"HUMAN RIGHTS: A REPORT CARD FOR AUSTRALIA AND TASMANIA"

DR SEV OZDOWSKI OAM HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER

ADDRESS TO THE UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS CONFERENCE UNIVERSITY OF TASMANIA

HOBART 21 - 23 OCTOBER 2004


1. INTRODUCTION

Justice Pierre Slicer, Chief Justice David Malcolm, international guests, academics, ladies and gentlemen, all.

Firstly I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we stand and by so doing remind ourselves that Australia's cultural traditions stretch back many thousands of years. The acknowledgement also expresses our aspiration for a just and inclusive Australia for all.

I would now also like to express my appreciation to the organisers of this conference. Not only have the logistics been beautifully managed, but also the program of speakers and topics:

  • Equality;
  • Youth justice;
  • Race, identity and community;
  • Disability;
  • Human Rights

To name but some. It is all here!! Today's audience will note that I have deliberately steered away from previously covered topics.

I will commence this talk with a short tour of Australia's HR protection framework - at least the key elements, before covering some of the pressing contemporary issues on the local scene. Namely:

  • The potential domestic impact of some recent High Court decisions and The consequences arising from the recent election result.

I then propose to look at, what I am calling, the globalisation of HR issues of which

  • Terrorism and
  • Children's rights;

have a particular resonance for all Australians at the moment.

2. The MEANING AND ORIGINS OF HUMAN RIGHTS

What do we understand by human rights today?

In contemporary Australia many people may have a range of different ideas about what human rights actually mean to them. For example, not that long ago somebody complained to me that his rights are being infringed because of a barking dog in his neighbourhood. I found it rather a novel approach to human rights, but perhaps he has got a point.

Australians would, however, generally agree that every person has inherent dignity and value and that human rights help us to recognise and respect the fundamental worth in ourselves and in each other.

We would also agree that human rights are the same for all people everywhere - male and female, young and old, rich and poor, irrespective of race, creed or disability status. Regardless of our background, where we live, what we think or what we believe. This is what makes human rights 'universal'.

Australians do recognise that human rights are important. They recognise our freedom to make choices about our life and develop our potential as human beings. They ensure that we can live free from fear of harassment or discrimination. We would argue that human rights exist even if governments or other people attempt to deny them. We possibly also agree that respect for human rights helps build strong communities, based on equality and tolerance, in which every person has an opportunity to contribute. Of course, having others respect our human rights comes with the responsibility that we respect the rights of others.

Where do human rights come from?

Australians may differ in their understanding of where human rights have come from. Some of us point to religious origins, others to "natural law" as a source, and some see them simply as hard won concessions from the State. I would possibly subscribe to the last school of thought.

Looking at the history of ideas one can conclude that human rights, particularly in respect of the 'individual', are not a recent invention.

Ideas about individual human rights can be traced back thousands of years. Key milestones were:

  • Values developed by ancient civilizations and the teachings of the world's major religions;
  • Ideas about justice, democracy and the individual citizen were very important in Greek and Roman societies;
  • The Magna Carta (1215);
  • The American Declaration of Independence (1776);
  • The American Bill of Rights (1791);
  • The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789);
  • Tom Paine publishing (1791)"The Rights of Man";
  • The Geneva Conventions (1864) governing the lawful treatment of civilians and enemy soldiers in war time;
  • The 1948 United Nations: Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The UN's human rights mandate

In the immediate aftermath of WWII it was realised, partly due to the Jewish Holocaust, that it was not sufficient to "arbitrate" in conflicts between nation states - there was a pressing need to "arbitrate" about individual human rights. Or in other words, human rights were no longer just the private business of individual nations, but were a matter of international concern.

Accordingly, the Declaration attempted to set out the fundamental rights of all people, including:

  • the right to life;
  • freedom from slavery;
  • freedom from torture and arbitrary arrest;
  • freedom of thought, opinion and religion;
  • the right to a fair trial and equality before the law;
  • the right to work and education; and
  • the right to participate in the social, political and cultural life of one's country.

