Lawyers who are part of a coalition of NGOs have welcomed the wide-ranging findings made by a UN committee about Australia’s human rights record and are calling on the government to address the nation’s poor scorecard.
Australia has been taken to task by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in a new report released last month.
The committee assessed how well Australia has managed to meet its commitments under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), with the latest concluding observations less than impressive.
Certain “extreme concerns” expressed by the UN committee have been highlighted by Australian lawyers from the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) and Kingsford Legal Centre which, together with 46 other civil society organisations, prepared a submission for the committee ahead of Australia’s review.
One of the major criticisms contained in the report related to Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and refugees and asylum seekers.
Commenting on the committee’s observation that Indigenous Australians “continue to experience high levels of disadvantage across all socio-economic indicators”, NACLC policy and advocacy director Amanda Alford said that this was but one more expert report showing extreme concern about the situation.
“This is yet another reminder that much remains to be done to address major human rights concerns for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia,” Ms Alford said.
This is the fifth periodic report on Australia’s performance, with observations from the last such review made in 2009.
Ms Alford said that despite the positive steps Australia has taken since the last review, the latest observations revealed the UN committee’s “serious concerns” about economic, social and cultural rights that Australia has not fully ratified.
The report also recommended that must Australia adopt a clear and pragmatic approach to immediately improve the rights and protection of refugees and people seeking asylum.
The NACLC and Kingsford Legal Centre pointed to additional Australian policies and measures that were found to have undermined people’s right to “an adequate standard of living”, inadequate provision of social security and housing and the gender wage gap.
Anna Cody, the director of Kingsford Legal Centre, urged the Australian government to take meaningful steps to implement changes in line with the report’s recommendations.
“We welcome the committee’s observations, including its recognition of the need for a national Human Rights Act or Bill of Rights, something NGOs have been advocating for over many years,” Ms Cody said.
Ms Alford added that the NGO community were prepared to work constructively with the federal government to assist in improving Australia’s human rights record.