Address to Tri-State Country Conference, Broken Hill

Speech delivered by the Hon John von Doussa QC, President, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 13 March 2004


Introduction

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and Elders of the land on which we're meeting today - the Wilykali people.

I also want to make mention of the fact that we are 130kn south west of an area of great significance to the Aboriginal communities of western NSW, which is now called Mutawintji National Park - the first park to be handed back to its Traditional Owners under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act in 1998. [1] The caves and overhangs in the park have been transformed into expansive galleries of Aboriginal rock art, and it comes as no surprise that they have formed the backdrop for ceremonies for at least 8,000 years.

Mutawintji also warrants special mention because since the hand-back in 1998, the park has been managed by the local Aboriginal community in partnership with National Parks and Wildlife Services. Aboriginal people participate in all of the planning and decisions concerning the management of the park, so there is a genuine integration of both traditional and contemporary knowledge and expertise.

I think it is a very encouraging example of reconciliation in action - and an example of how we can move beyond the rhetoric to acknowledge in a meaningful way, that Aboriginal people are the custodians for their cultures and their traditional country.

I have to confess that I am yet to visit Mutawintji myself, but it is temptingly close!

I also want to thank the South Australian, Far Western NSW, and North West Victorian Law Societies for inviting me to address the conference. It provides a welcome opportunity for me to address lawyers working in rural and remote Australia, and to turn my mind to kinds of human rights issues that exist in your area of practice.

Whilst there are a lot of parallels between the kinds of discrimination and inequities that occur in coastal cities and rural towns, there are also a range of human rights concerns that are unique to rural and remote Australia.

In almost every aspect of our work, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (hereafter HREOC) has noticed that people in rural and remote Australia generally come off second best. Distance, isolation, lower incomes and minority status all exacerbate the experience of discrimination, harassment, and lack of services and participation.

Often people are unaware of the fundamental human rights that they are entitled to enjoy - whether they be in relation to access to a quality education, basic health services and fresh drinking water, or the right to freedom from discrimination.

I want to talk later about what the Commission has done to identify the specific human rights concerns of Australians in rural and remote areas, and the responses we have recommended and indeed undertaken to improve their ability to better enjoy their human rights.

But first, I think it is useful to outline how HREOC deals with individual complaints of unlawful discrimination - cases that I'm sure come across your desk - so that you can assist your clients who become involved either as complainants or respondents.

Commission's role and functions

In May last year I stepped down from my position as a Judge of the Federal Court to accept the role as President of HREOC. It has been a time of new challenges, such as the need to balance the legislative and administrative responsibilities that the Commission has been given by the federal government, with the important role of advocating for the rights of those on the margins of Australian society.

The Commission occupies a unique place in Australian society. It sits independent of Government, yet it is not what is traditionally known as a non-government organisation or an advocate. It is a statutory authority responsible for the observance of human rights in Australia. Broadly speaking the Commission's responsibilities include:

  • education and public awareness;
  • discrimination and human rights complaints;
  • human rights compliance; and
  • policy and legislative development.

In practice, these responsibilities enable the Commission and its staff to undertake a range of investigative, monitoring, reporting and advocacy roles including:

  • resolving complaints of discrimination or breaches of human rights under federal laws;
  • holding public inquiries into issues of national importance, such as the forced separation of Aboriginal children from their families, a national paid maternity leave scheme or the rights of children in immigration detention centres;
  • intervening or acting as amicus curiae in important legal cases that affect the human rights of people in Australia;
  • providing advice and assistance to parliaments and governments to develop laws, programs and policies;
  • researching human rights and discrimination issues; and
  • developing human rights education programs and resources for schools, workplaces and the community.

The work of the Commission is guided by the four federal laws that it is responsible for administering:

  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986

Complaints

The functions of the Commission in relation to complaints under the first three pieces of legislation (the race, sex and disability discrimination Acts) are designed to give effect to Australia's obligations under international human rights treaties and conventions that the Government has ratified, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, to name only a few.

