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Annual Report 06-07: Chatper 8 - Human Rights

Chapter
8: Human
Rights

8.1 Statement
from the Human Rights Commissioner

The 2006-07 year has been largely dedicated to identifying
and eliminating the discrimination faced by people in same-sex relationships in
accessing basic financial and work-related entitlements.

The Same-Sex: Same Entitlements Inquiry put federal
laws under the human rights microscope. It found that 58 laws discriminate
against more than 20 000 Australian same-sex couples - simply because of who
they love. Those laws deal with fundamental areas of family life such as
employment, taxation, and health care subsidies.

The Same-Sex: Same Entitlements report documents
which benefits and entitlements are denied to same-sex couples and their
children. It also describes the emotional and financial impact of that
discrimination. I was truly moved by the desire for equality – nothing
more, just equality – which was so passionately expressed by many of the
more than 1000 people who spoke or wrote to us.

The Same-Sex: Same Entitlements report also
highlights how easily discrimination against same-sex couples can be removed.
The discrimination is directly attributable to the way federal laws define who
qualifies as a person’s ‘partner’, ‘spouse’,
‘de facto spouse’ and so on. The solution is to amend those
definitions so that a same-sex partner is included in the same way as an
opposite-sex de facto. Once that occurs, most of the problems just fall away.
One of the challenges for the upcoming year is to encourage the government to
implement the recommendations in the Same-Sex: Same Entitlements
report.

Also in 2006-07, we conducted inspections of
Australia’s mainland immigration detention facilities. We were greatly
encouraged by the cooperative attitude of detention staff and the clear efforts
to improve the conditions inside immigration detention centres. However, I stand
by HREOC’s enduring call for the amendment of Australia's immigration
detention laws. Mandatory, unreviewable, indefinite detention breaches
Australia's human rights obligations and inevitably has a negative impact on the
mental health and wellbeing of those people subjected to it.

In 2007-08 we will be further diversifying our human
rights portfolio. We will develop and extend the material on our website, and we
will look to our stakeholders to identify the emerging human rights issues
facing Australia. I, and my team, look forward to the challenges this will
bring.

8.2 Research
and Policy

8.2.1 ‘Same-Sex:
Same Entitlements
’- the National Inquiry into Discrimination against
People in Same-Sex Relationships: Financial and Work-Related Entitlements and
Benefits

The Same-Sex: Same Entitlements Inquiry was
launched on 6 April 2006. The purpose of the Inquiry was to:

  • identify the federal laws which discriminate against
    same-sex couples and their children in the context of financial and work-related
    benefits and entitlements;
  • describe the impact of those discriminatory laws on
    same-sex couples and their children; and
  • make recommendations as to how to remove that
    discrimination.

The final report of the Inquiry was tabled in federal
Parliament on 21 June 2007. The final report reflects all three of these
goals.

The report and community guide was officially launched in
Sydney on 22 June 2007.

Findings and Recommendations

The Same-Sex: Same Entitlements report identifies
58 federal laws which deny same-sex couples and their children the basic
financial and work-related entitlements which are available to opposite-sex
couples and their children.

The 58 discriminatory laws identified by the Inquiry cover
the following areas:

  • employment;
  • workers’ compensation;
  • tax;
  • social security;
  • veterans’ entitlements;
  • health care subsidies;
  • family law;
  • superannuation;
  • aged care; and
  • migration.

The report recommends amendment to the definitions of a de
facto relationship in each of these 58 laws. The report also recommends changes
to federal, state and territory laws to recognise the relationship between a
child and both parents in a same-sex couple. Together, these changes would
ensure that same-sex couples and their children would be treated in the same way
as opposite-sex couples and their children.

The final report can be found at:
www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights/samesex/report/

As at 30 June 2007, the federal government had indicated
that it was considering the recommendations of the final report.

Methodology

The Same-Sex: Same Entitlements report reflects the
information, stories and opinions expressed in the 680 written submissions
collected by the Inquiry. Those submissions came from the following individuals
and groups:

  • employment bodies;
  • gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex
    individuals and couples;
  • human rights, advocacy and legal bodies;
  • members of the public;
  • non-government organisations;
  • organisations representing gay, lesbian, bisexual,
    transgender and/or intersex people;
  • parents, friends or family members of same-sex
    couples;
  • peak bodies;
  • religious organisations;
  • state and territory government agencies;
  • state equal opportunity commissions;
  • unions; and
  • universities and academics.

For a full list of those who made submissions and copies
of certain submissions see:
www.humanrights.gov.au/samesex/inquiry/submissions.html

The Same-Sex: Same Entitlements report also
reflects the evidence collected in the seven public hearings and 18 community
forums held around Australia. Those public consultations clearly revealed the
financial and emotional strain placed on gay and lesbian couples who are trying
to live their lives like everybody else in the community. For a list and summary
of the hearings and community forums see:
www.humanrights.gov.au/samesex/inquiry/hearings.html

The Inquiry also received information from 15 federal
government agencies.

