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Annual Report 2001-2002: Chapter 6

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Annual Report 2000-2001

Chapter 6: Human Rights

Human Rights Commissioner - Dr Sev OzdowskiHuman
Rights Commissioner and acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner,
Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM

Dr Ozdowski has
made public education on human rights a priority for his term. Other
priority areas are the elderly in our ageing society and children. Dr
Ozdowski is working to progress the Commission’s 2000 recommendations
for alleviating age discrimination, as set out in the report Age
matters: a report on age discrimination.

Chris Sidoti’s
term as Human Rights Commissioner ended on 13 August 2000

Education and promotion

National Human Rights Dialogue

Research on public
attitudes to human rights suggests that, on one hand, Australians are
committed to human rights ideals. They are comfortable with the general
notion of rights and freedoms and share a core national value of basic
justice and fairness expressed in the “fair go” ideal.

On the other hand,
a number of trends appear to be emerging that indicate a marked shift
in perceptions of human rights achievements during the course of the
1990s. In a survey undertaken by ANU’s Social Science Data Archive
in 1991 almost two-thirds (64%) of respondents said that Australia is
yet to achieve equal rights for all. By decade’s end almost as
many (60%) felt that, at least for migrants and women, equal opportunity
had been achieved.

There is also a
disturbing lack of knowledge about key human rights laws and procedures.
Contrary to the fact that international human rights treaties need to
be ratified and incorporated into domestic legislation by the Australian
Parliament before they can operate as domestic law, many people believe
that human rights are imposed upon Australia – in violation of
Australian sovereignty – by the United Nations, which in turn is
portrayed as an unaccountable world government. There is a continuing
perception that human rights serve only special interest groups at the
expense of the majority and in violation of the cherished ideal of equality.
Many Australians remain unsure about the extent to which their own rights
are protected.

To address these
issues, Dr Ozdowski has established the National Human Rights Dialogue
which aims to provide leadership, information and opportunities for
debate, especially about topical human rights issues and about how to
strengthen the machinery for the protection of human rights in Australia.
The Commissioner believes that winning the hearts and minds of all Australians
is necessary for further advancement of human rights protection in Australia.

Dr Ozdowski’s
National Human Rights Dialogue has three principal objectives:

1. To increase
public awareness of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the
role of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

2. To stimulate
public debate about human rights issues in Australia including the
effectiveness of existing Australian human rights protections and
the need for a bill of rights.

3. To build a
network of interested people and organisations promoting human rights
in Australia.

An honorary advisory
group has been appointed constituted by:

  • Mr Gerald Frape,
    Director, Dialogue Media Pty Ltd
  • Professor Andrew
    Jakubowicz, Professor of Sociology, University of Technology Sydney
  • Ms Josie Lacey,
    Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia
  • Mr Peter Murphy,
    NOW We the People
  • Mr Peter O’Brien,
    Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation
  • Mr Chris Sidoti,
    Visiting Professor, University of Western Sydney

The advice of this
group, supplemented by information and analysis provided by Mr Mark
Nolan from the ANU, has been invaluable.

To date Dr Ozdowski
has addressed a number of meetings, met with many federal, State and
Territory MPs and peak non-government organisation leaders and participated
in consultation meetings in Alice Springs, Broome, Perth, Tuggerah Lakes
and elsewhere. The National Human Rights Dialogue website is regularly
updated:http://www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights/human_rights_dialogue/index.html

Immigration detention centres

The Human Rights
Commissioner continues to monitor conditions at immigration detention
centres and the treatment of detainees. In the past year the following
centres have been inspected:

  • Maribyrnong
    Immigration Detention Centre, Melbourne, 18 July 2000 and 22 March
    2001.
  • Villawood Immigration
    Detention Centre, Sydney, 23 August 2000.
  • Perth Immigration
    Detention Centre, 4 September 2000 and 29 June 2001.
  • Woomera Immigration
    Reception and Processing Centre, SA, 28 February 2001.
  • Curtin Immigration
    Reception and Processing Centre, near Derby in WA, 29 July 2000 and
    25 and 26 June 2001.
  • Port Hedland
    Immigration Reception and Processing Centre, WA, 28 June 2001.

Following each
inspection the conditions and treatment are evaluated by reference to
the Commission’s Immigration Detention Guidelines (March
2000) which collate international minimum standards on detention. Comments
and suggestions are communicated to the immigration detention authorities.