Under these international instruments, Australia is required to report to the relevant United Nations treaty body to elaborate on how our anti-discrimination laws and policies are meeting our international obligations, thereby exposing the Government's record to international scrutiny.

The race, sex and disability discrimination laws provide an avenue to make a complaint of discrimination or harassment in the workplace and various facets of public life. This is, I imagine, the aspect of the Commission's work that you are most likely to encounter in your practices.

Last year, the Commission received inquiries from almost 9,500 people from all over Australia seeking information about the laws we administer, grounds for complaints and the complaint process. Most of the inquiries are by telephone, with a smaller number in writing or by email. We answer all inquiries, including those from lawyers who are seeking advice on behalf of a client.

HREOC staff outline the process by which individuals can lodge complaints of discrimination with the Commission, and how a respondent can go about responding to a complaint.

If a formal written complaint is made, it is initially assessed to make sure it can be investigated under the laws for which the Commission has responsibility. After receiving all the relevant information, the complaint is then reviewed to determine if it should be terminated because it is lacking in substance, or if it is suitable for conciliation.

Conciliation is intended to bring the parties together - the complainant and the respondent - to try and resolve the matter. Conciliation is a confidential process where both parties are given the opportunity to talk through the issues and reach an agreement. They are not required to have legal representation, but may do so if they wish.

We stress that the Commission is an independent and unbiased mediator in these discussions. Our goal is try and resolve the complaint in a fair and timely process with the minimum expenditure and stress for either party. We hold these conciliation conferences throughout Australia - in capital cites and country towns.

If a complaint cannot be conciliated, it will be terminated by the President. The termination of a complaint triggers the jurisdiction of the Federal Court and the Federal Magistrates Court to deal with the complaint. The complainant then has the option to go to court, however the matter has to be lodged within 28 days of the complaint being terminated.

As I indicated earlier, the Commission also inquires into complaints under the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act, but does so following a very different process to the one I have just described.

Complaints under the HREOC Act are generated by either:

  • alleged breaches of human rights by the Commonwealth (such as a federal government department) against accepted international standards; or
  • discrimination in employment (both public and private organisations) on a range of grounds, such as age, religion, sexual preference, political opinion, trade union activity and criminal record.

Complaints received under this Act can also be resolved by conciliation between the parties. However, if the matter cannot be conciliated, they cannot proceed to court. Rather the Commission can present a report to federal Parliament outlining the key issues and recommendations to resolve the complaint.

Last year we received 1,236 formal complaints under all of the legislation we administer, and 84 per cent of them were finalised within 12 months of being lodged. One in three complaints was resolved through conciliation and the breakdown of these complaints is:

  • Racial Discrimination Act - 182
  • Sex Discrimination Act - 380
  • Disabilities Discrimination Act 493
  • HREOC Act - 181

Pregnancy discrimination

Having outlined the broad parameters of the Commission's complaint handling processes, I want to look more closely at the sorts of complaints we receive and how they are dealt with.

In the last year, there was a significant rise in complaints because of discrimination in relation to pregnancy or family responsibilities. One of the reasons for this was the fact that the Commission had conducted a National Pregnancy and Work Inquiry, which was followed by discussion of a paid maternity leave scheme.

The media coverage that these issues received had the clear effect of educating women about their rights in the workplace.

So much so that 35% of complaints received under the Sex Discrimination Act last year - in other words 380 complaints - related to pregnancy discrimination.

Of course, the circumstances of each complaint are unique, but many of them have similar elements. The details in the following complaint that came to the Commission recently are indicative of the types of practices that can generate a complaint of discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy, and how it can be conciliated to the satisfaction of both parties through the Commission.

'Anne' started full-time work as an office administrator with a small training consultancy company in September 2001. She claimed that three months later she advised the company director that she was pregnant and was suffering from pregnancy related illness. She said that when she told the Director this his response was to the effect: "Look, this will jeopardise your position".

