The Australian government has appointed Bret Walker SC as the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. The role of the Monitor, appointed under the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Act 2010 (Cth), is to review and report on the operation, effectiveness and implications of Australia’s counter terrorism and national security legislation on an ongoing basis.
News & Views
Respected Indigenous leaders, Les Malezer and Jody Broun have been elected co-chairs of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. Mr Malezer said Australia’s first peoples exercising the right to unreservedly elect their own national leaders, in their own national organisation, was a historical occasion. ‘As such it is the very first step towards self-determination, which is our political right, our human right, our inherent right and our right to equality with all other peoples of the world including the peoples of the Australian nation,’ Mr Malezer said.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The ACT Law Reform Advisory Council (‘LRAC’) has been asked by the ACT Attorney-General to inquire into and report on steps necessary to provide for legal recognition of the gender and sex diverse community in the ACT (transgender and intersex people).
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.
Youth Justice in the ACT is currently subject to two overlapping reviews. The ACT Human Rights Commission is reviewing Bimberi Youth Justice Centre (the detention centre for young people in the ACT) and the Department of Disability, Housing and Community Services is conducting a review with particular focus on the effectiveness of current diversionary policies and services.
Should the right to possess and use firearms be considered a protected individual civil right? Or a privilege regulated by governments and balanced against the ‘public good’?
In 1996 all Australian governments agreed that personal protection would not be regarded as a genuine reason for owning, possessing or using a firearm. Section 3 of the Firearms Act 1996 (NSW) lists as one of its underlying principles ‘to confirm firearm possession and use as being a privilege that is conditional on the overriding need to ensure public safety’ and regulation 19 of the Firearms Regulation 2006 provides that the Commissioner of Police may revoke a licence if satisfied that it is not in the public interest for the licensee to continue to hold the licence. Despite this, there is evidence of support within Australia for recognition of a right to firearm ownership. However, it is difficult to know whether these views are reflective of the wider community or not.