human rights news & views

UN affirms water is a legal human right

Long overdue, 2 important steps have been taken this year to formalise the human right to water. In July, the UN General Assembly declared that safe and clean drinking water and sanitation constitute a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights. Although no-one voted against the motion, 41 […]

Enrol or update your enrolment without delay

Voting is compulsory in Australia, but only possible if you are enrolled to vote. You don't automatically go on the roll when you turn 18 or acquire citizenship.  You have to enrol by filling out a simple form and sending it to the Australian Electoral Commission. Although a national election is imminent, an estimated 1.4 […]

Myths about a Human Rights Act

To further the debate over whether Australia should have laws protecting human rights, the Castan Centre is engaging in a spot of myth-busting: Myth 1: The proposed Human Rights Act would shift decision making to unelected judges who should not have the power to decide what constitutes a breach of human rights. The reality: Australian […]

How Australians can take back their rights

Dear National Human Rights Consultation Committee, I would like to submit to the Committee Geoffrey Robertson's Statute of Liberty: How Australians can Take Back their Rights (Vintage, Sydney 2009) in its entirety. I hope he has done so already. I'm sure you have it. I work in human rights, and I thought I had heard […]

Vicki Roach: ‘The Eddie Mabo of electoral law’

While she was inside, prison authorities refused to allow indigenous activist Vicki Roach to give media interviews about her remarkable 2007 High Court Constitutional challenge.  Instead, she wrote a letter to Anita Barraud of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation outlining some of her arguments: "Excluding us from the democratic process while we are in prison, however […]

Freedom to seek and receive

The Rudd government appears to be delivering on a key election promise: to reform freedom of information (FOI) law in Australia, currently ranked 28th in the world for press freedom. Special Minister for State, John Faulkner (pictured), last week released draft legislation slated to improve Australians' right to seek and receive information from their government. […]

Tax havens: Where the cheats have no shame

For all the high-profile anti-poverty advocacy of its frontman, Bono, Irish rock band U2 has copped a hiding from compatriots for tax evasion in their homeland. Though all four band members live in Ireland, the band's publishing arm relocated to the Netherlands in 2006, after Ireland capped tax-free earnings for artists at €250,000.  Meanwhile, ordinary […]

Even villains have rights

The "villains' charter" debate has reached Australia, it would seem. Reviewing Victoria's Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 12 months after it came into effect, the Sunday Herald-Sun's 'star political reporter' Ellen Whinnett wrote last month that the Charter had been "hijacked by criminals." Her view echoes Britain's Daily Mail which attacks the UK's 'disastrous' […]

A hard case

I had a dispiriting conversation with two Australian law graduates this week.  They regard international human rights treaties as 'soft law', that is, not imposing real, binding obligations.  In my book (real and figurative), treaties are 'hard law' (ie., conventions, covenants, protocols and the like), while declarations, recommendations, codes, principles and guidelines remain 'soft' law […]

Australia’s political prisoners

A short documentary has appeared on the internet about Scott Parkin, the nonviolent US peace activist who in 2005 was detained in Australia for 5 days and then deported for being a 'direct or indirect risk to Australian national security.'  Greenpeace Australia's communications director, Dan Cass, is depicted describing Parkin as Australia's first political prisoner. […]