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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31568


Mr BAIRD (4:59 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade I present the committee's report entitled Human rights and good governance education in the Asia Pacific region.

Ordered that the report be printed.


Mr BAIRD —by leave—Good human rights education is a key to ensuring that the concept of human rights underpins our legislative framework, our social policies and the way we think about others and ourselves. The protection of human rights depends on them being accepted, observed and protected by each and every member of our society. This requires that people are educated and informed about human rights principles, the relevant international human rights instruments and the impact of human rights on their daily lives. Similarly, it is increasingly recognised that the way a society is governed has a direct correlation to the success of social, political and economic development, including the protection and promotion of human rights.

The decade 1995-2004 was designated as the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education. As a contribution to achieving the goals of the decade and to address the increasing recognition of the importance of good governance to development and the promotion and protection of human rights, the committee decided to review and take stock of Australia's contribution not only to the decade but to the broad promotion of human rights and good governance in the region. This is the report of that inquiry.

The committee received 45 submissions to the inquiry and took evidence from representatives of 16 organisations during public hearings. The committee found a lack of consensus on the level of community understanding of human rights and good governance in Australia, demonstrating that current promotional and educative approaches are not having the desired impact. The relationship between human rights education and good governance education was not clearly addressed in the submissions to this inquiry, and the two terms were, on the whole, conflated. This leads to confusion as to the relationship between education in human rights and education in good governance, and what qualifications and training are required to be considered an effective educator in either area.

The committee recommends that Australia works towards developing consensus on a definition of hu-man rights and good governance regionally, with the aim of promoting the development of a regional human rights education agreement. The committee also concludes that there is a need to provide better coordination of human rights and good governance education efforts in Australia. At present, domestic efforts appear to be a collection of worthwhile yet fragmented programs that are not well integrated into the core curriculum in Australian schools and universities, and there is a noticeable lack of community based initiatives.

There is a need for coordination frameworks to provide direction and assist with the better use of resources and sharing of knowledge and experiences. Such coordination should bring together all parties involved in human rights education in Australia in an effort to combat divergence and the confusion this leads to in achieving the goals of the decade. This issue of coordination of human rights and good governance education initiatives should have been addressed at the beginning of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education in 1995. It is with this in mind that the committee believes the development of a discrete national plan of action for human rights education should be a priority for government, HREOC and the National Committee on Human Rights Education.

The committee has noted that the role played by HREOC in domestic human rights education is an important one in Australia, and supports HREOC's continuing focus and responsibility in this area. The committee believes human rights education should be provided to all Commonwealth public sector employees, particularly those whose work is affected by international human rights. This should include predeployment training provided by the Department of Defence, including a specific human rights education program focusing on international human rights law. Further, the committee recommends that human rights education be incorporated into all levels of civics and citizenship education initiatives in Australia.

At a regional level, there are many activities being undertaken in the Asia-Pacific in the broad area of human rights and good governance education. However, again, this work is generally not well coordinated between states or organisations. The committee also recommends that human rights and governance education be clearly identified as a key component and outcome in the strategies and objectives of AusAID's governance programs and projects. Although Australia continues to support progress towards a regional human rights mechanism and to ensure that human rights education is central to any such agreement, the committee believes much effort needs to be applied to better utilise existing regional structures in meeting the goals of the decade.

Australia is involved in human rights and good governance education across a broad spectrum of activities. As one of the world's oldest democracies—and arguably one of the most successful—Australia is in a strong position to make a contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights and the development of good governance in the Asia-Pacific region through its efforts in human rights and good governance education.

The committee identified the media as an important instrument in the provision of human rights and good governance education. It is therefore suggested that AusAID review its definition of good governance to include a reference to the role of the media, and that the NCHRE work with professional bodies and tertiary schools of communication to develop and implement a specific human rights awareness program for the media.

In response to calls for a second UN Decade for Human Rights Education, the committee recommends that the Australian government call for the United Nations to conduct a rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of achievements of the current decade at the earliest possibility and prior to further discussion on an additional decade. In conclusion, and on behalf of the committee, I would like to thank the range of groups and individuals that contributed to this inquiry and I would like to thank the secretariat for their support. I commend the report to the House.