Australia’s Human Rights Community Has Dobbed Us In To The United Nations


A coalition of 190 Non Government Organisations (NGOs) have warned the United Nations that Australia’s human rights performance is “steadily deteriorating” and handed a range of recommendations to the international body, including that the Australian Human Rights Commission have its powers increased and independence strengthened.

In a submission to the UN’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) the organisations highlighted a range of areas where Australia was failing to make progress or regressing, including asylum seeker rights, government consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, police related deaths, poverty and homelessness.

Anna Brown, Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, helped coordinate the submission, and told New Matilda Australia had experienced “a really unfortunate slide in a number of key areas” since 2011.

“We’ve seen increasingly punitive and harsh refugee policies that we would say breach international law and a sliding in protections for democratic freedoms, including the proliferation of anti-protest laws,” Brown said.

She also pointed to the series of security and surveillance laws passed in recent months by the Coalition government with the support of Labor as a concern.

In responding to these challenges the submission recommends Australia urgently restore funding and independence to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

“Since the last UPR there have been unprecedented government-led attacks on the AHRC’s independence and functioning,” it said.

“These include a very substantial reduction in funding; the appointment of a Commissioner without a transparent process; the reduction of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Age Discrimination Commissioner from full-time to part-time roles; and persistent attacks on the President of the AHRC and attempts to procure her resignation.”

Brown said the Australian government had been acting inconsistently by promoting itself as a leader in human rights at the UN but taking backward steps at home.

In September last year, Australia co-sponsored a UN Human Rights Council resolution “reaffirming the importance of establishing and strengthening independent, pluralistic national human rights institutions”.

Since then, senior members of the Coalition have led regular public attacks on Australia’s own Human Rights Commission, targeting President Gillian Triggs in the lead-up to and fallout following the release of the Forgotten Children report.

Attorney-General Department Secretary Chris Moraitis allegedly encouraged Triggs to resign in February, offering her alternative government work if she would step down.

Despite the fact Australia is currently trying to join the UN’s Human Rights Council, the attacks on Triggs have continued in recent days.

“This is why I think this review is very timely. There needs to be more done to make sure Australia is held accountable for the statements it makes,” Brown said.

The UN’s Universal Periodic Review is a relatively new mechanism used to monitor human rights around the world. The review occurs once every four years and was first run in 2011.

According to the submission made by the 190 NGOs, Australia has failed to act on the majority of the recommendations made by the UN during that review.

“Of the 145 recommendations made to Australia as part of the last UPR, only 11 per cent of those accepted (in whole or in part) have been fully implemented and 19.7 per cent have been partially implemented,” the submission said.

Brown pointed to some signs of progress since then, including the introduction of a National Children’s Commissioner, the inclusion of protections for LGBTI people in the Sex Discrimination Act, and the introduction of a National Human Rights Action Plan.

However, the Abbott government has batted away criticism levelled by the UN, with the Prime Minister telling media Australians were “sick of being lectured to by the United Nations” after a report by special rapporteur Juan Mendez found some of Australia’s anti-asylum seeker policies breached the international convention against torture.

The government is currently finalising its own submission to the Periodic Review which is due in July, the office of Attorney-General George Brandis confirmed.

“The Government welcomes a vigorous, diverse and balanced human rights debate in Australia and will continue to consult with NGOs and community groups throughout the UPR process,” a spokesperson said.

Who Signed Up

The submission is endorsed, either in part or in whole, by organisations including:

