Category Archives: Human rights

Culture is no excuse for abuse

The 8th of March 2014 was International Women’s Day and I was proud to present the opening remarks at the Darwin screening of the Honour Diaries movie. Approximately 100 men and women came together in the theatrette at the NT Museum and Art Gallery and united in solidarity to combat violence against women and girls (VAWG). Although I’m not sure they expected to hold hands and chant the word vagina, in the context of such an important and emotive topic, everyone took the opportunity to join in and be inspired to take their own role in the diverse Darwin community.

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Lock up refugees and throw away the key?

CDU Introduction to Public Law students should be taking careful note of the current public controversy over refugees indefinitely held in immigration detention as a result of adverse ASIO security assessments which they cannot effectively challenge. Secret evidence provisions in ASIO regulations mean they can be denied all knowledge of the reasons and supporting evidence for an adverse assessment.  In our recent topic 9 tutorial (judicial power and separation of powers) we looked at High Court decisions in the Gypsy Jokers and K-Generation cases, which both involved legislation containing similar secret evidence provisions to the ASIO situation currently affecting refugees.

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Free speech, hate speech and human dignity

Federal Court Chief Justice Pat Keane

The audience at last night’s Austin Asche Oration witnessed an address by Federal Court Chief Justice Pat Keane which some might label as courageous in a Sir Humphrey Appleby sense. Without ever mentioning Bromberg J’s recent decision in Eatock v Bolt, Keane CJ cut to the heart of the central issue of controversy in current public debate.  That is, whether and how the law might appropriately balance the competing public interest imperatives involved in protecting freedom of political communication while simultaneously restraining socially destructive hate speech.

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Gay marriage conscience vote only first step

There has been a lot of discussion about the political prospects of a gay marriage law being enacted by Australia’s Parliament in the wake of last weekend’s ALP resolution adopting it as policy and allowing MPs a conscience vote.  Although a bill recognising gay marriage is still fairly unlikely to pass, it isn’t completely impossible if Tony Abbott also allows Coalition MPs a conscience vote (as former leader Malcolm Turnbull is advocating).

However there’s been much less discussion about whether the Commonwealth even has the constitutional power to legislate for gay marriage. There are doubts about this depending upon one’s favoured approach to constitutional interpretation.  In the United States “originalism” is the most widely favoured approach to interpreting the Constitution. although there are more versions of originalism than most people have had hot dinners.

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Polarised debate on the NT Intervention

There’s a very noisy left-leaning opposition group to the Gillard government’s modified version of the NTER or Indigenous Intervention (which Minister Macklin has variously renamed “Closing the Gap” or “Stronger Futures”).  No doubt they’re sincere in their opposition to current policy, but their rhetorical style is shrill to say the least.

If you read only publications like Crikey or the Fairfax press, you might well be convinced that the Gillard government’s Indigenous affairs policies are just cynical, racist paternalism.  A typical example is a piece in today’s Crikey newsletter by Dr Hilary Tyler and Paddy Gibson.  It deals with some of the research underpinning the Commonwealth’s recently released 400-page evaluation of the NTER, in particular the Community Safety and Wellbeing Research Study.

The reasons why opponents of current policies might wish to discredit this research are apparent from a brief perusal of the executive summary:

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Media regulation – the mailed fist in velvet glove option

Inquiries into the media, not to mention more general reviews of legislation affecting its interests, are all the rage in the wake of the News of the World “Hackgate” affair in the UK. Retired judge Lord Leveson is running an inquiry in Britain while Ray Finkelstein QC (a retired Australian judge) is conducting a slightly lower profile and more limited inquiry into Australia’s media. It’s understandable that the Brits see the need for such an inquiry given the serious News Corp abuses revealed in recent months.

The need for an Australian inquiry is a little less obvious.  Perhaps it’s just a sop to the Greens whose votes the Gillard government needs to cling to power.  On the other hand, perhaps it’s fair enough in light of Andrew Bolt’s demonising of “white Aborigines”,  journalistic behaviour which was censured in the recent Federal Court decision in Eatock v Bolt. The conduct of Bolt and News Ltd is forensically dissected in this Overland article by Michael Brull.  It makes fascinating if disturbing reading.

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