Five things you might have missed this week

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21st October 2011

Did you miss us? We were off on houseboats and at youth climate conferences last weekend so didn’t get a chance to bring you five Things. We’ll try and catch up on two weeks that have featured captured colonels, curtseys and queens, and a carbon price.

1. The Clean Energy Future Bill passed the lower house last Wednesday, bringing Australia one step closer to a price on carbon and a more sustainable future. The price has received praise from large international green investment funds for the assistance it will provide to renewable energy in Australia. Think Australia’s going it alone in pricing carbon? As Tony Wood discusses in this great article, emissions trading schemes exist in New Zealand, the EU and in 10 US states, with China, South Korea and California looking at introducing their own schemes.

2. Did you know that of the Gillard Government’s 14 major policies, 12 have strong support from the public? So why is the Government so unpopular? John Watson in The Age suggests what many of us suspect – politics in Australia today is all about marketing and brands. It’s a fantastic, if slightly sobering, read. If it’s a little too depressing for your Friday, we have yet another musical treat for you from perhaps the master of political branding in Australia, Bob Katter. Enjoy!

3. I’m stretching the limits of 5 things a little with this one but it’s definitely worth it. Two weeks ago the Nobel prize was awarded to three African and Middle Eastern women for their human rights work and activism. Tawakkol Karman, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee have helped promote peace and women’s rights across North Africa and the Middle East and continue to push for greater involvement of women in politics and public life in the midst of the Arab Spring.

4. Last weekend the Occupy movement came to Australia. Protesters in most capital cities, added their voice to the global chorus of dissatisfaction with bank bailouts, economic austerity and growing inequality. If you’re not sure what exactly’s being occupied or where the social media powered movement emerged from take a look at this interesting overview from the Guardian.

5. If, like me, the amount of plastic wrappers and bottles we throw away makes you wish we could live a little more sustainably, you might be interested in this. Total Environment Centre is hosting a with dynamo environmentalist Annie Leonard at Reverse Trash in Sydney on 29th October (see poster below). Two short films looking at consumption and sustainable living will be screened, followed by a Q&A with Annie.

A lot has happened over the last couple of weeks – have we missed anything?

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  • Ian Edwards

    Any update with how things are going with Curtis Island? How many of us have signed the petition? Where do we go next? I for one really am sick to death of short term gain over long term prosperity. Keep up the good work.



  • John Ward

    I am sure you will find the address below
    by former High Court Judge Mary Gaudron, on the Declaration of Human Rights,
    also inspiring.
    She also
    gives an insight on how we may proceed using section 75.5 of the
    Her story of her time in Belarus is instructive.