Over the past 50 years, human rights standards have been developed and incorporated into many international laws and treaties - such as ICCPR, ICESCR and CROC to name but three.

3. AUSTRALIA'S HR PROTECTION FRAMEWORK

In Australia today, there are a number of important ways in which the rights of individuals are promoted and protected; it is a complex, evolving mosaic but some of the key elements are:

  • centuries of common law (inherited from England);
  • the Australian Constitution and the Constitutions of the States;
  • statutory laws, especially Federal and State anti-discrimination laws;
  • an independent judiciary;
  • democratically elected governments;
  • a free media;
  • strong civil society; and
  • bodies like the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission created especially to advance and protect human rights.

Australian legal system and common law

With respect to the protection of human rights by the Australian legal system, and in particular by federal statutory law - from the 1970s on, there were significant advances.

This is not to diminish the importance of the common law, which has played a very significant role in this area by reason of its traditional regard for fundamental individual rights. A good example of the common law impact on domestic human rights, is its role in the acknowledgement and development of the native title rights of indigenous Australians.

Federal Constitution

But let's start with the Federal Constitution as the cornerstone of the Australian legal system.

The Constitution of Australia divides spheres of legislative, judicial and executive responsibility between the Commonwealth of Australia and the States. Both Federal and State governments are responsible for human rights protection. States, for example, may also incorporate international human rights principles into state legislation to the extent that such legislation is not inconsistent with any Commonwealth legislation in the area.

On the federal level, a comprehensive statement of human rights - or citizenship rights as they might have been known at Federation - was not included in Australia's Constitution.

In fact, very few individual rights were explicitly recognised in the Constitution. For the record they are:

  • the right to vote (Section 41) - although still to be confirmed by the High Court as explicitly thus;
  • the right to a trial by jury in the State where the alleged federal offence took place (Section 80);
  • the denial of federal legislative power with respect to religion (Section 116); and
  • the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of State of residency (Section 117).

There are also two "economic rights":

  • s.92 guaranteeing freedom of interstate trade; and
  • s.51 mandating payment on just terms for property acquired by the Commonwealth.

The Constitution is silent in relation to numerous other rights that are well recognised in the constitutions of other Western democracies. For example, the Constitution does not guarantee:

  • the fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of thought, belief and opinion, and freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention;
  • the right to a fair trial or due process;
  • equality of all persons in Australia before the law.

This could be largely explained by reference to our history - Australia's mostly peaceful development towards nationhood and independence and reliance on the common law.

Australian High Court and the Constitution

The jurisprudence of the High Court in respect of the Constitution has made a significant contribution (as any Tasmanian can tell you) to the protection of human rights in Australia. I refer here to the Tasmanian Dam Case (1983). Here the High Court reassessed the external affairs power - that provision in the Constitution which gives the Commonwealth control of external affairs.

From this, section 51(xxix) of the Constitution, the external affairs power, provided the Commonwealth Parliament with the ability to legislate so as to incorporate provisions of international human rights conventions into Australian domestic law. So the High Court affirmed in a decision where Queensland challenged the constitutional validity of the Racial Discrimination Act.

A High Court interested in an expansive reading of the Constitution has also found that certain individual rights are implicit in the system of government it establishes. Thus in 1992 the individual right to communicate freely in political matters was recognised by the High Court.

The High Court has also previously acknowledged that international human rights law is a legitimate influence on the development of the common law. However as I will develop later, the current High Court's thinking in these matters demonstrates a change. Speaking personally I believe if a 'Teoh' situation presented itself again, the outcome from the High Court might be different from previous.

Federal legislation

The history of Australian domestic legislation from the point of compliance with human rights standards is uneven.

The first act of the new federal Parliament in 1901 was to pass the Immigration Restriction Act and the Pacific Island Labourers Act giving effect to the White Australia Policy.

