DUAO - 2011 - Vol 36(2)

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Developments around the country

DownUnderAllOver is a round-up of legal news from both State and federal jurisdictions, and contains topical articles and short pieces from Alternative Law Journal committees around the country.

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A government committed to fairness and accountability should strengthen our Charter of Rights

Philip Lynch
Human Rights
The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities has attracted a range of dubious claims from politicians and others, being described as everything from 'powerful' and 'transformative' to 'dangerous' and 'weak'.

The Charter is now being reviewed by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee ('SARC'); public submissions close on 1 July. Respect for human rights is essential for a community that is fair, just and inclusive. Where human rights are promoted and protected in law they are more likely to be respected and protected on the ground. The legal protection of rights is particularly important for vulnerable or disadvantaged groups, such as people who are homeless, people with mental illness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and people with disability.

(2011) 36(2) AltLJ 127

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Refugee status

Sunili Govinnage
Federal

The Migration Act 1958 (Cth) provides that people entering Australia in the 'excised' offshore migration zone are 'unlawful non-citizens'. Under s 46A(1) of the Act, these people cannot make a valid application for a protection visa unless the Minister allows them that privilege. Asylum seekers who arrive by boat must first prove to the Minister (by way of assessment by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship) that they are refugees under the UN Refugee Convention before they are allowed to apply for a protection visa.

(2011) 36(2) AltLJ 128

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Christmas Island and Villawood independent review

Anthea Vogl
Federal

On 18 March 2011, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship announced that an independent review would be conducted into the March incident at Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre (‘CIIDC’). The incident referred to in the announcement relates to the escape of over 200 detainees from the CIIDC in early March and also to protests that took place the following week, involving detainees lighting a series of fires within detention (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, ‘Independent review into Christmas Island Detention Centre protests and escapes’, Media Release, 18 March 2011).

Helen Williams, former Department of Human Services Secretary and Allan Hawke, former Department of Defence Secretary, have been appointed to conduct the Review, which is due to report to the Minister in July 2011.

(2011) 36(2) AltLJ 129

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Shield Laws

Lizzie O'Shea
Federal

Shield laws are designed to protect journalists and other commentators from being forced to reveal confidential information or sources. A new set of shield laws, championed by independent member for Denison Andrew Wilkie commenced on 13 April 2011. The Evidence Amendment (Journalists’ Privilege) Act 2011 amends the Evidence Act 1995.

Previously, journalists could be held in contempt of court if they refused to disclose their source. This is very much a real issue for journalists: in 2007, Herald Sun journalists Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus were fined for being in contempt of court for refusing to reveal sources for a story about cuts to war veterans’ entitlements. The court found that journalists were not above the law when protecting their sources. They have no legal protection in these situations, even when attempting to comply with their own code of ethics. This has caused Harvey and McManus material difficulty personally and professionally. Amongst other things, their criminal records mean that working in the US is now practically impossible.

(2011) 36(2) AltLJ 129

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Mental Health Awareness@Law; A good start but nowhere near finished

Lloyd England
Federal

A newly published survey of 18 000 legal professionals commissioned by beyondblue, the National Depression Initiative, suggests recent work raising mental health awareness in the legal industry seems to be paying off.

‘There is less stigmatisation today because there is so much greater awareness about depression than when we started beyondblue in 2000 or carried out the last survey in 2007,’ Chairman Jeff Kennett said at the launch.

(2011) 36(2) AltLJ 129

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