Prominent legal bodies have called on the government to take stronger action to improve Australia’s human rights record.
The UN Human Rights Committee released a report last week that highlighted many concerns with Australia’s human rights record.
These included the nation’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, Indigenous people and people in detention, as well as laws relating to terrorism, violence against women, same-sex marriage, discrimination and privacy.
Law Council of Australia president Fiona McLeod SC said the report came at a critical time for the Australian government, particularly given Australia’s recent appointment to the UN Human Rights Council.
“The committee’s report is a clear and definitive statement about steps the government needs to take to address the human rights concerns identified,” Ms McLeod said.
“The government must show leadership in human rights through the development of policies that reflects a commitment to fairness, equality and the rule of law.
“Further, as a member of the Human Rights Council, Australia must demonstrate a willingness to improve its domestic situation, not just in chosen priority areas but across all obligations.”
Australian Lawyers Alliance national president Laura Neil said Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers alarmed the UN committee.
“It appears that only the Australian government believes that it can escape responsibility for asylum seekers by shipping them to Nauru and Papua New Guinea,” she said.
“The Human Rights Committee was alarmed by the conditions for refugees and asylum seekers in offshore detention, and particularly by the closure of the Manus Island facility.
“The committee is clear that Australia has effective control over offshore processing centres, and is responsible for conditions there, recommending that it protect the rights of those affected by the closing of the Manus centre.
“It clearly recommended that all offshore processing should end.”
Ms Neil also highlighted the committee’s view that the use of detention as a deterrent to other refugees is “unacceptable”.
On the issue of same-sex marriage, the committee recommended that, regardless of the result from the postal survey, the protections of the Marriage Act be extended equally to LGBTI people.
The survey result will be announced tomorrow.
The committee noted that Australia has made some positive steps in protecting human rights in recent years, including establishing the National Security Legislation Monitor and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, as well as adopting the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011.