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Framing and advancing national human rights agendas - Annual Report 2009-2010: Australian Human Rights Commission

The year in review

Framing and advancing national human rights agendas

Advancing the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Formally recognising the unique position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution has the potential to provide an important step forward on the journey to national reconciliation.

With all major political parties endorsing the need for constitutional change, it is vital that a final proposal also has widespread public understanding and support.

An Expert Panel, which includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, was established in December 2010 to lead a nationwide conversation on the issue. A public discussion paper was released in May 2011.

Key issues raised in the ‘You me unity’ community consultations so far have included recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the preamble to the Constitution, removing discriminatory provisions and including a guarantee of equal treatment and non-discrimination.

In December 2011, the Expert Panel will provide a report to the Australian Government on options for formally recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution.

The Commission is providing secretarial support for the work of the Expert Panel.

During the year, we continued to monitor developments in relation to the Northern Territory Emergency Response – the ‘NT Intervention’ – and listened to community concerns.

With the legislation establishing the NT Intervention set to lapse in August 2012, we will continue to advocate the need for genuine community engagement in the development of policies, programs and services to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander communities.

In June 2011, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples held its inaugural national meeting, with Commissioner Gooda invited to present the keynote address.

The new national representative body, established as a company and independent from government, will advocate for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights.

The Commission has been proud to provide assistance in developing the framework for the National Congress, through the work of the previous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma. We look forward to supporting its important work.

Building a diverse, harmonious Australia

On 16 February 2011, Race Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, welcomed the release of The People of Australia: Australia’s Multicultural Policy.

The policy – the first since 2003 – highlights the economic and social benefits of cultural diversity and commits to fairness, equality and inclusion for all people in Australia.

The Commission will directly contribute to a National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy, which will be established as part of the policy.

This important initiative will also help Australia implement key recommendations of recent United Nations reviews, including the Universal Periodic Review and the report of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Stronger human rights scrutiny

During the year, the Commission endorsed a proposal by the Australian Government for all new federal laws to be assessed against the international human rights standards that Australia has agreed to uphold.

In July 2010, we presented our submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Bill 2010 and the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2010.

We believe that the proposed Joint Parliamentary Committee will help build understanding and acceptance of human rights standards in Australia and ensure a more considered approach to the development of new laws.

Our submission included four key recommendations to strengthen the operation of the proposed Committee.

During 2010-11, we provided support for a range of other activities to advance Australia’s Human Rights Framework, including the review and consolidation of federal discrimination laws and the development of a new National Action Plan on Human Rights.

The Challenging Racism project

In February 2011, an anti-racism study of 12500 Australians, conducted by the University of Western Sydney and supported by the Commission, reported that 84% of people believe racism exists in Australia and 12% said they were prejudiced against other cultures. The vast majority (87%) supported multiculturalism.

Closing the gap

On 24 March 2011, tens of thousands of Australians took part in events around the country and pledged their support to help close the 10-17 year Indigenous life expectancy gap.

During an address to the National Press Club to mark the campaign’s fifth anniversary, Co-chair of the Close the Gap Campaign, Mick Gooda, said ‘people power’ was crucial to achieving Indigenous life expectancy equality within a generation.

Other major activities

During the past 12 months, the Commission:

  • highlighted the need to strengthen the protection and monitoring of children’s rights by establishing a national Children’s Commissioner
  • continued to advocate for the introduction of a comprehensive National Disability Insurance Scheme
  • drew attention to the need for all parts of the Australian community to take a stand against age discrimination, especially discrimination experienced by mature workers
  • promoted our gender equality blueprint with government, business, the community and other stakeholders.