Friday, 28 November 2008

Let’s aim for an Australia built on respect and dignity

Strong and passionate leadership from all sectors of society is needed to chart a new and more inclusive course for Australian society, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Catherine Branson QC, said today foreshadowing the 2008 Don Dunstan Foundation Oration she is delivering tonight at the University of Adelaide.

Ms Branson said she will tell the audience that her goal over the next five years of her term as Commission President will be to generate a new and greater understanding of human rights in Australia.

“I want to live in a society where everyone can take advantage of his or her abilities and where everyone has a real say about the world they live in, be they an Indigenous person, a person of Muslim faith, a parent wanting leave from work to care for a child, or a person in a same-sex relationship,” Ms Branson said.

“We all want a society where we can all feel safe and protected from violence and harassment no matter who we are or where our children can access appropriate educational opportunities no matter where they live.

“These are hardly controversial ideas,” Ms Branson said.

Ms Branson said human rights were sometimes feared as an abstract legal idea reserved for lawyers, judges and the intellectual elite, but she said people failed to recognize human rights as the essential foundation stones to our democracy which valued people for who they were and not the label applied to them.

In her Oration tonight, she will urge the community to take part in the federal government’s promised consultation into the protection and promotion of human rights.

“While I am proud of many of Australia's actions, such as being one of the first countries in the world to give women the vote and the federal government’s National Apology delivered to members of the Stolen Generations, there remain many things about which I am not proud,” she said.

“I’m not proud that we had a White Australia Policy and I’m not proud of the 17-year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“I’m certainly not proud that we locked up behind razor wire children and families who were fleeing persecution,” she said

“From my perspective, human rights are the articulation of the founding principles of a free, fair, safe and democratic society - principles that are so important that we want to live by them in both good times and bad.  And I know I’m not alone in wanting this kind of world.”

Ms Branson is delivering the 2008 Don Dunstan Foundation Oration this evening at Elder Hall, University of Adelaide 7pm – 9pm. Tickets can be booked by going to or turn up at Elder Hall. Tickets are $15 adults or $10 concession.

Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597