    Publications: Papers 



    “The most important document
    ever reduced to writing, whether on paper, papyrus, velum or tablets of stone” –
    Mary Gaudron.
    Remembering the Universal
    And Australia’s human rights record
    By Mary
    Shut the
    detention centres down, says Mary Gaudron.
    If, as they say,
    the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I am knocking on the gates right
    now. I had intended to speak about Jessie Street the internationalist. I had
    intended to do some research on the topic. But unfortunately, life got out of
    control once more. What I do know about Jessie Street the internationalist is
    that which Madame President Burgmann recalled at the beginning of this lunch.
    She was an adviser to Bert Evatt — I should call him the Honourable Herbert V
    Evatt — at the San Francisco Conference in 1945, which established the United
    Nations. That conference wrote the UN Charter, but it also did something else.
    It wrote what is arguably the most important document ever reduced to writing,
    whether on paper, papyrus, velum or tablets of stone; namely, the Universal
    Declaration of Human Rights.
    The Universal
    Declaration of Human Rights was not officially adopted by the General Assembly
    of the United Nations until December 1948, but its drafting was completed in
    December 1945. Its 60th birthday was celebrated with some considerable fanfare
    in Europe last December. It would not surprise me, however, if the events passed
    unnoticed here in Australia. The lack of surprise, if that was the case, makes
    it all the more amazing that Jessie Street should have been committed to an
    international solution to the problems we faced here and in many other
    countries, and that she should have been committed to the idea of an
    international declaration of human rights.
    Although, at the
    time of the Declaration’s drafting, Australia had many men and women in many
    theatres of war throughout the world, Australia in 1945 in general was somewhat
    less than truly international in its outlook. England was home. Australia’s
    involvement in the war, announced in 1939, was announced on the basis that
    England had declared war and in consequence Australia was also at war. Well, 30
    years later — that is, in 1975 — the notion that Australia’s laws could be
    shaped by international conventions was fairly revolutionary. As a general rule,
    at that stage, the federal parliament only ratified treaties that it believed it
    could implement within its enumerated heads of legislative power. If it did
    otherwise implement them, it ratified them with something that became known as
    “the federal state clause”.
    I recollect that
    in 1972, in the equal pay case, I argued on instructions from the two-man
    government — the wife of one of whom I see sitting over there — that Australia
    had not ratified the International Labour Organisation’s convention on equal pay
    because the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission had not granted equal pay to
    women. I argued, with some force, about which now I think I should have perhaps
    had some embarrassment, that it was the fault of the Arbitration Commission that
    Australia could not honour its international obligations and that the secondary
    consideration, of course, was that women didn’t have equal
    Equal pay, the
    ILO convention on equal pay which featured so importantly in that case, is just
    one aspect of the earlier 1945 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article
    23(2) simply provided that everyone has the right to “equal pay for equal work”.
    It is truly bizarre is that, although Australians, notably Dr Evatt and Jessie
    Street, should play such a significant role in the drafting of the Universal
    Declaration, it took so long for Australia to put into effect any of the
    obligations by which it was at least normatively bound from 1948 and
    The principle of
    equal pay, which maybe, maybe not, came about in 1972, was not the only key
    provision in the Declaration of Human Rights. Of far greater significance was,
    and is, Article 7. Let me read to you:
    All are equal
    before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection
    of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in
    violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such
    That must have
    been a pretty radical idea in 1945. We know now that Australian Aborigines are
    still far less than equal, and in 1945 they were considerably less than equal
    before the law. And I am here to tell you that, at that stage, the law afforded
    them no protection at all. It was not until 1975 that the passage of the Racial
    Discrimination Act and the UN Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of
    Racial Discrimination was implemented in Australia. Te Act’s implementation was
    not based on that convention and it was not based on Article 7 of the Universal
    Declaration. It was based on the 1967 Constitutional amendment, which simply did
    two things. It provided that the Commonwealth parliament had the power to
    legislate with respect to people of various races, including the Aboriginal
    race, and it provided that Aboriginal people could be counted as citizens.
    Australian Aborigines were citizens of this country, if not the equivalent; that
    is to say, they were British subjects by virtue of and from the moment of their
    birth. It is a disgrace that we should have failed to recognise and treated them
    so poorly and so shamefully for so many years.
    Article 7 was
    not of course concerned solely with the rights of people of different races.
    There was no 1967 amendment to the Constitution allowing for the federal
    government to legislate for the equal rights of women. But their protection
    languished, not withstanding the presence of Article 6, which says that everyone
    “has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law”. That
    position did not change till 1973. By then, some of the more adventurous
    thinkers were putting forward a proposition which much earlier had been advanced
    by Dr Wilfred Jenks as President of the International Labour Organisation. He
    had argued that the federal clause was a ban and that the federal government
    could legislate pursuant to its external affairs power to implement the treaties
    it had ratified. By 1983 that view was in the ascendancy, and Senator Susan Ryan
    took steps to ensure the ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of
    all Forms of Discrimination against Women and in 1983 she shepherded through the
    parliament the Sex Discrimination Act. Let me interpolate here Susan,
    just this much as an aside. It is my great delight that it was and remains
    called the Sex Discrimination Act. When I was growing up, nouns had
    gender and people had sex. Now it is the other way
    It was almost 35
    years to the day after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human rights
    that Australia had at least embraced the notion of equality in its laws. Now the
    importance of those two pieces of legislation, theRacial Discrimination
    Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, can never be minimised. They are
    not Constitutional enactments. The parliament can repeal or revoke them any day
    it wants to. But they’re all that we have in this country to ensure we are
    anything like a fair and equal society. Let me amend that. Apart from the
    little-used, less often thought of, Section 117 of the Constitution that was
    explored in a case called Street – he being one of the descendants of
    Jessie Street – and the Queensland Bar Association. They are all that
    we’ve got. Section 117 provides that a resident of one state shall not in
    another state be subject to any discrimination in the other state on account of
    his or her residency of the other state.
    Those two pieces
    of anti-discrimination legislation are all that we have got. It is not an
    accident that, in the context of the 10-point Wik plan — hands up those who
    remember the 10-point Wik plan that has almost disappeared from our
    consciousness — our Aboriginal leaders insisted that the Racial
    Discrimination Act could not be amended. The Racial Discrimination
    Act is the bedrock foundation upon which native title
    No I do not want
    to enter this debate. I know and I understand the reason why someone should
