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Federal Government must take heed of UN report.

Federal Government Must Take Heed Of UN Report

 

Robert McClelland - Shadow Attorney-General

 

Media Statement - 25 March 2000

 

The federal government must review mandatory sentencing laws in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, in accordance with the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in its report on the state of race relations in Australia.

 

And rather than taking pot shots at the credibility of the Committee, it's about time that Attorney-General Daryl Williams performed his role as First Law Officer of the Commonwealth and tabled the government's own advice on whether mandatory sentencing laws conflict with our international obligations.

 

He has so far refused to do so, preferring only to state that 'opinions differ' on the effect of Australia's international obligations.

 

The Committee said that mandatory sentencing laws discriminated against indigenous Australians and conflicted with the UN conventions on human rights. The same conclusion was reached:

 

• in March 2000 by the Senate Committee reporting on the Bill to overturn mandatory sentencing co-sponsored by Labor, the Democrats and the Greens;

• in August 1998 by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in its report on Australia's implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and

• in October 1997 by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

 

The evidence that these laws place Australia in breach of our international obligations is now overwhelming.

 

Prior to the election of the Howard government, Australia was playing above its weight on the international stage. This government's decision to turn its back on international standards can only have a detrimental effect on the way in which our country is perceived in the lead up to the Olympic Games, and may have ramifications for our relationships with countries in other areas such as trade.

 

The Commonwealth government must shoulder its responsibility to address the injustice which these laws create.

 

The real motivation to address these laws should not be international pressure, but a proper recognition by the Commonwealth government that it has a vital role to play in the pursuit of a fair and effective justice system throughout Australia.

 

Authorised by Gary Gray, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.