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Human Rights Council – 17th Session
Consideration of the Universal Periodic Review Report of Australia
Statement by HE Mr Peter Woolcott
Australian Permanent Representative to the United Nations
and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva
8 June 2011
Thank you Mr President.
At our Universal Periodic Review on 27 January, Australia received 145 recommendations, from some 53 countries. At the adoption of the Draft UPR Working Group Report, the Australian Government committed to consulting with a broad range of stakeholders before providing a detailed response at this session of the Human Rights Council.
Since January, the Attorney-General has led an extensive consultation process to determine Australia’s position on the recommendations. In March, the Attorney-General and Senator Kate Lundy, who led the Australian UPR delegation, tabled the Draft UPR Working Group Report in the Australian Parliament. The Australian Government has consulted across government, including with the States and Territories. The Australian Government has also participated in a number of meetings with the Australian Human Rights Commission, non-government organisations and civil society to discuss the UPR recommendations and our response.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Australian Human Rights Commission and non-Government organisations for their constructive engagement throughout the consultation phase. We welcome the commitment and energy brought to the UPR process by Australia’s human rights community.
Today, Australia presents its response to the 145 recommendations made during its interactive dialogue. In total, Australia will accept or accept-in-part 94 per cent, that is 137, of these recommendations. Our response was submitted to the UPR Secretariat on 27 May, and is available as an addendum to the report of the Working Group.
In addition, the Australian Government would like to take this opportunity to announce that it intends to provide the Human Rights Council with an interim report prior to its next UPR.
At the adoption of the Draft UPR Working Group Report, we identified the key focus areas raised by delegations in Australia’s UPR as follows: first, Australia’s ratification of additional international human rights instruments; second, domestic legal protections; third, the rights of Indigenous peoples; fourth, combating racism and promoting tolerance; fifth, violence against women and children; sixth, rights of persons with disability; seventh, refugee and asylum seeker policy; and eighth, Australia’s counter-terrorism measures.
Since the Australian delegation appeared before the UPR Working Group in late-January, a number of important developments have occurred in each of these areas. In the context of providing our response to recommendations, the Australian Government would like to highlight some of these recent developments. They demonstrate the Australian Government’s continuing commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights.
International obligations and domestic implementation
A number of UPR recommendations made to Australia related to Australia’s international human rights obligations and domestic implementation of those obligations.
At our UPR, the Australian Government committed to using accepted recommendations to inform the development of Australia’s new National Human Rights Action Plan. Preparation of the National Human Rights Action Plan is well underway and a draft will be released for public consultation later this year.
Progress has also been made in developing an education and training program for Commonwealth public servants to raise awareness and understanding of Australia’s international human rights obligations. The program will be delivered through face-to-face seminars, workshops and a dedicated web page.
As an additional element of Australia’s Human Rights Framework, legislation is currently before the Parliament that will establish a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Bills will establish mechanisms designed to encourage early consideration of human rights in the development of policy and legislation. In particular, they will require new legislation to be accompanied by a Statement of Compatibility with Australia’s human rights obligations in the seven core United Nations human rights treaties to which Australia is a party.
At its UPR in Geneva, the Australian Government noted its intention to review and consolidate federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as introducing legislation to formally protect against discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Policy work and drafting have commenced and draft legislation will be released for public consultation later this year.
Rights of Indigenous peoples
A number of UPR recommendations made to Australia related to the rights of Indigenous peoples.
A recent development in this area is the election in April this year of the co chairs of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples is a national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The establishment of the National Congress acknowledges the importance of Indigenous peoples being closely involved in the development and implementation of policies and programs that impact upon them.
The National Congress will provide a central mechanism with which governments, and the corporate and community sectors can engage and work on reform initiatives. It will bring to the table an informed and strong national voice for the goals, aspirations, interests and values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The new co chairs will continue to develop the National Congress ahead of its first meeting in June this year.
Combating racism and promoting tolerance
A number of UPR recommendations made to Australia related to combating racism and promoting tolerance.
The Australian Government remains committed to ensuring that all Australians respect racial equality enshrined in our law and that Australians of all cultures have the opportunity to participate fully in Australian society.
A recent development in this area is the February 2011 launch of Australia’s new multicultural policy, entitled The People of Australia.
The multicultural policy affirms Australia’s commitment to a just, inclusive and socially cohesive society and shows that the Government is unwavering in its commitment to a Multicultural Australia.
The new multicultural policy recognises that Australia is a multicultural nation. Since 1945, seven million people have migrated to Australia. Today, a quarter of Australia’s 22 million people were born overseas, 44 per cent were born overseas or have a parent who was and four million speak a language other than English. Australia is and will remain a multicultural society.