On the other hand, Australia did reasonably well by contemporary standards in creating a democratic system of government. For example, as early as in 1902 the federal franchise - the vote - was extended to women. (This voting equality was however not extended to other spheres of importance to women until the early seventies.) Australia's particular achievement, in the early years, was the development of a comprehensive system of protection of economic and social rights, which was put in place well before the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

In fact Australia has been an international leader in this field. The concept of the basic wage and development of labour relations around a framework of conciliation and arbitration, are but two of the more high profile examples of those achievements. So, many human rights in Australia were protected by domestic legislation, well in advance of the emergence of international human rights treaties.

Human rights treaties ratified by Australia

Australia has played a leading role since 1948 in the development of international human rights treaties at the UN; and by now Australia has ratified most of the 15 principal human rights treaties:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (including the First Optional Protocol allowing individual complaints and the Second Optional Protocol on the death penalty);
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child;
  • Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide;
  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (but not the Optional Protocol allowing individual complaints);
  • Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
  • Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees;
  • UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in Education;
  • Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention (ILO 87);
  • Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention (ILO 98);
  • Equal Remuneration Convention (ILO 100);
  • Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (ILO 111);
  • Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention (ILO 156);
  • Termination of Employment Convention (ILO 158).

Instruments incorporated into domestic law

For a treaty to be explicitly binding within Australia, it must be incorporated by the enactment of a federal law. As a result of lack of such enactments, the above listed treaties did not have much impact on domestic law until the early 1970s. Since then most of those human rights treaties were completely or partially incorporated into federal law.

Out of those 15 key international human rights treaties, Australia has enacted specific federal legislation to implement comprehensively 8 and partially 3, treaties.

This was first reflected in the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act which incorporated the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination into domestic law. A Commissioner for Community Relations was appointed in 1975 to monitor the new Act.

Then there was the Sex Discrimination Convention. CEDAW has been almost fully incorporated in Australian law through the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984.

Many of the rest, such as CROC - by reference to the wide variety of child protection laws throughout Australia - could be said to have been implemented de facto. And others have been 'referred' to HREOC. Nevertheless some vital treaties like ICCPR, are the lesser for the absence of specific federal enacting legislation.

The role of the Human Rights Commission

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) is an important element in the human rights protection system in Australia.

HREOC was established by an act of federal Parliament in 1986 as a national independent statutory authority. It replaced the previous Human Rights Commission, which was set up in 1981. The Commission administers federal legislation in the area of human rights, anti-discrimination and social justice. It reports to the federal Parliament through the Attorney-General.

It is, however important to note that HREOC does not have constitutional standing; nor does it have a 'court like' mandate. The Commission's responsibility is to foster greater understanding, respect and protection of human rights in Australia, with a particular focus on sex, race, disability and most recently age discrimination, as well as the rights of indigenous Australians.

The Commission does this through:

Holding inquiries into issues of national importance:

  • such as the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families;
  • paid maternity leave;
  • and the rights of children in immigration detention centres.

Providing independent advice to assist courts in cases that involve human rights principles such as:

  • International law and the extent to which administrative decision makers are obliged to take into account international human rights instruments in making decisions (the Teoh case);
  • Inconsistency between state and federal legislation in relation to the criminalisation of homosexuality (the Croome & Toonen case);
  • Freedom of political speech (the Lange case).

Providing advice to parliaments and governments to develop laws, programs and policies such as the new Federal Age Discrimination Act;

Raising public awareness of human rights by fostering public discussion and developing educational programs and resources for schools, workplaces and the community. In 2003 - 2004 the HREOC website attracted 4,392,429 page-views.

Under the Complaint Handling Section of HREOC it also investigates and conciliates, where appropriate, complaints about alleged infringements of the Commonwealth Race, Sex, Disability and now (recently) Age Discrimination Acts and alleged infringements of human rights under the HREOC Act.

