker from Bangladesh, Maqsood Alshams, outlined his personal experience and addressed related matters. Maqsood spent 16 months in the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre before his release in April 2000. GLBT and sexuality concerns were the province of Yasmin Hunter from Redfern Legal Centre.

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After refreshments came the action. Groups of six discussed their concerns and what they had heard in the first part of the meeting. Each group contributed to a submission to be sent to the National Human Rights Consultation Committee. Individuals were also encouraged to make personal submissions.

Matters in this area are not as simple as they might at first seem. First, as Andrew Lynch says in an article on Australian Policy Online, “the Commonwealth attorney-general, Robert McClelland, made it clear that constitutional entrenchment of rights, empowering the courts to strike down legislation it found in breach of a protected right, was not on the table.” What is up for discussion is a parliamentary Act similar to the ACT’s Human Rights Act and Victoria’s Charter of Rights and Responsibilities.

Several speakers drew attention to the great difference between enshrining rights in such an Act or Charter and actual social equality – what happens in day-to-day life, which is a matter of the psyche rather than the statute books.

An audience member, claiming Indigenous Australians have “no rights”, cited difficulties experienced paying for funerals, but it is doubtful that would be addressed under a Human Rights Act or Charter. It is an important issue, no doubt affecting many marginalised through poverty in this country.

Then there are paradoxes: the tension between anti-vilification laws and freedom of speech, for example, or removal of discrimination on grounds of same sex relationships at Centrelink actually working against the financial interests of some couples.

But do have your say.

Submissions close on 15 June. You can make a submission by going to the NHRC website at http://www.humanrightsconsultation.gov.au./www/nhrcc/nhrcc.nsf/Page/Home. You may also send your ideas to:

National Human Rights Consultation Secretariat
Attorney-General’s Department
Central Office
Robert Garran Offices
National Circuit
BARTON ACT 2600

See also http://www.humanrightsact.com.au/2008/ (A Human Rights Act for Australia) and http://apo.org.au/justice/127 (Australian Policy Online).

 

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