A report on Commissioner
Sidoti’s visit to the Curtin Immigration Reception and Processing
Centre on 29 July 2000 has been published on the Commission’s website.
Dr Ozdowski will report on his 2001 inspections next year.

Prisoners
as Citizens

A project entitled
‘Prisoners as Citizens’ aims to raise public awareness of
and discussion about prisoners’ human rights. It has two components.
The first was a workshop convened in Sydney on 27 November 2000 with
more than 120 participants. The workshop was addressed by two keynote
speakers: Dr William Jonas AM, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Social Justice Commissioner, and Baroness Vivien Stern from the International
Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College London who travelled
to Australia as a guest of the Commission.

A panel on existing
avenues for redressing prisoners’ grievances and their limitations
followed with presentations from Ms Karen Fletcher, Queensland Prisoners’
Legal Service, Mr Lindsay Le Compte, NSW Inspector-General of Corrective
Services, Mr Greg Andrews, NSW Assistant Ombudsman, Ms Maggie Smythe,
NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, and Mr John Pace, Australian Human Rights
Centre. The Hon. Elizabeth Evatt, then a member of the UN Human Rights
Committee, provided a paper dealing with the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights but was regrettably unable to attend the
workshop due to her international commitments.

Participants then
moved into one of five working groups dealing with:

  • Strategies to
    encourage the formal adoption of the Standard Guidelines for Corrections
    in Australia.
  • Strategies for
    ensuring minority prisoners can enjoy their entitlements
  • Building prisoners’
    knowledge and capacities to assert their rights.
  • The implementation
    of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners with
    respect to the responsibilities, qualifications and training of prison
    personnel.
  • Benchmarking
    prison services including health care.

The second component
of the project involves the publication of a book of contributions on
prisoners’ rights. More than 50 submissions were received from
serving prisoners, who were invited to write by means of a pamphlet
sent to all jurisdictions for distribution in every prison. The Commission
records its appreciation to each Australian correctional authority for
assisting us in making the project known to prisoners. The book is due
for publication late in 2001.

Children’s participation
– Action Exchange

The Convention
on the Rights of the Child
provides that every child is capable
of forming his or her own views and has the right to express them freely
in all matters affecting the child. Action Exchange aims to promote
children’s participation through an interactive webpage on the
‘Lawstuff’ website of the National Children’s and Youth
Law Centre. It features models of child and youth participation in collective
actions in children’s interests. Among them are seven entries to
a national competition promoting the site: www.lawstuff.org.au
. The Commission records its appreciation to the National Children’s
and Youth Law Centre for its creative participation in this project
and for hosting the Action Exchange site. We are also grateful to the
13 projects which entered the competition and congratulate them all
on their efforts. The winners were:

  • Youth Radio
    Show, 4ZzZ (Brisbane)
  • ‘Turn it
    Up’ youth radio at South Sydney Youth Services
  • City of Swan
    Youth Advisory Council (Perth)
  • VicSTARs (a
    reconciliation group in Victoria)
  • Reach Out! Youth
    Advisory Board (on-line)
  • Port Augusta
    Anti-Bullying Council (SA)
  • Princes Hill
    Secondary College Student Action Team (Victoria).

Three regional
water authorities have combined in a partnership with Mallee Family
Care to establish a fund ‘to ensure that the absence of money does
not stand in the way of a youngster’s ability to achieve their
maximum potential’. Although only launched in mid-June 2001, Chances
for Children has already granted assistance to a number of young people
from the region who commenced tertiary studies during the year.

Rural health initiatives

During the Commission’s
1998-99 Bush Talks consultations, inadequate, inaccessible and diminishing
health services emerged as the principal human rights concern. In response
the Commission decided to promote local health initiatives addressing
local health service gaps. The Healthy Rural Communities website highlights
innovative community health projects in remote and rural areas of Australia:
http://www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights/rural_health/index.html
.

Featured on the
site are:

  • Community Health
    Adolescent Murraylands Peer Support (CHAMPS) (South Australia)
  • Coming Home
    - a workshop on Rural Careers in Health for Year 10 students (NSW)
  • Desert Acrobats
    (Western Australia)
  • Nyirrpi Grandmothers’
    Women’s Health Program (Northern Territory)
  • Sage Hill Carers’
    Service (Victoria)
  • Yeoval Multi-Purpose
    Health Centre (NSW).

The website also
describes the human right to health and provides links to government
and other health funding sources.