As most of you would be aware there is a vital difference between complaints bought under Sex, Race, Disability and Age equality protection laws. Where, if the parties cannot come to a negotiated settlement of such a complaint, in most of those cases the complainant is entitled to take the matter to court for a decision and a remedy, including compensation where appropriate.

But complaints regarding 'human rights', bought to HREOC, pursuant to say, ICCPR, can at best, only lead to a report to Federal parliament, via the Attorney-General. No court imposed remedy, no requirement to pay compensation - even where the Commission 'finds' a breach.

So arguably the Australian contemporary human rights culture is strong in terms of protection of equality rights and political rights. But considerably weaker on civil liberties.

4. EMERGING ISSUES IN HR LANDSCAPE

The human rights landscape in Australia and internationally is far away from being static. New developments are taking place every day. Below I would wish to mention a number of developments that are of importance to all of us.

Australian Human Rights record - an overview

(1) Positives:

  • Stable and robust democracy, increased economic wealth due to strong economic management;
  • Age discrimination legislation;
  • ACT Bill of Rights;
  • Productivity Commission review of DDA and our involvement with drafting new UN convention;
  • Release of majority of children from immigration detention;
  • HR success of RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands).

(11) Unknowns:

  • Lack of proper treatment for mental health patients - States responsible; Change to Migration Act to be consistent with CROC;
  • Recent High Court decisions - if federal legislation is properly structured it may override personal freedoms recognised by common law and international instruments;
  • Senate as a "house of review" function:
    • PM assurances - "careful";
    • Issue of "proportional" response.

(111) Global Challenges impacting at home:

  • Globalisation of Terrorism
    • Indiscriminate destruction of lives - Bali, Australian embassy, Jakarta; Terrorism targets children - Beslan;
    • A global lowering of human rights standards in response to terrorism.
  • Globalisation of child abuse directed at children
    • Child soldiers;
    • Child victims of pornography;
    • Child abuse in institutional setting;
    • Child migration movements;
    • Child mandatory detention.

Australian Human Rights Record - discussion

(1) Positives:

It needs to be acknowledged that in general terms all the constituent parts necessary for a robust civil society are alive and well in today's Australia. I will therefore confine my remarks under this heading, to the ACT Bill of Rights, because the newness of its arrival demands at least passing deference.

ACT Bill of Rights

It is a well known fact that Australia does not have a "Bill of Rights".

In fact, it has been argued that this relative neglect of civil liberties puts us at odds with other first world countries with which we traditionally compare ourselves. Many countries now feature a 'Bill of Rights' - famously of course the USA, but also Britain, the EU, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, to name but a few.

It is therefore a welcome development that the ACT government has now enacted the first Bill of Rights in Australia.

Two things can be said at this stage:

  • It is interesting and exciting development even though the Bill is relatively narrow/limited;
  • But too early to judge as to its effectiveness.

(11) Unknowns:

Recent High Court decisions

As many of you would be aware, over the last two years a number of important cases concerning immigration detention have gone to the High Court.

The legal arguments relied on by the plaintiffs' lawyers have been many and varied, including recourse to:

  • that ancient common law writ of habeas corpus;
  • the equity remedy of 'parens patriae' (albeit the derivative jurisdiction conferred on the Family Court); and
  • the argument that the principles of statutory construction to be employed by courts, when interpreting laws that potentially infringe peoples' fundamental rights, should be as broad as possible.

In responding in the negative to these arguments, the High Court has found that the Migration Act is sufficiently explicit and all encompassing to validly abrogate the individuals' rights that might otherwise apply. Even the international treaties which directly bear, such as CROC, are similarly overtaken by the all conquering provisions of the Migration Act.

In one notable comment, Justice McHugh even lamented the practical effect of his legal reasoning. But he then said that change to this state of affairs, could only be achieved in other forums; presumably either at the ballot box or in the legislature or a combination of both.