Anne claimed that a few weeks later when she advised the Director that she was ill again, he told her: "That's it. I have had enough. Pack your things and go", and terminated her employment. Anne claimed that the company signed a separation certificate which indicated that her employment was terminated due to her pregnancy and frequent illness.

The company's management denied that Anne was discriminated against on the basis of her pregnancy and associated illness. They said they had accommodated Anne's medical appointments and given her sick leave. They also said that Anne had resigned and that the details on the separation certificate had been completed by Anne prior to being signed by the company.

The complaint was eventually resolved through conciliation, with the company agreeing to provide the complainant with written and verbal references and an ex-gratia payment of $6 000.

Human resource issues in the workplace concerning pregnancy have been well canvassed in recent years, especially in HROEC's report following the National Pregnancy and Work Inquiry entitled Pregnant and Productive: It's a right not a privilege to work while pregnant, published in August 1999. That report was followed by HREOC publishing Pregnancy Guidelines to help workplace participants to understand and fulfil their obligations under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) ("the SDA"). Those guidelines are readily available on the HREOC website.

Section 3.4 of the Guidelines deals with the return to work after maternity leave. This is another important issue where there have been several court decisions in recent months. The Guidelines correctly make two observations:

"Under industrial relations laws, awards and agreements as well as the federal Sex Discrimination Act, an employee is generally entitled to return to the position she held prior to commencing leave or to a comparable available position if her original job has ceased to exist ..."; and

"An employee returning from maternity leave may also wish to work part-time or on a job-share basis. Awards, agreements, and some State laws specifically allow for a return to part-time work after maternity leave by agreement with the employer. In some situations, an employer may be deemed to have made a discriminatory decision if a reasonable request for part-time work is refused."

Then follows a comment that there is a growth of precedent in this area. That growth in precedent has continued. In the last two years, there have been one Federal Court and six Federal Magistrates Court decisions concerning discrimination under the SDA alleged by women either seeking to return to work following maternity leave, or seeking to vary working hours to meet family responsibilities connected with a young child.

The cases are Thomson v Orica Australia Pty Ltd,[2]Rispoli v Merck Sharpe & Dohme (Australia) Pty Ltd & Ors,[3] Song v Ainsworth Game Technology Pty Ltd ,[4]Escobar v Rainbow Printing Pty Ltd (No. 2), [5]Mayer v Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, [6]Evans v National Crime Authority [7] and Kelly v TPG Internet Ltd. [8]

A number of points emerge from these decisions.

In each case the employee after a strenuous denial on the issues that went to trial was found to have unlawfully discriminated against the applicant in one or more respects. Significant monetary awards were made in all but one of the cases.

Within the reasons for decision there is discussion of both direct and indirect discrimination. The SDA renders unlawful both types of discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of the sex or marital status of the aggrieved person, and on the ground of pregnancy or potential pregnancy. [9] In the case of family responsibilities, the SDA only renders unlawful direct discrimination on that ground, and then only if the discrimination results in the dismissal of the employee. [10]

This is important as there are different tests for direct and indirect discrimination.

When direct discrimination is alleged the test is whether by reason of one of the prescribed characteristics, the alleged discriminator has treated the aggrieved person less favourably than, in circumstances that are the same or not materially different, the discriminator treats or would treat a person without that characteristic. [11] This requires the court to identify a comparator and then to determine whether the aggrieved person has been treated less favourably.

In the case of indirect discrimination the test is quite different. Indirect discrimination occurs where the employer imposes an unreasonable condition, requirement or practice that has or is likely to have the effect of disadvantaging persons who have the prescribed characteristic - sex, marital status or pregnancy. [12] There is no need to inquire if the aggrieved person is being less favourably treated than a comparator. The Act provides that indirect discrimination does not occur where the imposition of the condition, requirement or practice is reasonable in the circumstances. [13] As unlawful discrimination on the ground of family responsibilities can only be direct, in such a case the reasonableness of the different treatment that constitutes discrimination is not a defence.

