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Dialogue or Monologue – Human Rights in Australia

John von Doussa
Date and time: 
23 November, 2003 - 13:00

"Australia remains one of a diminishing number of common law countries without a bill of rights or a charter of fundamental rights. Many say Australia does not need a bill of rights. The official Government line is that Australia is a harmonious multicultural society with a strong sense of natural inclusiveness; a land where everyone gets a “fair go”, a land with a firmly entrenched rule of law. This view assumes legal rights beyond those already recognised by the common law and statute are not needed.

In the closing years of the 20th century, this optimistic assessment seemed correct. Australia had acceded to major international human rights instruments. Large parts of them had been enacted into domestic law. Anti-discrimination law was in place federally and in States and territories.

Apart from Australia’s treatment of Indigenous people and emerging concerns in the international community about the way it was dealing with asylum-seekers, Australia was regarded internationally as a leader in protecting human rights.

There was a promising movement towards reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It was boosted by the Mabo decision and an understanding of the cruel imprints of history through the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and what was widely known as the Stolen Generation Inquiry. The “bridge walks” in 2000 were powerful public displays of support for reconciliation. Promising dialogue was taking place.

But what then happened? In recent years dialogue on human rights seems to have stalled. The enjoyment of rights by Indigenous people and by minorities has suffered serious blows."


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