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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2016 Census debacle

Melissa deZwart

The Census website is unavailable. We apologise for the inconvenience. There will be no fines for completing the Census after August 9. We will keep you updated.

Census of Population and Housing Website, Tuesday 9 August 2016

So read the message on the Australian Census website, after hours of users attempting to submit their 2016 Census returns being frustrated by error messages. Behind this fairly simple and apparently reassuring message that service would be reinstated shortly, lay a complicated trail of user confusion, fear of privacy invasions, fines and government cutbacks.

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 209


Disability rights

Caitlin McInnes

At the federal level there have been a number of developments in relation to disability rights and elder rights. First, two Senate reports in the past year have highlighted issues of violence, abuse and neglect of people with disabilities in residential and care settings, as well as the poor state of education for people with disabilities. The first report made some very clear comments on the root causes of violence, abuse and neglect, noting it ‘begins with the de-valuing of people with disability … [which] permeates the attitudes of individual disability workers, service delivery organisations and most disturbingly, government systems designed to protect the rights of individuals’. Both reports are now available on the Parliamentary website.

Second, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (‘NDIS’) has begun to roll out, an initiative that was championed by both sides of politics as well as disability groups. In addition, Alastair McEwin was recently appointed as the new Disability Discrimination Commissioner. He was formerly the president of the Deaf Society and chairman of the Disability Council of NSW. He has been appointed in a full time capacity — a welcome restoration of this important role at the Australian Human Rights Commission (the last full time Commissioner was Graeme Innes, whose term ended in 2014).

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 210


Law reform based on international Indigenous rights:  ACT Human Rights Act

Sean Costello

Earlier this year, key aspects of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (‘UNDRIP’) were enacted into the Human Rights Act 2004 (‘HR Act’). The new section 27(2) of the ACT HR Act, which passed earlier this year, is also based on Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (‘ICCPR’) and s 19(2) of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006. Both the earlier Victorian provision and newer ACT amendment recognise Aboriginal cultural heritage, distinctive spiritual practices, languages, knowledge and kinship ties. The new ACT provision adds Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ cultural rights and a note explicitly cites UNDRIP, in particular articles 25 and 31.

These rights recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ material and economic relationships with the land and waters and other resources. The enjoyment of these cultural rights may include, for example, a way of life associated with territory, and the use of resources. This might include traditional activities such as hunting and fishing, or the right to live in reserves protected under law.

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 210


Don’t tweet, bleat or pull faces

Bruce Baer Arnold

Does employment as an official of the ACT government deprive those citizens of their constitutionally implied freedom of political communication? It is a freedom that is more important than ever, with controversy about gagging of doctors who have concerns regarding refugees in offshore detention centres, the erosion of Freedom of Information law (damned by Commonwealth Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd as ‘pernicious’), and recurrent claims of mismanagement or even corruption in the Territory and state governments.

The ACT Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety (Legislative Scrutiny) has accordingly offered cogent criticisms of the Public Sector Management Amendment Bill 2016 (ACT). The Bill has been defended as appropriate and consistent with Commonwealth practice. It has been signed off by the ACT Attorney-General as consistent with the Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT), a reminder of the weakness of the Territory’s human rights regime. The Standing Committee disagrees, commending formal establishment of an ACT senior executive service but construing the proposed changes as an undue restriction on human rights, particularly a restriction ‘dealt with in a cursory way’ and requiring ‘deeper analysis’.

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 210


Proposed tenancy law reforms improve rights for victims of domestic violence

Kellie McDonald
New South Wales

On 5 July 2016, Victor Dominello, the Innovation and Better Regulation Minister, and Pru Goward, the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, announced their intention to reform the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (NSW) in the first half of 2017 to improve the rights of victims of domestic violence living in rental properties.

Under the current tenancy laws victims escaping domestic violence can end their tenancy without liability by giving 14 days written notice if they have a final apprehended violence order (‘AVO’) with an order excluding the perpetrator of violence from the rental property.

People experiencing domestic violence often need to flee their home quickly in order to remain safe. In our experience, it can take up to 12 months to finalise an AVO, especially where there are criminal charges.

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 211


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