The multicultural policy outlines key principles designed to strengthen Australia’s social cohesion and combat racism. It also establishes practical initiatives, including the establishment of the Australian Multicultural Council as an independent body which will advise government on multicultural issues, a new National Anti-Racism Partnership and strategy, and a Multicultural Youth Sports Partnership Program.
The policy also strengthens the access and equity framework to ensure that all government services are responsive to the needs of Australia’s culturally diverse communities.
A number of UPR recommendations made to Australia related to counter-terrorism measures and efforts to ensure compliance with international obligations in this respect.
A recent development in this area is the appointment in April this year of Australia’s first Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. The Independent National Security Legislation Monitor will review the operation, effectiveness and implications of Australia's counter-terrorism and national security legislation. The Monitor will report to the Prime Minister and the Parliament on an ongoing basis.
Women’s rights and children’s rights
A number of UPR recommendations made to Australia related to the rights of women and the rights of children.
A recent development in this area is the endorsement in February this year of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children by the Federal, State and Territory Governments. The National Plan is a single unified strategy that brings together government efforts to reduce violence against women and their children. It focuses strongly on prevention, including building respectful relationships amongst young people and working to increase gender equality to stop violence from occurring initially.
This is the first plan to coordinate action across jurisdictions. It is the first to focus strongly on prevention. It is the first to look to the long term, building respectful relationships and working to increase gender equality to prevent violence from occurring in the first place. It is the first to focus on holding perpetrators accountable and encouraging behaviour change.
Key actions under the National Plan include supporting local community action to reduce violence against women, new programs to stop perpetrators committing acts of violence, the introduction of an innovative social marketing campaign called ‘The Line’ which is designed to influence young people’s relationship attitudes and behaviours, the establishment of a national telephone and online crisis support service for anyone in Australia who has experienced, or is at risk of sexual assault and/or domestic and family violence, establishing a national Centre of Excellence to evaluate the effectiveness of strategies to reduce violence against women and setting up an inquiry into the impact of Federal laws on those experiencing family violence.
Australia also received UPR recommendations regarding equal employment participation and pay equity for women. A recent development in this area is the announcement in March this year of reforms to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999. These reforms will modernise the law and require large employers to report on gender equality outcomes, including the gender composition of their organisations and their boards, pay equity, and on the availability of flexible work arrangements for men and women.
Rights of persons with disability
A number of UPR recommendations made to Australia related to the rights of persons with disabilities.
A recent development in this area is the endorsement in February of this year of the National Disability Strategy by the Federal, State and Territory Governments. This is the first national strategy to provide a long term road map for improving the lives of Australians with disability. It sets a 10-year reform plan for all governments to address the barriers faced by Australians with disability and will ensure that mainstream services and programs including healthcare, housing, transport and education, address the needs of people with disability. The strategy is the product of extensive consultation across the country – more than 2,500 people with disability and their carers had their say in its development.
A further development has been the implementation of new building accessibility standards which commenced in May of this year. These standards will ensure all new and upgraded public buildings in Australia will be accessible to people with a disability. Providing better access to public buildings will remove a significant barrier for people with a disability in accessing services, employment and taking part in the community.
Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees
A number of UPR recommendations made to Australia related to the rights of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees.
A recent development in this area is the introduction of new legislation in February of this year to enshrine non-refoulement obligations in law. Existing processes require the personal intervention of the Minister to ensure compliance with non-refoulement obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The new complementary protection legislation will provide for the grant of a protection visa in circumstances that engage Australia’s non-refoulement obligations under human rights treaties other than the Refugee Convention. This will allow for greater certainty and faster outcomes for vulnerable people at risk of violation of their fundamental human rights.
Australia also received UPR recommendations regarding children in immigration detention. At its UPR, the Australian Government referred to an expansion of its existing residence determination program to enable significant numbers of minors and vulnerable families to move from immigration detention facilities into community-based accommodation. The Government has made a commitment that the majority of children will be moved into community-based accommodation by the end of June 2011. The Australian Red Cross is the lead agency for the implementation of these expanded residence determination arrangements and will draw on the expertise of a wide range of experienced service providers and contributing organisations.
Mr President, the Australian Government has given serious consideration to each of the recommendations made during its UPR. We openly acknowledge the existence of human rights challenges in Australia. We view the UPR as an occasion to reflect on those challenges, and we renew our commitment to continue work to strengthen our human rights protections.
Importantly, the Australian Government does not consider its engagement with the UPR process ends with the submission of our response to the recommendations today. In many ways, this signals the beginning of Australia’s longer-term engagement with the UPR process, as part of the Australia’s enduring commitments to human rights.
On behalf of the Government of Australia, I would like to conclude by thanking the President and member states of the Human Rights Council and the UPR Secretariat for their involvement in Australia’s first UPR.