Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Australia in a 'race to the bottom' on human rights

By Howard Glenn - posted Wednesday, 5 October 2005

There’s a host of initiatives, a lot of new organisations campaigning, and a lot of old organisations re-invigorated. And while it’s good to see all sorts of activity on the human rights front, let’s be clear that there’ll be no quick fixes.

One of my closest colleagues over the last few years is a former foreign correspondent, who was working in Sydney when a political shift in his home country made it unsafe for him to return. His application for asylum was treated with Immigration’s usual delicacy: he spent over a year in Villawood detention centre and has been kept on a bridging visa (no work, no income, no health care) for over four years now, as the courts continue to overturn adverse decisions of the department’s shabby Refugee Review Tribunal. His optimism about his future despite all this is sometimes quite annoying. He even makes regular re-payments towards his $64,000 detention bill. His catch-phrase in most of the talks he gives about his situation is, “remember, the darkest time is always just before the dawn”.

After the recent “terrorism summit”, it’s clear that dawn is a bit further off yet. The Howard Government has modernised the politics of fear, and brought the old Menzies mastery into the 21st century. Apparently an ASIO briefing, that there were 800 potential terrorists already in Australia, hardened the resolve of the premiers, who have agreed to legislate away any obstacles to the federal government’s plans. The “800 terrorists” story emerged in a report leaked to The Australian newspaper, and quickly got a run around the world. Away from the hype of the summit and in the cold light of day, these figures reflect more on the credibility of ASIO. ASIO’s boss Philip Ruddock jumped in with the sort of clarification one has come to expect from him:


Well, they're right in this sense that there are people in Australia that we believe are motivated to carry out such acts. But the numbers are highly speculative, and I can't confirm or deny any particular number. But the fact is, and it's an undeniable fact, that some people in Australia have trained with terrorist organisations.

The leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley,  wants to take things a step further, because Labor is tough on terrorism too:

We've put out one suggestion which is similar to legislation which exists now in NSW, so it's a bit tougher and we think it should be picked up in the other states in a uniform way and by Canberra, and that is to give the capacity to the police commissioner in any jurisdiction to lock down an area from which he believes a terrorist threat may be emerging or where it's actually occurred. This gives the police substantial powers of search and seizure.

Vote Labor to lock down Lakemba!

Now the good thing about all this is, as a political staffer friend pointed out this week, there’ll be a short period of time when we can all have an extra 14-day holiday. Just don’t turn up for work, and tell your boss that you can’t talk about where you’ve been. Security. You may even benefit from a new respect or fear. That’s until the IR laws come in and your boss can sack you for any reason, or none.

It’s clear though that we’re back to bi-partisan support for the mistreatment of the unpopular for political gain: support for a whole set of new laws that take away fundamental rights, with an absence of any remedies or real protections. When the government talks about bringing us into line with UK laws, it forgets to mention that we actually have a different legal system to the UK and most other Western countries - there are no effective human rights review or remedy mechanisms. Sure things aren’t perfect in the UK, USA, Canada, Europe - and governments and executives take actions which breach their own laws - but they do face review, complaint and remedy.


What’s also clear is that there’s a long way to go in Australia for those of us who want to challenge the laws: a lot of pain for those who are going to be caught up in them, and a lot of pain and neglect for others who are going to be ignored because there’s only room in the media for terrorism stories.

There’s a host of initiatives, a lot of new organisations campaigning, and a lot of old organisations re-invigorated. Our collective effort so far though has been to achieve a couple of sharp yaps from premiers before they rolled over and had their tummies tickled.

There’s another initiative coming this week, from New Matilda’s Malcolm Fraser, John Menadue and Susan Ryan. Having rebuffed various approaches from people in the field to discuss their plans, these three are coming down from the mountains this week to deliver us a tablet called a Human Rights Act for Australia. In the publicity for the launch, there’s a claim, “we will be the only organisation that will have a fully considered and drafted Act”, that “previous campaigns have suffered in part because they were led by the legal profession”, that “the campaign will require $80,000 to be successful”, and an aim to “have a Bill tabled and debated as a Private Member’s Bill within 12 months of the launch”.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

32 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Howard Glenn leads lobby group Rights Australia Inc, was previously founder and national director of Australians for Just Refugee Programs, and brought the widest range of organisations and individuals together to challenge poor treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.

Formerly CEO of the National Australia Day Council, he was responsible for modernising national celebrations and the Australian of the Year Awards, and involving communities across Australia in debates on reconciliation, republic and national identity.

Howard was an adviser to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the Hawke-Keating Governments, and had key involvement with Indigenous education policy, the response to the deaths in custody Royal Commission and the establishment of the reconciliation process. Outside government he has extensive community sector involvement, currently on human rights, HIV-AIDS, drug and alcohol issues. When not at a computer, Howard is a middle distance runner and a surf lifesaver.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Howard Glenn

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Howard Glenn
Article Tools
Comment 32 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend
Latest from Rights Australia Inc
 Why Australians deserve a right to privacy
 Future thinking
 Refugees and asylum-seekers no threat to our security
 Prosperity with purpose - a fresh approach to some unfinished business
 Reconciliation spirit is vital

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy