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President's statement - Annual Report 2009-2010: Australian Human Rights Commission

President’s statement

By the time that this annual report is published, Professor Gillian Triggs
will have succeeded me as President of the Australian Human Rights Commission. I
wish her well in her new role and trust that she will gain the enjoyment and
satisfaction from leading the work of the Commission that I have done.

Unsurprisingly, the Commission that I leave is different in a number of ways
from the Commission that I joined in 2008. Important differences include the
increased emphasis being placed on fostering a national culture of respect for
human rights generally and the increasing use of new technologies to reach out
to the Australian public.

As part of our efforts to foster a national culture of respect for human
rights, the Commission has over the past four years adopted a more co-ordinated
and collegiate approach to our work. This is most easily seen in our adoption of
two key priorities which have informed so many of our activities during this
period. As reported in previous years, these priorities are (1) building
understanding and respect for rights and (2) tackling violence, harassment and
bullying in our community. Information about the work undertaken to advance
these priorities during the past year can be found in the body of this report.
As that information illustrates, we are making increasing use of new
technologies including the internet, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr to
convey our messages to the public.

The Commission’s increasing use of new technologies is perhaps best
illustrated by the fact that the internet has become our primary advocacy tool.
The Commission’s website has been considerably enhanced over the last four
years as a source of accessible and engaging information about rights and
responsibilities. It includes content relevant to individuals, students,
business, the non-government sector and government agencies. The website
attracted more than 17 million ‘hits’ during 2011-2012.

Additionally, on Human Rights Day 2011, I launched the Commission’s Something In Common project.

This project consists of two
inter-related websites aimed at building understanding and respect for rights in
the community. The Something In Common project is designed to provide
short facts, interactive content including personal video stories and
opportunities to take actions which demonstrate respect for rights.

steadily increasing numbers of visitors to these sites is very pleasing.

Another example of our use of a new technology is the recent YouTube launch
by the Commission of a national competition for children between 13–17
years of age to address cyber-bulling. The Commission is delighted to have
forged some excellent partnerships with government and private sector
organisations to support its innovative BackMeUp campaign which is
described in more detail in the body of this report.

This increasing use of new technologies does not mean that the Commission has
abandoned reliance on more traditional means of education. During the year under
review we continued, for example, to engage with the Australian Curriculum,
Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) to ensure the inclusion of human
rights in school education. We continued to work with the
Attorney-General’s Department to ensure human rights training for the
public sector and to develop a better understanding of what constitutes
effective community-based human rights education. Our Investigation and
Conciliation Service continued to identify ways of providing education and
thereby achieving systemic change through our individual complaints based work.
We also completed a pilot program that aims to enhance the human rights
understanding of community development workers. This Certificate IV in Human
Rights Education and Advocacy has integrated human rights content into the
formal curriculum for community cultural development workers working with Muslim
women. It has received positive feedback and we plan to expand the project to
other audiences and to refine its content over the next 12 months.

Additionally, in September 2011 I launched the Australian Public Sector Human
Rights Network. This network is designed to provide public servants who have
responsibilities for policy development, law reform and service delivery with
collegiate support, opportunities to learn from experts and a forum within which
to share experiences in human rights protections. I am delighted that the
network has grown rapidly and now has nearly 600 members.

Two new Commissioners joined the Commission during 2011-2012, enhancing our
collegiate strength. The Hon Susan Ryan AO joined us as Australia’s first
Age Discrimination Commissioner on 8 August 2011 and Dr Helen Szoke became Race
Discrimination Commissioner on 5 September 2011. Following the arrival of Dr
Szoke, each of our specialist Commissioners held only one statutory office.
Throughout 2011–2012, I continued to hold both the offices of President
and Human Rights Commissioner.

In my capacity as Human Rights Commissioner, I have continued to monitor the
human rights impacts of Australia’s system of mandatory and indefinite
immigration detention, publishing a report about conditions of detention at
Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in September 2011. I have welcomed the
continuing implementation of the decision of the Minster for Immigration to
allow increasing numbers of families, children and other vulnerable individuals
to live in the community either through placement into community detention or
following the grant of bridging visas. During the first half of 2012, we met
with a number of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless people who are living in
the community, and with individuals in four immigration detention facilities in
Melbourne and Sydney who are facing protracted detention with little prospect of
release. A report regarding these visits will be published in late July 2012.

An issue of particular concern in this policy area is the situation of
refugees who have been issued with an adverse security assessment and who remain
in indefinite immigration detention. People in this situation are not
necessarily told the reasons for ASIO’s decision nor do they have any
substantive opportunity for appeal. This past year, I have strongly advocated
for reform of the legal framework governing the conduct of ASIO security

The Commission has also worked with the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the
Attorney-General’s Department to develop a set of immigration detention
standards, based on international human rights standards, which will be
published in the second half of 2012.

On 21 November 2011, as President of the Commission, I announced an Inquiry
into Australia’s treatment of individuals suspected of people smuggling
offences who said that they were children. I did so because of my concern that
the human rights of this particularly vulnerable group of young Indonesians were
not being respected. This concern focussed particularly on the means being used
to assess their ages. My decision followed prolonged correspondence with the
then Attorney-General and the government’s failure to agree to review the
cases of all of the young Indonesians who said that they were children who had
been convicted as adults or who were awaiting trial having been charged as
adults. The report of this Inquiry will be published in late July 2012.

It has been a privilege for me to hold the offices of President of the
Australian Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Commissioner and to have the
opportunity to work with my wonderful colleagues on the Commission and our
dedicated and hardworking staff. The Commission is Australia’s national
human rights institution. As the Principles relating to the Status of National
Institutions (The Paris Principles) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993
reflect, appropriately funded and independent national human rights institutions
have an important role to play in ensuring the promotion and protection of human
rights within their own countries. Seen in this light, the role of the
Commission is to give relevance within Australia to the international human
rights instruments by which our government has agreed to be bound. I leave with
confidence that, under the leadership of Professor Triggs, the Commission will
continue to fulfil this important role.

The Hon. Catherine Branson, QC

President and Human Rights Commissioner