This says to me that from the High Court's perspective, at least in its current composition, when an individual's human rights are pitted against federal laws that are explicit and broadly encompassing, the smart money will be on the supremacy of the laws every time!

Labor's election failure and the role of the Senate as a "house of review"

It is now clear that the Howard government has achieved increased lower House representation and control of the Senate. In the strict political sense, the Coalition is to be congratulated for this because that is what major political parties are supposed to do - win as many votes/seats as possible and freeze the other mob out.

The Prime Minister is also on record as assuring the community that he will use this increased political potency carefully, while Brian Harradine has said that the Coalition's even stronger control over Australian Parliament, "offers a great opportunity to tackle the difficult issue of social exclusion".

Nevertheless, the consequence of the Government's majority in the Senate, from a human rights perspective, could be quite challenging.

Unquestionably from an HR point of view the Senate performed a very valuable role, in the term of the last Parliament, in refining and improving the proportionality of legislation that had individual human rights implications.

From our perspective as human rights' defenders, the Senate was not being obstructive in performing this role, but rather properly carrying out its intended modern function of a 'house of review'.

With the best will in the world, the newly composed Senate will now be unlikely to give meaningful effect to this function.

My proof for this proposition is simple: when the government of the day passes legislation through the lower house, as it must always have the capacity to achieve, it genuinely believes the legislation thus enacted to be the best expression of the desired policy outcome. If it did not, it would have presented differently worded legislation.

With government control of the Senate, there is no logical reason why the government would amend its legislation, simply due to the arguments put forward by their Senate opponents; most of which the government will have heard and dismissed, during the lower house debate.

However I'm willing to wait and test the emergence of Brian Harradine's "great opportunity" comment, before casting my final judgement. There is no reason, for instance, why the government couldn't decide now to follow HREOC's finding in "A last resort?" and abolish the mandatory immigration detention laws for child asylum-seekers and their parents.

Certainly passage of the Age Discrimination Bill and the government's support for development of "standards" under the Disability Discrimination Act, are indicative of a government that is committed to carefully targeted social justice issues. Hopefully the magnitude of the government's electoral mandate will encourage a broadening of the issues up for consideration.

But that is still to come.

To sum up, the current Australian HR landscape looks like this:

  • a High Court which has signalled that so long as Federal legislation is properly structured, then its paramountcy is assured even at the expense of individual freedoms; and
  • a Parliament where the views of the majority, as interpreted by the government, will almost always prevail.

(111) Global challenges impacting on Australia

It is fair to say that we are standing at a human rights crossroad. Especially when one considers the globalisation of human rights abuse; particularly with respect to:

  • Terrorism;
  • Children's human rights.

Commemoration of Beslan massacre

Last Sunday in Sydney I attended a commemorative function for the victims of Beslan.

This tragic affair brings together these two HR themes.

But before I explain, can I just say this. With regard to Beslan: acts of terrorism as occurred in that school, as with the recent bombings in Indonesia, represent the utter negation of the concept of human rights.

No cause, no wrong, nothing is validated by violent acts which result in the indiscriminate destruction of innocent lives. Added emphasis, if it were needed, is provided when those slaughtered are children - who by definition lack any capacity to have contributed to the creation of the perceived wrong.

All the peoples of the world must learn that permanent resolution of conflict can only be achieved by arming themselves with the principles of negotiation, compromise and respect for the human rights of the individual.

If we continue to pursue conflict resolution based on the principles of individual human destruction we risk the total annihilation of civil society as we know it.

Globalisation of terrorism

Arguably, globalisation has bought benefits to Australia, trade liberalisation being one. Unfortunately, the same process also attracts global ills - terrorism is a good example.

As we saw from Bali and the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, terror is no longer geographically confined to the Basque region of Spain, Northern Ireland, or Chechnya. Consequently we must also guard against the importation of a global lowering of HR standards, which has sometimes been the overseas reaction to these terrorist acts.