In five of the Federal Magistrates Court cases the employer did not meet a request to work part-time, or to accommodate time off to meet child care requirements.

In Escobar and Mayer(and by implication in Song) the court characterised the employers' stance as indirect discrimination on the ground of sex contrary to s5(2) of the SDA as the denial had the effect of imposing a requirement to work full-time or during inflexible times, and such a requirement was likely to disadvantage women. In Escobar and Mayer the court followed observations made by Commissioner Elizabeth Evatt in the well-known case of Hickie v Hunt and Hunt [14] where she inferred "from general knowledge that women are far more likely than men to require at least some periods of part-time work during their career, and in particular a period of part-time work after maternity leave in order to meet family responsibilities." [15]

I do not think that this proposition can be doubted, and it is likely to be accepted by courts in this area without the need for evidence.[16] If that is correct, the issue of contention that will arise in this type of case is whether the imposition of the requirement is reasonable in the circumstances. [17]

Conciliation video

Having now given examples of the type of discrimination complaints that arise, I return to HREOC's conciliation procedures.

The Commission's conciliation process is a fair, inexpensive and informal way to resolve discrimination complaints. And, as the statistics demonstrate, it's also very effective.

Two weeks ago - in fact, the day after the Academy Awards were announced - the Commission launched a new video and DVD called 'Pathways to resolution' to outline our conciliation process.

The video runs for 20 minutes and is a useful resource for:

  • people who have made, or are thinking about making a complaint to the Commission, and
  • people or organisations who have had complaints made against them, and may need to participate in a conciliation process.

The video:

  • outlines the various forms the conciliation process may take
  • explains the role of the conciliator
  • outlines how parties should prepare and approach conciliation, and
  • uses a case study example to show what happens in various stages of a face-to-face conciliation meeting.

Remember that before any discrimination complaint under Federal Law can go to a court, it must go through HREOC, which is obliged to attempt to resolve it by conciliation. The video may be something that you'd be interested in looking at, or providing to a client, if they are involved in a complaint.

And, of course, the video or DVD is available free from the Commission.

Other Commission projects

In addition to the complaints function, the Commission is constantly engaged in a wide range of human rights issues and projects.

To give you an idea of the just how wide the spectrum of activities is, in the next six moths the Commission will:

  • release its report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention - an exhaustive analysis of the treatment of child asylum seekers under Australia's immigration laws and in detention that has been some two years in the making;
  • release a landmark statistical analysis and survey of sexual harassment in the workplace and a revised Code of Practice for employers. This is a follow on from a Commission publication entitled A Bad Business [18] which reviewed 152 sexual harassment complaints finalised in the 2002 calendar year;
  • release the annual Social Justice and Native Title reports, which explore the issues that most affect Indigenous Australians;
  • release a report of the Commission's national consultations with Arab and Muslim Australians, which will include the strategies and policies recommended by these communities to counter the abuse and discrimination they have been experiencing since September 11. Most consultations have been conducted in major cities, reflecting the demographic concentration of Arab and Muslim Australians in these centres, but some meetings were held in rural and regional centres like Shepparton, Wollongong and Alice Springs in acknowledgement that retribution and vilification occurs in all parts of Australia, and a truly national strategy will be required to promote greater tolerance and understanding; and
  • run education and awareness programs in schools to encourage students to look at ways to tackle sexual harassment and homophobic harassment.

We are striving to give effect to our statutory duty to be of the "greatest possible benefit to the people of Australia," and to have regard for the principle that "every person is free and equal in dignity and rights" in Australia.