2020 Women Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria) Inc Public Interest Law Clearing House (VIC) Inc
Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia Queenscliff Rural Australians for Refugees
ActionAid Australia Fitted for Work Queensland Advocacy Incorporated
Advocacy for Inclusion Footscray Community Legal Centre Inc Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services
Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group Australia Gay & Lesbian Health Alliance SA Redfern Legal Centre
Aleph Melbourne Geraldton Resource Centre Refugee Advice and Casework Service
All Together Now GetUp! Refugee Council of Australia
Amnesty International Australia (National Women’s Rights Team) Gippsland Community Legal Service Remedy Australia
Anti-Slavery Australia Girl Guides Australia Safe Asylum
Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors Homebirth Australia Save the Children Australia
Asylum Seekers Centre Inc. Home Ground Scarlet Alliance Australian Sex Workers Association
Australasian Council of Women and Policing Human Rights Law Centre Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care
Australian Baha’i Community – Office of Equality Humanitarian Research Partners Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia
Australian Capital Territory Disability Aged and Carer Advocacy Service Illawarra Legal Centre Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre Inc.
Australian Catholic Religious Against Human Trafficking Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association NSW Sisters Inside
Australian Centre for Leadership for Women International Commission of Jurists Victoria Soroptimist International
Australian Council for International Development Gender Equity Working Group International Social Service (ISS) Australia Soroptimist International Moreton North Inc.
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations International Women’s Development Agency South Australian Council of Social Services (SACOSS)
Australian Federation of Graduate Women JERA International Sydney Multicultural Community Services
Australian Federation of Medical Women Jessie Street National Women’s Library Justice Connect Tasmania Opportunity
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights Justice Connect Homeless Law Taylor Street Community Legal Service
Australian Marriage Equality Kingsford Legal Centre Tenants’ Union of NSW
Australian Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement Lentara Uniting Care The Addison Road Community Centre for Art, Culture, Community and Environment
Australian National Committee for UN Women Marist Asylum-Seekers Refugee Service The Australian Centre for Leadership for Women (ACLW)
Australian Reproductive Health Alliance Marrickville Legal Centre The Bridge of Hope Foundation Inc
Australian Tamil Congress Maternity Choices Australia The Ethnic Community Services Co-Operative Ltd
Australian Women Against Violence Alliance Melbourne Catholic Migrant & Refugee Office The House of Welcome
Australian Women’s Health Network Mental Health Australia Tenants Union of Victoria
Australian Womensport and Recreation Association Mercy Works Touching Base Inc
Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) Migrant Women’s Lobby Group of South Australia Townsville Community Legal Centre
Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) Queensland Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre Transgender Victoria Inc
Baptistcare Inc Multicultural Women’s Advocacy ACT UNICEF Australia
Basic Rights Queensland Inc Murri Ministry Aboriginal Catholic Ministry of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, Queensland Union of Australian Women
Bisexual Alliance Victoria Inc National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS) United Nations Association of Australian Status of Women Network
Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) Uniting Justice Australia
Carmen Rupe Memorial Trust National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence Victorian Council of Social Service
Castan Centre National Children’s and Youth Law Centre Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby
Central Coast Community Legal Centre National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition
Centre for Human Rights Education at Curtin University National Council of Churches of Australia Gender Commission VIEWS Club of Australia
Centre for Multicultural Youth National Council of Jewish Women of Australia Western New South Wales Community Legal Centre Inc
Cerebral Palsy Alliance National Council of Single Mothers and Their Children Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre Inc.
Child Rights Task Force National Council of Women of Australia Women in Adult and Vocational Education
Children by Choice National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Women in Engineering Australia
Children with Disability Australia National Foundation for Australian Women Women on Boards
ChilOut National LGBTI Health Alliance Women with Disabilities Australia
Civil Liberties Australia National Liaison Committee for International Students in Australia – Women’s Department Women with Disabilities Victoria
Coffs Harbour Aboriginal Family Community Care Centre Inc National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum Women’s Electoral Lobby
Combined Refugee Action Group National Rural Women’s Coalition Women’s Environment Network Australia
Communication Rights Australia National Union of Students (Women’s Department) Women’s Equity Think Tank
Community Information & Support Victoria (CISVic) National Welfare Rights Network Women’s Housing Ltd
Community Legal Centres New South Wales New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties Women’s Information Referral Exchange (WIRE)
Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes New South Wales New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Australia
COTA Australia Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre Women’s Legal Centre (ACT & Region)
Council of Social Service of NSW (NCOSS) Northern Territory Council of Social Service Women’s Legal Services Australia
Council to Homeless Persons Older Women’s Network Australia Inc Women’s Legal Services New South Wales
CREATE Foundation Older Women’s Network New South Wales Inc Women’s Property Initiatives
Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) Organisation Intersex International Australia Working Against Sexual Harassment
Doctors for Refugees Oxfam Australia Wyndham Legal Services Inc.
Eastern Community Legal Centre Pax Christi Australia Yfoundations
economic Security4Women Peninsula Community Legal Centre Youthlaw
Edmund Rice Centre Sydney People with Disability Australia YWCA Australia
Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre People with Disabilities WA Inc Zonta International Districts
Enlighten Education Project Respect
FECCA Women’s Committee Public Health Association of Australia (Women’s Special Interest Group)



Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.