Indigenous, Refugee Human Rights Still Being Violated - Judge
Human rights in Australia are being violated every day according to former High Court judge, Justice Marcus Einfeld in a public speech in Melbourne last night. Delivering the 20th annual Sambell Oration for leading welfare agency the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Justice Einfeld cited mandatory sentencing, our treatment of refugees and our treatment of children and youth as examples of such human rights violations.
“Our generation has its own quite new Stolen Children saga to confront,” he said, attributing this to the high incarceration rates among young indigenous people, caused by mandatory sentencing which he labelled “compulsory jailing”.
He said Australia’s new methods for handling refugees were in breach of international law and displayed ‘arrogance’ and ‘ignorance’. Justice Einfeld also labelled the so-called ‘War on Terrorism’ a ‘propaganda offensive’.
Praising the new Northern Territory government’s decision to remove mandatory sentencing laws, he questioned where funding made available to help avoid deaths in custody was being spent.“What use has been made by the Northern Territory and Western Australia of the significant federal funds – millions of dollars – made available to deal with the 300 odd recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, largely designed to avoid or minimise the incarceration of Aborigines on minor charges?” he said.
Justice Einfeld also made extensive reference to Australia’s treatment of refugees. If Australia was involved in military ventures that created refugees, and then it had an ethical obligation to accept their requests for asylum, he said.
“To label them as actual or potential terrorists, because some of them come from Afghanistan, as some of our politicians and others have recently done, demonstrates breathtaking arrogance, displays appalling ignorance and plays shameful and unashamed politics,” he said.
Referring to the September 11 attacks in the United States, Justice Einfeld said no political cause could ever justify deliberate unprovoked killing of innocent men, women and children. But he said it was necessary to attack the root causes of crime, such as poverty, injustice, inhumanity, intolerance and hate.
“The current so-called war against terrorism is nothing of the kind. It is propaganda offensive to appease a nation in fear and grief, not least because its power has not saved it’s people and territory from mortal attack and tragedy, and because of the belated recognition that power alone can and will never do so.”
Justice Einfeld called for Australians not to be “paralysed by fear or apathy into ditching our traditional morality and kindness” and called for “major attitudinal change by leaders in government and the community”.
Brotherhood Executive Director Father Nic Frances hailed Justice Einfeld’s speech and called on an incoming federal government to show the political will necessary to tackle the issue of human rights violation occurring in Australia.
“This country could be leading the world in showing care for all its citizens,” said Fr Frances. “ Instead we are evoking world criticism, and spending the budget surplus, on trying to avoid our international human rights obligations by forcing small island nations to take asylum seekers, whose claims are more than likely to be assessed as genuine and who will end up in Australia anyway.
“Now with a promised troop deployment, it seems even more necessary to accept some sort of an obligation to the innocent people who will inevitably be displaced in the this conflict.”
The full text of the 20th Annual Brotherhood of St Laurence annual Sambell Oration, ‘Wake up Australia, the new world order: the human dimension’, by Justice Marcus Einfeld, is available from: www.bsl.org.au. For more information, contact Helen Westerman, Media Officer, Brotherhood of St Laurence, on (03) 9483 1371 or mob: 0413 948 535.