The Commission takes its public awareness and educative function very seriously, recognising that this is perhaps the best way that we can contribute to the development and maintenance of a tolerant, equitable and democratic society. That is why we are focussing a lot of our work on the development of programs that provide information and strategies to improve the enjoyment of human rights in Australia - the key message being that the elimination of discrimination and harassment are the prerequisites for the enjoyment of human rights by all Australians.

Public space

One other issue that has been brought to the Commission's attention on a number of occasions, relates to the administration of so-called 'public spaces' such as public parks and streets, by State and Local Government authorities. Over a number of years, we have received complaints about the laws that have been put in place to eliminate public drunkenness and sleeping in public areas, or in the case of minors, to give authorities the power to return children to their home or another safer place than the streets.

On the face of it, these legislative objectives appear to be perfectly acceptable.

However, where the concern has arisen is in the enforcement of the laws to restrict the use of public space, and whether or not a particular group, namely Indigenous people, is being disproportionately affected. In other words, some people have complained that the manner in which the law is being implemented is racially discriminatory. However, as none of these complaints has progress to the courts (for various reasons), the question of racial discrimination is yet to be determined

Nonetheless, the Commission is very concerned about any law or policy which, directly or indirectly, increases the likelihood that Indigenous people will come into contact with the police.

Indeed, one of the key goals of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was to find ways to reduce Indigenous people's contact with the criminal justice system. Yet statistics show us that more than ten years after the Royal Commission, Indigenous contact with the criminal justice system is a growing problem - regardless of sex or age.

The Royal Commission also vividly demonstrated the cycle of criminalisation that many Indigenous people fall into, and the danger of inappropriate laws operating to indoctrinate Indigenous youth into the criminal justice system and potentially into a pattern of more serious offending.

The Commission therefore recognises that the politically popular 'law and order' approach, has to be examined in the context of the relationship between Indigenous people and the criminal justice system.

The Commission also has to be mindful of the economic, social and political disadvantage of Indigenous Australians as compared with other Australians. This historic disadvantage has created a situation of gross inequity in contemporary Australian society which often manifests itself in the form of Indigenous community dysfunction, violence and crime - something that many of you may deal with all too frequently in your practice.

Preliminary research and discussion has shown the Commission that there is a wide range of views about how public spaces should be used, the laws that affect their use and the way in which these laws are implemented.

The Local and State Governments that create these laws may have different attitudes about what is an acceptable use of public space, as compared to the communities who are the most frequent users of the space.

Sometimes there is a great deal of tension between the authorities who create and implement these laws, and the people who are affected by them.

What is clear is that this is a complex issue with no obvious or one step solutions. Any strategy to address this issue, by definition, must genuinely involve the Indigenous communities affected, as well as the authorities who are developing and implementing the laws and policies.

So the Commission has recently embarked on a national consultation process to discuss the relevant laws - to talk to everyone who has a stake in the issue and to listen to their opinions.

As part of this process, over the next few months I'll be meeting with community groups, as well as Local and State Government authorities in Darwin, Adelaide, Townsville and Perth to discuss these issues.

I would hope that, at the end of this process, the Commission will be in a position to determine what role we can and should play in bringing about an outcome that benefits all of the groups concerned.

As lawyers coming from disparate parts of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, some of you may have experiences that you could share with the Commission. I would be very happy to hear from you if you have any ideas, views, or strategies that you would like to put forward.

Bush Talks

I now want to turn to some of the broader human rights issues that exist in rural and remote Australia, how the Commission has sought to draw attention to these issues, and what types of programs and responses we have either recommended or put in place to improve the lives of Australians in these areas.

On the whole, I think it is fair to say that most people living in rural Australia share a deep-seated feeling of disadvantage when they compare the lifestyle choices and opportunities available to them with those of their city cousins.

This perception of disadvantage is fuelled by the fact that people living on farms, outback properties and in country towns are isolated by age, distance and circumstance. Community services, family and neighbours are limited - and often declining as the social and economic push to regional and urban centres intensifies. Whilst a small number of strategically located regional towns are undergoing a renaissance, these are the exception rather than the rule.