    argue for a constitutionally enshrined bill of rights, and particularly a bill
    of rights that replicates and guarantees rights enshrined in the Universal
    Declaration. But let me tell you about a little job I had in Belarus. The
    international trade union movement complained to the International Labour
    Organisation that the independent union movement of Belarus was being
    discriminated against and that its members were being persecuted. The government
    of Belarus pointed to what was undoubtedly the most beautiful constitution I’ve
    ever seen. The constitution enshrined the equal rights of everyone. It
    guaranteed at least every right in the Universal Declaration and then some. For
    example, it guaranteed the rights of trade unions and trade unionists. So
    seriously did Belarus take its international obligations, that it had the public
    holiday for International Women’s Day.
    Quite naturally,
    in the face of the allegation that it was treating its trade unionists a little
    less than properly, it pointed to its beautiful constitution. “How can it be”,
    they said. “Look, we’ve enshrined all these rights in the constitution and in
    addition we have enshrined every international norm. So it’s just not possible.”
    Well indeed it was possible. It was possible for one reason and one reason only.
    There was nothing in its constitution which permitted citizens to approach the
    courts in the protection of their constitutional rights. That could be done only
    by the prosecutor-general — he was the man giving the trade unionists a
    moderately bad time — the president or the chief justice. But the chief justice
    would only do so after the trade unionists had served their time in prison. I
    mentioned the situation in Belarus because the Universal Declaration recognises
    there is no protection of human rights without the rule of
    Let me read you
    some of the articles that relate to the rule of law:
    Article 8:
    Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national
    tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the
    constitution or by law.
    Article 9: No
    one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or
    Article 11:
    Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent
    until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all
    the guarantees necessary for his defence.
    Article 12:
    No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family,
    home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone
    has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or
    Well, if
    Australia was tardy in implementing or giving effect to Article 7 of the
    Universal Declaration, it was more than ingenious in recognising the rule of
    law. The genius of the Australian Constitution lies in a little subsection
    called section 75(5). Its terms are probably meaningless to those of you
    non-lawyers who are present here today. It gives the High Court original
    jurisdiction in which any person, citizen or non citizen seeks mandamus,
    prohibition or an injunction against an officer of the Commonwealth. As a result
    of that tiny little subsection, ministers of the federal government, federal
    public servants, their agents and others acting on their behalf may be compelled
    to perform their Constitutional and legal duty and may be restrained from acting
    in excess of their constitutional or legal power. The section, like lamingtons
    and Australian Rules Football, is all our own; our own peculiar genius. Not
    surprisingly, governments of both sides have sought from time to time to cut
    down the operation of that little subsection; and equally not surprisingly, High
    Court has resisted their attempts every time. That little subsection is quite
    unique. It has no equivalent, as far as I know, in any other Constitution.
    Certainly it has no equivalent in the United States of America. And it is only
    because America hasn’t got that equivalent provision that we have that legal
    black hole known as Guantanamo Bay.
    The last time I
    ventured into the debate about Guantanamo Bay, I was quite rightly dismissed as
    an armchair critic. Let me not argue the point; but I can sti ll read and I can
    tell you that the indefinite detention without trial before a properly
    constituted and independent tribunal is a breach of several of the provisions of
    the Declaration of Human Rights. I won’t go through all of those provisions, but
    let’s start with “Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and
    security of person”; “Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to
    cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”; “Article 9: No one shall
    be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”. What else is
    incarceration in Guantanamo Bay? “Article 10: Everyone is entitled in full
    equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal”;
    “Article 28: Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which
    the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully
    In dismissing my
    criticisms of Guantanamo Bay, the Attorney General quiet correctly said that it
    was the courts of the United States that would decide if David Hicks’ detention
    was lawful and it is true. At this stage they are four years too late in doing
    so. There is no point in my doing anything more because I’m sure you all know
    the United Nations and the European Union have both called for the closure, the
    immediate closure, of Guantanamo Bay.
    Now I have
    mentioned Guantanamo Bay and David Hicks for another reason. It is true that
    today in far too many places, human right abuses occur on a large scale. Human
    rights abuses are often driven in those places by political, ethnic or religious
    differences. In the case of white Australia, human rights abuses also occur, and
    they occur at individual levels. The victims of those abuses are usually the
    most vulnerable. As a general rule the authorities don’t interfere with nice
    middle class men and women like us. They pick on the difficult people. They pick
    on the non-conformists, the troublemakers, the dissidents, and as often as not
    they pick on the mentally ill and the mentally
    We now know of
    the most serious violations of the rights of Christine Rau and Mrs Solon. So far
    as I know, no compensation has yet been provided. But let me hazard a guess that
    the damages must be enormous. I read in yesterday’s  Sydney Morning
    Herald, which I always understood to be a journal of record, that two men,
    nameless and unidentified, have been in immigration detention for three and five
    years, respectively. How much more vulnerable can you be than to lack a name and
    an identity? Today, the Herald reported that the Commonwealth government
    has settled the claim of a child who had been severely traumatised as a result
    of the two years he spent in immigration detention. According to
    the Herald, this was settled after a 63-day hearing in the Supreme Court.
    For that there will not be any change out of a million dollars, I promise you.
    Moreover, it is said that the damages aspect would be in the order of a million
    Now I have been
    round this town long enough to know that abuses occur not only because people
    are vulnerable; they occur as often as not because good people do nothing, and
    as often as not good people know nothing. Detention centres are set apart and
    isolated from the mainstream of society, and deliberately so; so that you will
    not know what is going on. But it cannot be denied that, if abuses can occur,
    they will occur.
    For that reason,
    I am not going to talk about Guantanamo Bay any more today. I am going to take
    this occasion to remind you or perhaps acquaint you with the terms of Article 14
    of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It says simply: “Everyone has the
    right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Not a
    word about detention centres there. And because of that, I think today is an
    appropriate occasion to call for the immediate closure of immigration detention
    centres. At least there is a better than respectable argument that we should do
    it on economic grounds, if we won’t do it because of the terms of Article 14, if
    we can’t do it out of fellow feelings with other human

  • John Ward

    Luv it.

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