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More work needed on human rights

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights is urging greater involvement in the human rights practice area, after giving the federal government a score of “F” for its “dire performance” in protecting vulnerable people in 2016.

user iconEmma Musgrave 09 January 2017 Corporate Counsel
Human rights
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ALHR has released a national report card based on Australia’s human rights performance for 2016.

In the report, the legal body identified the federal government as the poorest performer out of Australia's federal, state and territory governments for the year.

“‘Woefully inadequate’ is the politest way ALHR can describe the federal government’s performance in protecting human rights in 2016,” ALHR president Benedict Coyne said.


“The federal government has all too often failed to respond to policy challenges in a manner consistent with respect for human rights.

“Indeed, this year we have seen serious human rights violations in respect of the treatment of people seeking asylum, unprecedented national security measures, an ongoing crisis in protecting the rights of Indigenous Australians, a failure to realise marriage equality for LGBTI Australians and an increasing normalisation of hate speech.

“There are further concerns about increasing incursions on Australian citizens’ traditional freedoms as the federal government continues to ramp up the demolishing of democratic principles through its counter-terrorism and national security legislation, including giving the executive the arbitrary power to remove citizenships and its proposal allowing the monitoring and strict conditions of movement of children as young as 14.”

The report highlighted the Northern Territory and Tasmania as the poorest-performing state and territory governments on human rights.

ALHR noted that the NT was marked down heavily for its “widespread crisis in Indigenous youth detention, culminating in the Don Dale scandal, as well as the paperless arrest laws, which are blowing millions in taxpayers’ dollars enhancing an intergenerational problem, rather than attempting to solve it”.

Tasmania was marked down for introducing the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016, which some fear will allow hate speech against sections of the community, including LGBTI Australians.

NSW, Western Australia and South Australia also failed their human rights evaluations for 2016, with each government awarded a score of D, according to the report.

WA, in particular, was called out for its globally unprecedented rate of imprisoning Indigenous adults and children.

The report scored Queensland a C+ for its proactive legislative measures to remove 17-year-olds from adult prisons and the Palaszczuk government’s commitment to introduce a human rights act in 2017. However, the state was marked down for the youth detention crisis, which was revealed on the back of the NT Don Dale scandal.

According to the report, the Victorian government made some significant steps in improving human rights in 2016 and was therefore awarded a C+, while the ACT government was awarded a B.

“ALHR calls on all Australian governments to start taking seriously the importance of basic, universally accepted standards of human rights,” Mr Coyne said.

“We are a world leader in many ways and we were once a world leader in advocating for universal human rights. We must strive to return to such an important place in international relations.

“Perhaps then, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop could authentically advocate for candidacy on the UN Human Rights Council. However, as it stands currently, Australia’s performance is simply not good enough. We can do much better and we have all the answers, know-how and resources to do so.”

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