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Wednesday, 9 May 1984
Page: 1883

(Question No. 680)

Senator Bolkus asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 5 March 1984:

(1) Has the Australian Government signed any treaties or covenants regarding the rights of prisoners; if so, what are they.

(2) Has the Government considered any consequent action regarding the conditions faced by prisoners in State prisons around the country.

Senator Gareth Evans —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) Australia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A number of articles of that covenant deal with the rights of people in detention. In particular, article 10 provides that all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

(2) The conditions of prisoners in State prisons is the responsibility of the State Governments.

At present there is no legislation under which the Commonwealth Government has power to intervene where problems arise in the treatment of prisoners in State prisons.

In this situation, the Commonwealth Government can do no more than point out the nature of Australia's obligations under the Covenant and exhort the State Governments (and the Northern Territory Government) to observe these standards in the treatment of prisoners.

The State and Northern Territory Governments are also aware of, and subscribe to, the more detailed provisions of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. These rules were approved by resolutions of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. The Rules are not an instrument to which the procedure of signature applies but a statement of principles which Governments are called upon to honour.

The Australian Bill of Rights has, as was announced recently, been approved in principle by the Government, although its introduction has now been deferred. The Bill of Rights, being a statement of fundamental human rights, would be an appropriate place for the Commonwealth to give legislative effect to provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, such as article 10, on an Australia-wide basis. I would expect the issue to be taken up in that context.