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UN Human Rights Committee.

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29 July 2000



The United Nations Human Rights Committee last night issued its concluding observations on Australia’s Third and Fourth Reports under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This follows the Committee’s consideration of the reports in Geneva last week.

The Commonwealth Government welcomes the constructive dialogue with the Committee on these matters as part of our continuing commitment to international human rights standards. However, we do not agree with a number of its observations. Our views on those issues were canvassed in detail during the course of the Committee’s consideration of Australia’s reports last week.

In this context, it is wrong to suggest that this or any other UN human rights committee is judging Australia. The Committee is not a court and it is not there to sit in judgment on countries.

We have every reason to be proud of our human rights record. But we also acknowledge that there are issues of ongoing concern. The Government is already taking action to address most of the issues on which the Committee has commented and will continue to do so.

The Committee noted a number of positive developments on matters relating to our indigenous peoples. It also expressed its view that further steps needed to be taken to advance their position. The Government made clear to the Committee its strong commitment to addressing the disadvantages suffered by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

people. However, the Government does not agree that many of the steps suggested by the Committee are either necessary or desirable.

The Committee indicated that there were serious issues of compliance with the Convenant in relation to mandatory detention laws in Western Australia and the Northern Territory and requested the Governments to reassess the legislation. The general criminal law, including sentencing, is a matter for the States and Territories. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth has moved decisively to ensure that mandatory detention does not adversely impact on young people.

The mandatory detention agreement concluded between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory Governments this week will divert juveniles from the criminal justice system and provide them with the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. In accordance with usual practice, all of the Committee’s observations will be forwarded to the States and Territories.

The concerns expressed by the Committee about the application of our immigration policies to asylum-seekers are not new. The Government has, on previous occasions, made clear to the Committee the reasons for these policies, including that of maintaining the integrity of our orderly migration program. The Government has no intention of changing its policy of mandatory detention of asylum-seekers, which is consistent with our obligations under the Covenant.

The Committee expressed its concern about the lack of a Constitutional Bill of Rights. I am not about to reignite an old debate about a Bill of Rights. However, the Chair of the Committee agreed with the Australian delegation that the Covenant gives each country a discretion as to how it implements its obligations.

In Australia we do so through a combination of our strong democratic institutions, the common law and an extensive array of statutes and programs at the Commonwealth, State and Territory level. This fits our circumstances and is highly effective. It also needs to be borne in mind that under our federal system of Government, responsibility for implementing obligations under treaties such as the Covenant is shared between the Federal, State and Territory Governments and much of the public infrastructure within Australia exists at State and Territory level.

The Committee noted its appreciation of the quality of Australia’s reports and the extensive written and oral answers provided by the Australian delegation.

The Committee also commented positively on a number of aspects of the implementation of the Covenant in Australia, including the enactment of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and the considerable improvement in the status of women.



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