In recognition of this situation, HREOC conducted a national consultation process with Australians in rural and remote areas, which became known as the Bush Talks. We invited people living beyond the main population centres to raise all of their concerns related to human rights, with the aim of raising awareness and understanding of their human rights, and then developing projects to improve the enjoyment of human rights in rural and remote Australia.

The Bush Talks Report - generated by these community consultations - was released by HREOC in February 1999. The report examined a range of crucial issues, including health, education, aged care, youth services, employment, bank closures, telecommunications, public transport, housing and water.

The Bush Talks heard of intolerance towards young people, gay and lesbian people and Indigenous people, and of very serious disadvantages faced by these groups, people with disabilities and people from non-English speaking backgrounds, particularly in obtaining necessary services in rural and remote areas.

Among the programs and strategies that the Commission has either advocated or undertaken to address these issues include the following:

The National Inquiry into Rural and Remote Education which was initiated by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in 1999. This inquiry found that more is needed to ensure every Australian child enjoys their fundamental right to education, and that the human rights of all children must be respected in the way their right to education is provided. It drew attention to the particular vulnerability of Indigenous children, children with disabilities and children from diverse cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds. The principal human rights advocated by the inquiry report were:

  • the right to an education which is non-discriminatory and which develops the child's abilities to the fullest;
  • the right to a curriculum which develops respect for human rights and for the child's own family and culture as well as for national values; and
  • the right to educational decision-making which makes the best interests of each child a primary consideration as advised by the child's parents and by the child himself or herself.

The report advised that children and their families should not be expected to sacrifice their other fundamental rights in order to access an education. For most Australian children the issue is not one of total sacrifice but of finding a reasonable balance: for children who are at boarding school, the balance between a high quality secondary education and the right to family life, [19] for those living at home, the balance between long hours of travel to and from school and the right to rest and leisure, [20] for an Aboriginal child, the balance between attending a senior secondary school in a capital city and the right to participate in his or her own language, culture and religion with community members. [21]

The Healthy Community Projects Website

Inadequate, inaccessible and diminishing health services emerged as the principal human rights concern raised in Bush Talks. The Bush Talks revealed that the overwhelming perception in many communities was that urban-based governments and bureaucracies are failing to understand the health needs of rural Australians. Many country towns reported cutbacks and difficulties in attracting and retaining health professionals.

This was very troubling for the Commission, given Australia's international obligations under three human rights treaties to realise the fundamental right to health for all Australians. [22] The right to health includes the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and their family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services. [23]

Our national consultations also confirmed that the health of rural and remote Australians continues to be significantly worse than their urban counterparts. Relatively poor access to health services, lower socioeconomic status and employment levels, exposure to comparatively harsher environments and occupational hazards contribute to and may explain most of these inequalities. Also, a large proportion of the population in the more remote parts of Australia are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who generally have poorer health status. [24]

As a result, HREOC launched the Healthy Community Projects Website to highlight some of the best practice health initiatives in remote, rural and regional Australia and examine the reasons for their success.

Some of the successful health projects HREOC has showcased on the website have a mix of the following characteristics. They:

  • are community based or community responsive
  • clearly identify and address local need
  • establish a mechanism for continuing support
  • receive substantial primary funding but may seek out other funding sources
  • are flexible and responsive to changing health needs and a changing community
  • have highly motivated and committed individuals involved in the process.

Mental Health

Another of the key human rights concerns that emerged from the Bush Talks was the lack of mental health services in rural and remote areas, whether they be counselling, psychiatric, detox and rehabilitations facilities for alcohol and substance abuse, marriage counselling, respite care, palliative care and so on. It appeared that the effects of economic downturn and the resulting sense of hopelessness, worthlessness and despair are major factors in contributing to the high rate of rural suicide.