As I've already said in respect to Beslan: all human rights defenders accept unequivocally that terrorism represents the absolute negation of an individual's human rights.

It is therefore quite appropriate that society, and generally this means government, should take appropriate steps to adequately protect all of its constituent members. In fact various UN bodies have done much work to develop protocols which provide proportional balance between security measures and protection of the individual's rights.

Notwithstanding this work, many countries, including Australia, have already implemented new anti-terrorism laws. Australia's suite of anti-terrorism laws, particularly the ASIO Bill, were the subject of much angst throughout HR circles in this country.

I do not intend to comment specifically on the laws today - HREOC made submissions to the appropriate Senate oversight committee - and the government duly received parliamentary approval for the laws. But I do know that I'm still very concerned about the issue of proportionality.

On one hand we are witnessing an unprecedented 'peacetime' increase in the State's capacity to directly intervene in the affairs of an individual, but on the other hand I see no counterbalancing measures that provide proper oversight of the integrity of the process, from an individual HR perspective. There were no additional laws created or new powers or resources given to, for example, the Privacy Commissioner or HREOC, to protect individual freedoms.

Allow me to give you two further examples to illustrate the above:

  • National ID cards

The most recent example of possible further policy action in this area is a newspaper report of Friday 15 October which said that senior federal police are urging the government to introduce national identity cards to assist in the fight against terror. What I failed to see in this "call", is any counterbalancing proposal to ensure that the rights of the individual are still adequately protected.

  • "Sneak and peak" powers to search

Yesterday it was announced that NSW police will be vested with unprecedented "sneak and peak" powers to combat terrorism. Police will not have to notify the occupants for six months that they had searched the premises. They would also be able to bug terror suspects continuously for up to three months. Only minimal review rights were put in place.

Children's Human Rights

Another disturbing product of 'globalisation' involves varying degrees of HR abuse directed at children. This is evident as follows:

  • Beslan-style terrorist acts involving children as either direct victims or indirect victim/perpetrator;
  • Child soldiers impressed into 'armies of liberation/revolution';
  • Child trafficking either for sexual purposes or slavery;
  • Child victims of pornography films and internet downloads; this is a criminal offence in Australia, but even if it were not, the "suvbjects" are actually being victimised;
  • Child abuse of a sexual/physical/emotional kind, in an institutional setting;
  • Child migration on economic/humanitarian/asylum grounds;
  • Child asylum seekers enveloped into prolonged mandatory immigration detention regimes.

Despite the strength of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the sheer weight of signatories - the most supported international HR treaty in history, children are possibly being abused as much now as at any time.

Sadly, we are also aware in Australia that, with the exception of Beslan style terrorism and child soldiers, individuals in this country has been involved in all the other activities listed above.

Even more alarmingly, aspects of the government's policy in respect of asylum seekers have proven to be Australia's contribution to the globalisation of the trend towards 'nation-states' becoming increasingly hard-line towards asylum seekers, including children.

My recent report to the Parliament of Australia of the findings of the national inquiry into children in immigration detention, 'A last resort?' found numerous breaches of CROC in relation to children in long-term immigration detention. While it was pleasing to see the government subsequently release many of those children, who had been the subject of the report, nevertheless the laws permitting such immigration detention are still in place, and as at 6 of October, 75 children were still in immigration detention under the control of detention-centre guards.

5. THE HUMAN RIGHTS CHALLENGE FOR AUSTRALIAN CIVIL SOCIETY

The challenge now for people like us here today, is to recognise that human rights opportunities are still there to be taken. From the perspective of HREOC, our domestic role must be to renew our ability to perform on behalf of minorities - groupings that will change, grow and dwindle, depending on the issue at hand. While the Parliament will clearly express the priorities and aspirations of the majority, it is up to us draw attention to minority rights. Whatever and whomever they may be at any point in time.

