Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Geneva, Switzerland
Address: Chemin des Fins 2, Case Postale 102, 1211 Geneva 19 - Telephone: 022 799 9100 - Fax: 022 799 9178

Response of Australia to Recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Delivered by HE Mr Peter Woolcott, Australian Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva

31 January 2011

Thank you Mr President. On behalf of the Government of Australia, I want to thank the Chair and the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). In particular I want to thank Australia’s Troika – Djibouti, France and Slovakia – and the UPR Secretariat for their invaluable contribution and assistance.

As Senator Kate Lundy, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, emphasised last Thursday, the Australian Government is firmly committed to the overarching goal of a fairer and more inclusive Australia. For a community that respects the rights of all is stronger, safer and more resilient to challenges. We hope that we have demonstrated this core belief through our interaction with the Working Group of the Human Rights Council as part of our preparation and presentation of Australia’s first Universal Periodic Review.

Australia would like to thank all delegates for their positive and constructive interaction with us. We received a total of 145 recommendations, reflecting the seriousness and dedication that delegations brought to their work. We would also like to acknowledge the commitment and energy of Australia’s human rights NGO community and Australia’s Human Rights Commission, and their engagement in this process. We are looking forward to continuing our cooperation in the follow-up to the UPR.

The Australian Government will carefully analyse all the recommendations received. We will consult with a broad range of stakeholders before providing a detailed response at the June 2011 session of the Human Rights Council. The Attorney-General will lead this process. He will work with his Ministerial colleagues, State and Territory Governments, the Australian Human Rights Commission and civil society, so that the recommendations receive the serious and thoughtful consideration they require.

Australia would like to acknowledge the key areas of concern raised by delegations. These can be broadly categorised as follows: Australia’s ratification of additional international human rights instruments; domestic legal protections; the rights of Indigenous peoples; combating racism and promoting tolerance; violence against women and children; rights of persons with disability; refugee and asylum seeker policy; and Australia’s counter-terrorism measures.

International human rights instruments

Several delegations made recommendations that Australia should ratify certain treaties or instruments to which Australia is not a party. Let me address some of these. Australia is committed to ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture as a matter of priority and is working to put in place the necessary domestic measures. The Government will be considering its position with regard to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and ILO Convention 169. Several delegations recommended that Australia withdraw its existing reservations to human rights treaties. The Government will establish a systematic and regular process to review these reservations.

Domestic legal protections

Some delegations questioned whether the treaties and instruments to which Australia is already a party have been given proper legal effect in Australian domestic law. Before Australia ratifies or becomes bound by a treaty, the Australian Government satisfies itself that any legislation necessary to implement the treaty is in place.

Australia’s new Human Rights Framework includes a requirement that each new piece of legislation introduced into the Federal Parliament be accompanied by a statement assessing its compatibility with Australia’s international human rights obligations. The Australian Government has also committed to establishing a new Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights. Australia is in the process of harmonising and consolidating federal anti-discrimination laws, including federal protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender status. Human rights education is a key element of Australia’s Human Rights Framework. And the Government is currently preparing a new National Human Rights Action Plan. The Government’s position is that the combination of these measures will ensure that human rights remain appropriately protected in Australian domestic law and policy.

Rights of Indigenous peoples

Many delegations made recommendations about the rights of Indigenous Australians. The Australian Government acknowledges without reservation that many of our Indigenous people face significant disadvantage and challenges in enjoying their human rights. It is a situation that the Government is addressing through the comprehensive ‘Closing the Gap’ strategy. Recognising the special and unique position of Indigenous peoples, Australia has established a new National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.

Australia is also committed to pursuing recognition of Indigenous Australians in our Constitution. In response to several recommendations I would also like to reiterate that Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act was fully reinstated by legislation passed in June 2010 in relation to the Northern Territory Emergency Response.

Australia condemns racism in all its forms. We are proud to point to our achievements in building a tolerant and inclusive multicultural society. This will be further strengthened through the Government’s establishment, announced during this UPR, of a full-time Race Discrimination Commissioner. The Government is currently considering the adoption of a new multiculturalism policy. Australia will continue to work strongly to ensure the welfare and safety of international students.

Women and children

We note that a number of delegations raised the need to intensify efforts in combating violence against women and children. As a matter of priority, the Government is finalising Australia’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. This is a coordinated effort among Federal, State and Territory Governments to reduce the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault. The National Action Plan is expected to be endorsed by all Australian Governments early in 2011.

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities are highly valued members of Australian communities and workplaces, and make an important contribution to Australian society. The draft National Disability Strategy, which was publicly released by the Prime Minister in July 2010, will help Australia to implement its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We note that a number of delegations raised the specific issue of non-therapeutic sterilisation. Australia recognises that this is a sensitive issue and notes the importance of appropriate safeguards to ensure protection of rights.

Refugees and asylum seekers

Australia received a range of recommendations relating to refugees and asylum seekers. Australia remains one of the top three resettlement countries for refugees in the world and a major donor to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

Clearly, the issue of those who seek to enter Australia in an unauthorised manner is difficult, challenging and sensitive. We acknowledge this. Unauthorised arrivals are part of a broader phenomenon of irregular movement in the Asia-Pacific region. We are seeking to address this, in cooperation with other countries, through the establishment of a sustainable regional protection framework. We thank those delegations who made reference to this work. A fundamental point is that the Government remains fully committed to its non-refoulement obligations under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and other international human rights instruments. A number of delegations raised the issue of mandatory detention. The Australian Government is committed to treating asylum seekers and refugees humanely and fairly while maintaining its commitment to strong border control. Recent policy decisions taken by the Government are expanding community-based accommodation, especially for unaccompanied children and vulnerable families.

Terrorism and human rights

Australia condemns terrorism and its impact on the enjoyment of human rights. The Government sees counter-terrorism measures and human rights as interdependent. We acknowledge that it is important to keep our laws under review. The forthcoming appointment of a new Independent National Security Legislation Monitor is designed to enable the review of the operation and effectiveness of counter-terrorism and national security laws. This includes their conformity with Australia’s international human rights obligations.

Mr Chair, there were many other recommendations made as part of Australia’s UPR. Time does not allow me to address them all. The Australian Government will carefully consider all recommendations with a view to responding formally at the June session of this Council.

We would like once again to thank all delegations for their constructive and valuable contributions as part of Australia’s UPR.

Thank you.