At present, one in six adult Australians suffers a mental health problem.

However, the lack of mental health services for young people was of even greater concern, especially given the pessimism and even despair that many young people reported. Far from being cherished in public policy, children and young people throughout Australia bear the brunt of unemployment, reduced services, diminishing income support and increasingly punitive criminal justice processes.

Depression is one of the most common mental health problems experienced by young people and a major risk factor for youth suicide. Evidence presented to the Bush Talks indicated that the groups most vulnerable to discrimination or community intolerance are also those at greater risk of attempting suicide, such as:

  • young Indigenous people;
  • young people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual;
  • and teenage girls who fall pregnant.

In response to this situation, HREOC:

  • Published a Guide on taking children's best interests into account for the information of all sectors of government and of private social welfare institutions, which is available on our website;
  • Continues to evaluate and comment on State and Territory juvenile justice systems and has produced a Guide on best practice principles for the diversion of juvenile offenders;
  • Coordinated a National Program on the Human Rights of Young Gays and Lesbians in Rural Australia, in partnership with a range of community organisations including the Australian Youth Foundation. One of the outcomes of this program was the release of a training manual entitled Not Round Here: Affirming Diversity, Challenging Homophobia, which was designed to assist in the delivery of anti-homophobia training for service providers. It is relevant to a wide range of organisations whose clients and contacts include people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, and it is particularly useful for rural service providers as it includes training modules with a specific rural perspective;
  • And just last year, together with the Indigenous Studies Product Development Unit of TAFE Queensland, HREOC has developed an accredited Indigenous Legal Advocacy Course that is designed to provide Indigenous people with the skills and knowledge to work in a legal environment. This is an invaluable opportunity for Indigenous people to study the operation of the law from their own perspective and with their own cultural and social considerations in mind. We hope that it will improve the legal skills and knowledge of Indigenous people working in legal environments or participating in community justice mechanisms and advisory positions. The courses commence this year in TAFE colleges and independent Aboriginal education providers who are licensed by HREOC; we are expecting about 100 students to enrol.

Conclusion

This presentation has covered a lot of ground - there are of course many human rights issues that I haven't been able to touch on - one obvious one being the discrimination and hardship experienced by women in rural and remote Australia.

Women tend to carry the responsibility of holding families together in very difficult circumstances. They are often the quiet achievers and innovators - the glue for entire communities - but along with children, they are the most vulnerable to human rights abuses such as domestic violence and inadequate access to health services.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in your conference.


1. Four national parks in NSW are now subject to co-management agreements, Indigenous land use agreements or lease-back agreements between Indigenous communities and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. A further five national parks are listed on Schedule 14 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NSW) for return to the Traditional Owners and co-management arrangements.
2. (2002) EOC 93-227; [2002] FCA 939.
3. (2003) FMCA 160.
4. (2002) EOC 93-194; [2002] FMCA 31.
5. (2002) FMCA 122, digest of decision appears at (2002) EOC 93-229.
6. (2003) FMCA 209.
7. (2003) FMCA 375.
8. (2003) FMCA 584.
9. See SDA, ss 5, 6 and 7.
10. See SDA, ss7A and 14(3A).
11. See SDA, ss 5(1), 6(1), 7(1) and 7A.
12. See SDA, ss 5(1), 6(2) and 7(2).
13. See SDA, s 7B.
14. HREOC, Commissioner Evatt, 9 March 1998. Partially reported at (1998) EOC 92-910.
15. See paragraph 6.17.10, which does not appear in the reported version of this decision.
16. If evidence is needed, see the statistics referred to in Evans at [105].
17. See s.7B(2) of the SDA for the matters to be considered in applying the reasonableness test.
18. Published November 2003.
19. Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 8.
20. Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 31.
21. Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 30.
22. The treaties are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
23. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25.
24. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia's Health 2000, 2000, page 223.

Last updated 15 March 2004.

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