Balancing freedom
of religion and freedom from religious discrimination

During the year
the Commission engaged in extensive national consultations on employers’
responsibility to avoid discrimination on the ground of religion in
relation to employment and the rights of religious institutions to select
certain staff on the basis of their religious affiliations, at least
in part. The resulting information paper entitled The Human Rights
and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986
(Cth): its application
to religious freedom and the right to non-discrimination in employment

has been published at http://www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights/religion/index.html

Research and policy

National Inquiry
into Rural and Remote Education

The National
Inquiry into Rural and Remote Education
conducted by Commissioner
Sidoti concluded during the year with the production and distribution
of three publications. This followed the tabling of its report, Recommendations,
on 28 June 2000. The report made 73 recommendations for action by the
Commonwealth, State and Territory education providers, non-government
education providers and others. The government has yet to respond to
the recommendations.

In July 2000 the
Commission published School Communities detailing models for community
participation in schools. Education Access, which sets out case studies
of children with restricted or no access to a school or adequate curriculum,
was launched in August. A short CD, Student Voices, was produced for
schools which had participated in the inquiry. It features the views
and experiences of some of the students who gave evidence to the inquiry.

These publications
have been widely distributed to inquiry witnesses, schools in rural
and remote areas, public libraries in country areas and State and federal
MPs in rural electorates. They are now out of print but can be downloaded
from the Commission’s website: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights/rural_education/index.html

UN General Assembly Special
Session on Children

The UN General
Assembly will convene a special session in New York in September 2001
to review progress in the decade since the 1990 World Summit for Children
and to determine new goals and initiatives.

Dr Ozdowski participated
in the third preparatory conference held in June 2001 and intends to
attend the Special Session. In preparation for his participation he
will consult with Australian children’s and youth organisations
with the assistance of Children’s Commissioners at the State level,
where they exist, and others.

Information about
the Special Session and the Commissioner’s activities can be found
on the Commission’s website at http://www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights/child_special_session/index.html

Legislative reform and assessment

Age discrimination inquiry

The report of the
Commission’s inquiry into age discrimination, Age Matters, was
tabled in the Parliament on 28 June 2000 and officially launched at
a function hosted by the Council on the Ageing Australia in Melbourne
on 18 July 2000. The report makes recommendations for Commonwealth compliance
with the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (ILO
111) and also with the non-discrimination and equality before the law
provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC). Among
a range of proposals is the recommendation that protection against age
discrimination needs to be strengthened with legislation at the federal
level.

Norfolk Island electoral
reforms

In March 2001 Dr
Ozdowski made a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the National
Capital and External Territories inquiry into Norfolk Island Electoral
Matters. The submission outlined the human rights issues relevant to
reform of the franchise under the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights. The Committee has yet to report on its inquiry.

Serious and organised crime
investigation

In May 2001 Dr
Ozdowski made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation
Committee inquiry into the Measures to Combat Serious and Organised
Crime Bill 2001. Dr Ozdowski drew particular attention into the inadequate
measures proposed to ensure that people with hearing impairments or
intellectual disabilities understand the caution informing them of the
right to remain silent during police questioning. The Inquiry’s
June 2001 report includes the recommendation that “the Government,
in reconsidering the drafting of the proposed amendments, take account
of the submission of the Human Rights and Disability Discrimination
Commissioner, particularly as it relates to the manner of giving the
caution” (page 43).

Speeches

Attached is a selection
of speeches, seminars and presentations made by the Human Rights Commissioners
in the reporting period. Selected papers are available on the Commission’s
website at: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/speeches/

Commissioner Chris Sidoti
– 1 July-13 August 2000

3 July 00, “Education:
rural children’s right” – AADES/SPERA International Conference,
Cairns.

16 July 00, “Expectations
of rural and remote students” - National Council of Independent
Schools’ Associations 2000 National Conference, Barossa Valley.

27 July 00, “School
communities: working together to secure our children’s future”
– Notre Dame University, Broome.

3 August 00, “Access
to education: a human right for every child” - 29th Annual Federal
Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association Conference, Griffith.

Dr Sev Ozdowski – 8
December 2000 - 30 June 2001

29 March 01, “Human
Rights and Multiculturalism” - Multiculturalism in a New Millennium
Policy Forum, Brisbane.

19 June 01, “Human
Rights in Contemporary Australia” - Centre for
Intercultural Studies and Multicultural Education, University of Adelaide.

20 June 01, “What
are human rights?” – Rotary Club of Adelaide.

23 June 01, “The
Human Rights Commission and its role in supporting the
principles of the UN system” - 2001 National Conference of the
United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA), Canberra.