More details are emerging on how public consultation over a Human Rights Act for Australia will get under way: you can express your support in a submission to the parliamentary committee by 1 July 2023, so please do, even if it is just a one-page letter. Meanwhile, secret trials, indefinite detenton, vague laws, forensics problems and more Indigenous people being jailed are among the concerns in this issue, not to mention a swathe of government departments and agencies failing to act, acting inappropriately of refusing to meet mandatory deadlines for providing public information to the people they supposedly serve.
The Australian Parliament wants to know whether Australia should have a Human Rights Act (HRA)…which could be enacted by December 2024. The Committee on Human Rights invites submissions until 1 July 2023, then will hold hearings until December 2023, reporting to the Parliament by 31 March 2024. That would leave nine months for the Albanese government to legislate a federal HRA for Australia in 2024, before the next national election, likely in early 2025. CLA has been one of the most active campaigners for a HRA over the past three years and, with other activists and supporters, is celebrating interim success. Some 73% of Australians support Australia having a HRA: just 3% oppose one.
The Voice campaign for a special Indigenous path to parliamentary debate launched in February. The first official call for a federal Human Rights Act is expected when the Australian Human Rights Commission tables its ‘Free & Equal’ report, four years in the making, in the first week of this month. Meanwhile liberties and rights, particularly of children, are under increasing threat from a combination of vigilante social media activist campaigns and state governments and oppositions ramping up ‘order and law’ issues ahead of elections.
As debate about The Voice becomes shriller on whether and how First Nations people can have a better say, the real question for all Australians is how we can gain the right to free speech and other freedoms currently only ‘suggested’ by court opinions. In early March, the results of a four-year study into how ‘Free & Equal' we should be will be handed down, along with – CLA hopes and expects – a recommendation for a federal Human Rights Act. That, as well as major changes to secrecy, privacy, discrimination and fixing the mess of the forensics, failing to disclose and the ‘justice’ system, in general, will highlight the agenda for the next two years.
With The Voice to dominate 2023, CLA is concentrating on key national justice issues beyond the referendum. Since 2020, we have been lobbying hard behind the scenes on a Human Rights Act for Australia. To achieve the best possible version, we’ve helped produce major changes in the nation’s first HR Act, the one in the ACT, due to start in 2023 and operate fully in 2024. Also this year, CLA will focus on Failure To Disclose (FTD), the legal blight perpetrated mostly by prosecutors and police which makes our courts unfair and leads to miscarriages of justice, with taxpayers having to fund big compensation payouts.
Increasingly, more women are in jail in Australia, and Aboriginal women are 21 times more likely to be jailed; most men and women in jail are suffering from mental health problems. The nation has an epidemic of poverty and homelessness, twin scourges which foster more draconian laws, longer jail sentences and so mushrooming prison building. Meanwhile police force numbers expand the more incompetent they are, especially re domestic crimes against women. Australia is in a downwards “justice” spiral: women are bearing the brunt. Radical re-thinking of flawed systems across federal, state and local governments needs to create better justice for the nation.
One jurisdiction has agreed to implement the principle of ‘No Rights Without Remedies’ starting in 2023, as the campaign for a national Human Rights Act switches into higher gear with a briefing to MPs in Parliament House. The federal Budget delivered in small ways for rights and liberties, but there were worrying failures nationally and internationally in terms of Australia’s prison systems, and in how we run trials whee rape is alleged, including serious new questions surrounding judicial directions, the rights of juries and ‘counselling’ in and out of court…raised here for the first time.
Behind the scenes, moves are under way to frame a new approach to human rights for Australia. October through December is critical for developing where and when a federal HR Act fits. CLA is the prime mover Australia-wide in ensuring that any such act involves ’No Rights Without Remedies’. Such a foundation will establish a way to get quickly, easily and cheaply before conciliation or a tribunal to have rights acknowledged and enforced. Meanwhile, rights we thought we had are disappearing, as forensic science labs and police forces let citizens down by misinterpreting or not obeying the law of the land and their own regulations.
The High Court has a duty to deliver transparent justice in open and full view of the people: it failed last month. Australia-wide, torture and sexual assault reveal severe problems in juvenile jails as adult prisoners are experiencing similar inhumane treatment. One state's justice system is in parlous condition with illegal audio and visual surveillance of hundreds of privileged lawyer-client discussions after police used an illegal warrant inside a jail. Was the police action a ‘witch hunt’? Did it comprise an official conspiracy to thwart the rule of law? Clear and obvious warnings month after month indicate justice in Australia is in need of a national Royal Commission covering all jurisdictions at the one time, CLA believes.