September 23rd 2000

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: Singapore’s changing direction

Editorial: Free trade: it’s time to fight back

National Affairs: East Timor: Whitlam was the culprit

Agriculture: Deregulation cuts a swathe through dairy industry

Law: Why Coalition will keep UN Committees at arms length

Eyewitness Report: S11 protests win few friends

Globalism: Australia out in the cold as three economic blocs form

South Australia: Hindmarsh Island bridge saga continues

Canberra Observed: ALP heads back to the future

National Affairs: Manufacturers, farmers: a natural alliance

Straws in the Wind

New Zealand: From basket case to “case study” ... and back to basket case

The Media

Books: 'PAPUA NEW GUINEA: People Politics and History since 1975', by Sean Dorney

Books: Pioneer police: 'Sand and Stone', by Kevin Moran


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Law: Why Coalition will keep UN Committees at arms length

by Richard Egan

News Weekly, September 23, 2000
The inter-departmental review of Australia’s interaction with the United Nations treaty committee system has resulted in a Cabinet decision to adopt certain measures to distance Australia from these committees, pending a full reform of the way they operate.

According to a joint media statement by Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, Attorney General, Daryl Williams, and Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, the reform of the treaty system must involve “adequate recognition of the primary role of democratically elected governments and the subordinate role of non-government organisations (NGOs)”.

This reflects the increasing influence of NGOs, usually hostile to the Government, with the UN committees. The committees appear more willing to believe the claims — sometimes outrageous — made by NGOs to the submissions made by the Australian Government.

The Ministers also insist that the UN Committees stick to their mandate. This is not spelt out in any detail but may refer in part to the tendency of the Committees to interpret the Conventions they monitor in novel ways.

For example, the discernment of a right to sodomy in the privacy provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; a ban on “even the lightest” corporal punishment by parents discovered to exist between the lines in the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and a hostility to Mother’s Day and home care of children read into the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Unless and until the Committees are reformed to meet these standards, then Australia will not play ball.

“Reporting to and representation at treaty committees [will] be based on a more economical and selective approach where appropriate.” This diplomatic language appears to mean that we will not send our reports (due every two, three or five years depending on the applicable convention) or delegations to be interrogated by the so-called “experts” on the UN Committees, unless the Government chooses to do so.

Visits to Australia and requests for information from the Committee on Human Rights will only be agreed to “where there is a compelling reason to do so”.

The latest review of Australia’s “performance” by the Committee on Human Rights makes it clear why the Government has taken these steps.

In its “Concluding Observations” dated July 28, 2000, the Committee found four “positive aspects” to commend in Australia’s human rights record over the last ten years including the enactment of the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act to invalidate State laws against sodomy, and eleven “principal subjects of concern” with corresponding recommendations.

These include:

- amending the Native Title Act to “restore and protect the titles and interests of indigenous persons in their native lands”;

- responding to the stolen generation claims in such a way that “the victims themselves and their families will consider that they have been afforded a proper remedy”, that is to say, give all claimants for compensation as much money as they demand;

- incorporate the entire International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights either as a “Bill of Rights” or in some other manner but so as “to ensure that all persons whose Covenant rights and freedoms have been violated shall have an effective remedy”;

- override State’s rights and Australia’s federal system by whatever means necessary to enforce the Covenant throughout Australia;

- withdraw the so-called anti-Teoh bill designed to reverse the High Court’s finding that international treaties give rise to a “legitimate expectation” that administrative decision makers will take these into account in their decisions, even when the treaties are not enacted into domestic legislation by Australian parliaments; and,

- overturn Western Australia and the Northern Territory’s mandatory sentencing regimes, held to be racially discriminatory by the Committee.

There is no need for the Australian Government to spend taxpayers’ dollars flying bureaucrats to Geneva to hear these views from an ill-informed UN Committee.

They are the views articulated here in Australia quite competently by the homosexual, Aboriginal and “human rights” lobbies.

Neither these groups nor the United Nations Committee on Human Rights have anything to say in defence of the 100,000 Australian children killed by abortion each year, or the tens of thousands of human embryos in frozen storage, or the right of children to be born with both a father and a mother.

The Ministers also announced that Australia “will not sign or ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which establishes a new complaints procedure.”

This would have allowed aggrieved Australian women to take their cases to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

These measures should be welcomed, and the Howard Government congratulated, by those concerned that Australia’s involvement with these United Nations committees was undermining our national sovereignty and creating a distorted view of Australia’s human rights record.

To be consistent Australia should denounce its ratification of the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and remove the opportunity for aggrieved persons to take their cases to the Committee on Human Rights.

We should also conduct a serious review of the conventions themselves and consider denouncing them, especially CEDAW and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which are fundamentally flawed.

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