Legislated Bill of Rights

The other issue that must continue to engage our attention is a legislated 'Bill of Rights'. Even though so much good work has been done previously in this area, seemingly to no avail, my 'crossroads scenario' merely reinforces the need to go on and on with this cause. Unquestionably the lack of a domestically enacted, actionable 'Bill of Rights' is the single biggest human rights issue facing civil society in Australia today.

6. MENTAL HEALTH CONSULTATIONS

Before I conclude my address with a brief overview of the HR situation in Tasmania, I would just like to briefly update you on the Australia-wide community consultations on mental health that I have been conducting in association with the Mental Health Council of Australia, over the last two months.

It is some 11 years since the Human Rights Commission published the Burdekin Report. The story that is unfolding is not a pretty one. The people consulted make two main points.

One, that there is increasing evidence that widespread use of common drugs such as cannabis, amphetamines, alcohol and ecstasy is contributing to an increased rate of mental illness among young people. In addition these substances are making those young people even more disturbed when they finally present for care.

And two, that in treatment of mental illness, it is the State government services that are failing in the delivery of proper care. Here I would like to acknowledge the Howard government for making a commitment in the election campaign of $110m towards improved mental health care, the first time mental health has attracted a stand-alone election commitment.

But back at the 'coal-face', it is still a tragic tale of medical neglect and community indifference in regard to mental health:

  • No early intervention;
  • Lack of sufficient 'acute care' beds when required;
  • Lack of sufficient resourcing of community care sector;
  • Too many preventable deaths.

Those with a mental illness are still being blamed for being sick. The time for 'reviews' and buck-passing has surely passed. Now is the time for all the stakeholders in the mental health domain, to join with the Federal government in reprioritising - so that we can start to improve the human rights record of those with mental illness.

7. CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

On that score I would also like to commend the current government for its active involvement in the United Nations' work towards developing a Disability Convention. While a successful conclusion to this task is still some way off, nevertheless such a Convention will also benefit those with a mental illness who will be covered under its terms. As the Convention would most likely also include provisions requiring Member States to adequately resource the disability sector, this will act as a long term platform for genuine improvement in the provision of services to the mentally ill. However in the short-term this will not ensure that State governments provide additional new mental health financial resources immediately.

8. HUMAN RIGHTS IN TASMANIA

Last but not least.

You will be interested to hear that I am from the old-fashioned school that believes it is extremely ill mannered to be critical of one's host while still enjoying their hospitality! So I will confine my remarks about HR in Tasmania to a few generalisations:

  • Firstly, the Australian HR movement owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the people of Tasmania in relation to the 'Tasmanian Dam Case'. Whatever one's view of the issue itself, the expansion of the foreign affairs power has bought great HR benefits to all Australians;
  • The imminent retirement of the first Tasmanian born Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Jocelynne Scutt will leave very large shoes to fill;
  • The Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act is a fine piece of work. I was even told that in many respects it is superior to the legislation underpinning HREOC;
  • In the area of discrimination in employment on the grounds of criminal record and discrimination or vilification on the grounds of religion, Tasmania is at the human rights forefront;
  • The same observation applies in respect of gay and lesbian rights;
  • UNAA Tasmania is one of the most proactive of the various State Associations;
  • My one cautionary note relates to my mental health community consultations; Tasmania reveals the same problems as the other States. Increased funding is the key and I look for all your support when the consultation results are released.

9. CONCLUSION

The challenge now for Australian civil society is to focus on the following key HR issues:

  • Need for a Bill of Rights;
  • Additional protections for the mentally ill;
  • Global activity to further protect children's rights;
  • Vigilance at further erosion of individual rights when considering additional anti-terrorist measures.

In conclusion as I ponder over the talks and meetings associated with this Conference over the last two days, and the enthusiasm demonstrated by all delegates, but most especially from those of Tasmanian origin, I am confident that my little tent at the HR crossroads will be well populated by committed, caring and most importantly, vocal human rights advocates.

Thank you.

Address

Australia