Date: 
Monday 19 March 2018

Three of our Commissioners have recently presented to the United Nations on the human rights situation in Australia.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane provided a video address to the Human Rights Council on March 19 about the “creeping tide” of racism.

He pointed out that xenophobia and hatred are resurgent.

“We have seen that when prejudice and intolerance are given endorsement in public debates, it can embolden a minority of society to vent their bigotry.

“We must all defend our societies against racism, through legislation and civil society,” said Commissioner Soutphommasane.

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Alastair McEwin spoke about access to justice for people with disability.

“At least half of all people in prisons in Australia have a psychosocial, cognitive or physical impairment, yet necessary support and accommodations are either not provided or not identified in the first place.

“Prison staff can be ill equipped to interact with people with disability. As a result, staff often respond with punitive practices, like solitary confinement, rather than support measures,” said Commissioner McEwin.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow also addressed the Human Rights Council.

Commissioner Santow spoke about the situation for human rights defenders.  He noted some positive developments such as changes to legislation to reduce the scope of secrecy provisions in the Border Force Act.

Commissioner Santow also highlighted some concerns:

“Several laws and policies continue to constrict and even criminalise the actions of human rights defenders.

“The Commission notes with concern the Government’s recent bill, aimed at preventing espionage and foreign interference, which unduly restricts free speech and freedom of the press.”