I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a while, but the topic has proven quite overwhelming. Where to begin? Mandatory detention of refugees (including children) in detention centres which are effectively legal blackholes, Australia’s homegrown version of Guantanamo Bay. The threat to free speech and legitimate protest embodied in the Gunns 20 lawsuit against the Wilderness Society and other environmental activists. Australia’s ongoing disgraceful treatment of its indigenous population, including abolishing ATSIC and the NSW government’s urban renewal plans for Redfern, urban renewal being code for squeezing out the Aborigines.
Australia’s human rights record has once again been condemned by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (link to pdf of the Committee’s March 2005 report, CERD/C/AUS/CO/14).
To quote a portion of an article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald about this (David Marr, “Geneva v. Canberra,” Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 28, 2005, at 13):
Canberra has learnt one lesson superbly. Instead of raging and complaining about Geneva's intrusion into Australia's domestic affairs, it's much better to shut up. The effort ministers put into denigrating the committee system the last time round only gave the issue more oxygen. After the latest verdict a little more than a fortnight ago, there was no thunder from Howard, Downer or Ruddock. Not even a press release. Silence effectively killed the story.
The Howard government is masterful in its ability to manipulate Australian public opinion and deflect all forms of criticism. But I really hope that they don’t get off the hook quite so easily on this one. To be fair to them, the Howard government isn't causing the Gunns 20 lawsuit or the racist Redfern redevelopment plans, but they are still answerable to the international community for all human rights abuses which occur in Australia, whether committed by state governments or corporations.
By the way, I'm partially retracting some of the opinions I stated in a previous post which discussed the merits of written versus unwritten constitutions. No system is perfect, and every system can be manipulated by those in power. That said, if Australia had a written constitution with prohibitions against discrimination and guarantees of due process and freedom of speech, it is quite unlikely that these abuses would be happening in Australia today.