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2009 Media Release: Awards showcase watershed year for protecting human rights in Australia

Commission – General

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Awards showcase watershed year for protecting human rights in Australia

The Australian Human Rights Commission has today announced the winner of the prestigious Human Rights Medal for 2009 as Stephen Keim SC. 

Commission President Cathy Branson QC said Mr Keim, from Brisbane, Queensland, had undertaken human rights advocacy with humility and determination through out his professional life.

Federal Attorney-General, the Hon. Robert McClelland presented the Medal to Mr Keim.

“The judging panel found that the calibre of this year’s entries presented an enormous challenge, but one which was overwhelmingly inspirational,” President Branson said.

“We had worthy nominations in every category and I would like to acknowledge the very large number of extraordinary Australians who are working every day in some way to protect the human rights of individuals in Australia.”

Ms Branson said Stephen had been involved in many cases aimed at furthering the human rights of individuals and groups such as prisoners, refugees, people with disabilities and people experiencing discrimination – work he often undertook on a pro-bono basis.

“Stephen’s efforts throughout his life have been both bold and brave, with one high profile instance being his assiduous efforts undertaken at personal cost in 2007 when he represented Dr Haneef,” Ms Branson said. “Stephen had showed real courage in how he handled himself during the ensuing controversy and his advocacy led to the release and eventual clearance of Dr Haneef.”

The Highly Commended certificate for the Human Rights Medal for 2009 went to Professor Paula Barrett from Toowong, Queensland, founder of Pathways Health and Research Centre. Professor Barrett’s Friends for Life program is a proven and effective program for the prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression in children and is used in classrooms from Mexico through to Canada, Finland and Australia.

The Young People’s Human Rights Medal for 2009 was awarded to 22 year-old Vinay Menon from Applecross, Western Australia, in recognition of his voluntary advocacy work with refugees, Indigenous communities and children living with a disability.

“The judges had a difficult task in deciding a winner for the Young People’s Medal, with every single nomination chronicling worthy and admirable feats,” Ms Branson said.

“In the end, the judges were particularly impressed with Vinay’s passionate human rights advocacy, evident since the age of 15, and the recognition of his commitment reflected in his appointment as National Youth Representative of the Australian Red Cross.”

A Highly Commended certificate was presented to 21 year-old Samah Hadid from Greenacre, NSW for an outstanding commitment to human rights demonstrated through her work with youth advisory committees and efforts with young people on social justice issues and youth engagement programs.

The Human Rights Medal was sponsored by LexisNexis and the Young People’s Human Rights Medal was sponsored by the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Awards were also presented in the following categories:

Law Award (Sponsored by the Law Council of Australia)

Awarded to Gregory McIntyre SC.

Gregory McIntyre has advanced human rights through the practice of law since his first job as a solicitor with the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia. He has been involved in a number of leading and high profile human rights cases including Koowarta v Bjelke Petersen, concerning the Racial Discrimination Act and a series of other cases, including Bropho v WA and Tickner v Bropho, concerning the protection of Aboriginal heritage. In May 1982, he issued the High Court writ in Mabo v Queensland, retaining conduct of the case for 10 years including the conduct of Mabo (No 1). He ultimately appeared as Counsel for Eddie Mabo in Mabo (No 2) in which the High Court ruled that the Meriam people had native title. He has also recently provided advice to the Cape York Land Council, the Wik people and others on Cape York affected by the Archer River basin and other areas in Cape York being declared as wild river areas.

Gregory is from Adelaide Terrace, Western Australia.

A Highly Commended certificate was also awarded in this category to the Human Rights Law Resource Centre based in Melbourne, Victoria, for its efforts to overcome discrimination and promote equality through the practice of law.

Literature Non-Fiction Award (Sponsored by The Co-op Bookshop)

Awarded to Margot O’Neill for Blind Conscience.

Blind Conscience tells the stories of the people who struggled to get asylum seekers out of detention and to change government policy. It looks at what was the tipping point that made both well-known and ordinary Australians decide to become involved with asylum seekers. The book is a heartfelt, moving and inspirational examination of the point when doing nothing ceases to become an option. Margot is from Coogee, NSW.

Radio Award

Awarded to Ian Townsend, Background Briefing, ABC Radio National, for Crisis for Children.

Crisis for Children’, was a well researched program, providing in-depth insight and powerful portrayals of individuals trying to ensure children are protected from harm. The program convincingly conveyed the need for greater parental support and identified that removing children from their homes was not always the best solution. The program presented a holistic perspective on the complex issues involved in protecting children and keeping them safe. Ian is from Bardon, Queensland.

A Highly Commended certificate was also awarded in this category to Perth-based Kirsti Melville, 360º, ABC Radio National, for Losing Erin whichexplored the mental health care available to women suffering post natal depression and the things society must do to keep them safe.

Television Award

Awarded to Debbie Whitmont, Michael Doyle, Kate Wild and Anne Connolly, Four Corners, ABC Television, for Going back to Lajamanu.

This Four Corners program revisited the Northern Territory community of Lajamanu 13 years after profiling its ground-breaking bilingual school education program. Going Back to Lajamanu explored the critical importance of maintaining language - not only for the achievement of personal success among a community's individual members, but for the preservation of a people's culture. The winners are all based in Sydney, NSW.

A Highly Commended certificate was also awarded in this category to Stewart Carter, People Pictures, from Fryerstown, Victoria, for Kids’ Business, a documentary about a group counselling program that assisted school children to cope with the pressures of modern life, including issues such as domestic violence.  The program reinforced that physical and psychological safety for children were human rights that needed to be protected.

Print Media Award (Sponsored by Vibe Australia)

Awarded to Ruth Pollard, Sydney Morning Herald, for ‘Dying to be heard’.

This domestic violence exposé comprised a series of compelling and investigative articles which contained personal stories and highlighted the need for a systemic change of laws and police action. The series contained powerful and diverse voices which demonstrated that domestic violence transcends class, nationality and geography. Ruth is from Pyrmont, NSW.

Community Award (Organisation) (Sponsored by iHR Australia)

Awarded to ACON.

ACON is Australia’s largest community-based gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender healthy and HIV/AIDS organisation which aims to provide information and support for people at risk or affected by HIV and to improve access to mainstream services. It is a high visibility advocacy body and is recognised for implementing new initiatives that challenge systematic intolerance, raise awareness of diversity and encourage greater harmony between people of different race, sex, sexuality and ethnic origin. ACON is based in Darlinghurst, NSW

A Highly Commended certificate was also awarded in this category to Accessible Arts in recognition of its efforts promoting and providing opportunities for people with a disability to participate in arts and cultural activities. Accessible Arts is based in Sydney, NSW.

Community Award (Individual) Tony Fitzgerald Memorial Award

Awarded to Kate Locke.

Kate has been recognised for her passion and dedication in increasing awareness and overcoming discrimination against deaf and hearing impaired people within Australia. She has displayed strong leadership and initiative in her workplace and throughout her work. Kate is from Cremorne, NSW.

A Highly Commended certificate was also awarded in this category to Doreen Green of Halls Creek, Western Australia, for her persistence and tireless campaigning with the Halls Creek Alcohol Management group for alcohol restrictions in the remote community of Halls Creek.

Media contact: Louise McDermott 0419 258 597

2009 Human Rights Awards sponsers