The Inquiry released two discussion papers and a research
paper as a way to encourage community responses and elicit further information
from experts in the field. The final report incorporates the information in the
discussion and research papers. Copies of those papers can be found at:
www.humanrights.gov.au/samesex/inquiry/papers.html

8.3 Monitoring
and adhering to human rights

8.3.1 Immigration
detention, asylum-seekers and refugees

The President, Human Rights Commissioner and Human Rights Unit staff
conducted inspections of all mainland immigration detention facilities during
October and November 2006. In January 2007 an inspection report was published on
the HREOC website at:
www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights/asylum_seekers/inspection_of_mainland_idf.html

The inspection report notes that substantial efforts have
been made by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) to improve the
physical environment, reduce the tension levels, enhance the programs and
activities available to detainees, and improve mental health services inside
immigration detention centres.

The inspection report also notes that, despite these
improvements, the fundamental problem with immigration detention has not changed
– the length of detention and the uncertainty about how much longer that
detention will last.

The report makes 41
recommendations for improvements to the law, administration and conditions
inside detention centres. There has been constructive interaction between HREOC
and DIAC regarding those recommendations.

Commissioner Innes continues to engage with DIAC on a
variety of immigration issues.

8.4 Education and promotion of
human rights

8.4.1Community Guide for Same-Sex:
Same Entitlements Inquiry

The Same-Sex: Same Entitlements Inquiry produced a
community guide to describe discrimination against same-sex couples in a short
and simple format. The guide is available at no cost. It is an educational tool
for community groups and general members of the public.

8.4.2
Art and Essay Competitions for
Young People

In 2006 HREOC partnered with the Australian Red Cross to
run the Human Writes Essay Competition and Rights in Perspective
Art Competition.

Children and young people aged between 11 and 18 years old
were encouraged to express their views and thoughts about human rights in either
a written or visual arts form.

The Rights in Perspective Art Competition received
326 entries and the Human Writes Essay Competition received 208 entries.

The entries were judged by panels of experts including the
Human Rights Commissioner, journalists, educators, artists, curators and senior
representatives from the Australian Red Cross. Prizes were awarded for the best
works in junior and senior categories at both a state and national level.

The winning artworks and essays can be found at:
www.humanrights.gov.au/about/competitions/index.html

8.5 Legislative
Development

In addition to the legislative
changes recommended in the final report of the
Same-Sex:Same Entitlements Inquiry, the Human
Rights Unit contributes to legislative development by making written and oral
submission to Parliamentary and other Inquiries. A list of these submissions can
be found in Chapter 3 of this report, Monitoring Human Rights.

8.6 Speeches
and consultations

The Commissioner and staff conduct meetings, consultations
and media interviews on an ongoing basis.

In the 2006-07 financial year the majority of those
consultations occurred in the context of the Same-Sex: Same Entitlements
Inquiry and the immigration detention centre visits (see above).

In addition, the Commissioner gave some separate addresses
during 2006-2007. Some of those speeches can be accessed on HREOC’s
website at: www.humanrights.gov.au/about/media/speeches/human_rights/

  • ‘Canberra Launch of Same-Sex:
    Same Entitlements Report
    ,’ Human Rights Community Forum, Canberra, 29
    June, 2007.
  • ‘National Launch of Same-Sex: Same Entitlements
    Report
    ,’ Sydney, 22 June, 2007.
  • ‘Same-Sex: Same Entitlements Inquiry,’
    Queensland Association for Healthy Communities Inc Health in Difference
    Conference, Brisbane, 15 June, 2007.
  • ‘Human Rights in Australia’
    Keynote address, NSW Professional Teacher's Council Annual President’s
    Dinner, Sydney, 12 June, 2007.
  • ‘Human rights - who is my neighbour?’
    Keynote address, Mount St Benedict College, Pennant Hills, 23 May,
    2007.
  • ‘Using the Law to Make a Difference,’
    Sir Ninian Stephens Lecture, University Of Newcastle, 8 May, 2007.
  • ‘What are Human Rights?’, Keynote
    address, Service Learning Conference, Gala Dinner on Human Rights, Sydney, 18
    April, 2007.
  • What are Human Rights?,’ Liberal
    Speakers Group Meeting, Sydney, 6 March, 2007.
  • ‘Human Rights for Same Sex Couples,’
    Keynote address, Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission Human Rights Conference,
    Melbourne, 27 February, 2007.
  • ‘Seminar on the Health of Refugee
    Children,’
    Sydney Children's Hospital, Sydney, 20 September,
    2006.
  • ‘Young people and human rights,’ Youth
    for Human Rights Forum, Sydney, 11 December, 2006.
  • ‘White Ribbon Campaign Launch,’
    Sydney, 24 November, 2006.
  • ‘Challenging Discrimination against same sex
    couples at work,
    ’ Keynote address, 2nd Diversity Council of Australia
    Conference, Sydney, 26 October, 2006.