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Byron Shire
April 19, 2021

Human rights charter needed, Mullum meeting hears

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Knitting Nannas Lindy Scott (left) and Clare Twomey (right) with former Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs at Saturday’s (June 30) lecture. Photo Tree Faerie

By Eve Sinton

Former Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs has called for an Australian charter of human rights.

Speaking at the Ngara Institute’s annual lecture in Mullumbimby last Saturday (June 30), Professor Triggs said Australia is the only democracy without a bill of rights, and over-reach in executive power by successive governments in the 21st century was deeply damaging to the public.

‘We now need, as a matter of urgency, some form of legislated charter of rights to protect fundamental common law freedoms in Australia and ensure we meet our international human rights obligations that we as a nation have committed to by treaty over the last 70 years or so,’ she said.

‘It could be quite simple. We could draft one tonight – the ‘Mullumbimby Charter of Human Rights.’

Gillian Triggs during her keynote speech at the Ngara Awards in Mullum. Photo Tree Faerie.

Prof Triggs said the current legal system is failing all Australians, especially the most vulnerable.

‘I date the regression of respect for human rights in Australia [to] that dramatic year in 2001 – the children overboard, the Tampa and 9/11,’ she said.

‘Australia has failed to protect many fundamental freedoms or to comply with its international human rights obligations and has passed laws explicitly to deny those obligations.’

Examples include the government’s attempt to silence whistle-blowers with the threat of two-year prison sentences, and reduced funding for community legal centres to restrict their advocacy.

The recent passage of foreign influence and espionage bills is extremely worrying.

‘The Foreign Influence Bill could criminalise publication of information including opinions or reports of conversations to international organisations.

‘That could include information and opinions about food security, energy security, climate security, economic conditions, migration and refugee policies because these may affect Australia’s ‘political, military or economic relations with another country’.’

She said our implied freedom of political communication may be breached because of broad definitions in offences that criminalise dealing with information that may harm national security.

Espionage offences appear broad enough to capture reputational damage and loss of confidence in an Australian government.

Public interest defence does not extend to journalist sources or civil society advocates. The evidential burden is on the defendant and there is a potential 10-year jail penalty.

Prof Triggs said, ‘It is the most vulnerable in our society – the homeless, the mentally ill, those in administrative detention without trial, indigenous Australians and families – who shoulder the burden of Australia’s declining respect for human rights.’

She said a federally legislated Charter of Rights would better protect the rights of citizens, minorities and non-citizens, and ensure a culture of respect for the rights that underpin our democracy – freedom of speech, the right to vote and equality.

‘The tragic personal stories along with generalised breaches of the rights of Indigenous peoples, juvenile detainees, asylum seekers and the homeless, can be prevented if we enact a federal charter of rights.

‘Above all, Australia could return to the rule of law and the principles of legality upon which our multicultural democracy is based,’ she said.

Activists awarded

Professor Triggs also presented the 2018 Australian Activist of the Year Award to local activists who have fought long and hard against CSG extraction in NSW: Annie Kia who developed the hugely successful ‘neighbour to neighbour’ community engagement process for Lock the Gate movements across the country; and the Knitting Nannas Against Gas, whose creative and persistent nonviolent strategies have been so important at blockades and protests.

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  1. Human Rights Charter needed.
    So I was right. The Fourth Estate, the watchdog of the people, is not doing its job

  2. Great night. Thank you for coming Gillian Trigg.
    Congratulations to Annie and the Knitting Nanna’s.

  3. We attended the function in Mullumbimby on Saturday night. (A really enjoyable night, very informative).
    I agree with Gillian Triggs that Australia needs some form of Bill of Rights. I am no legal-eagle, but to my reading, the Canadian model seems a good one.
    My interpretation of the Canadian model is that they clearly state the various rights, but the definition seems to be legally undefined, so it is up to the plaintiff to legally argue the definition for their particular case, which then sets a legal precedence. I particularly like that if a law is written that is contrary to the rights, the law only exists for 5 years, then must be re-debated & re-passed.
    My interpretation of this if applied to Australia would be that ‘bad’ laws such as the NT intervention, or the present law against demonstrations would only apply for 5 years (then require re-assessment).

    regards, Doug

  4. Congrats to Annie for her important work, and to the Nannas for raising awareness about CSG etc.
    Gillian Triggs has spoken so clearly and bravely over the years.
    Never let it be said that feminism isn’t a powerful positive influence – whether regarded as feminist activity or not.
    These great women are showing the way for our ecological, social and political future. GO WOMEN!

  5. Thanks to Eve Sinton for an excellent report on Gillian Triggs speech!
    Gillian received such a warm reception from the Mullum community that on a Saturday night in Mullum, everyone was at her event. We know,as we went out for coffee during the intermission, there were so few people out and about…..
    There were several standing ovations, and if there is anywhere that would follow through with Gillian’s suggestion of a simple but effective Charter of Human Rights, it’d be in Mullumbimby. What a community!

    • Your right. Excellent things happening in Mullumbimby and surrounding area due to the great ideas of compassionate and intelligent people. Gillian Triggs would definetily be a positive addition to the social fabric and would find plenty of support for her ideas.

      Who knows Jon, maybe if she moved here she might mobilise support and get some traction for her proposed charter, and seeing as this is your idea you will rightly be recognised as the far-seeing guru who parented the shift to a national human-rights driven agenda.

      It’s that positive and constructive attitude that is going to lead to great change, keep it up!


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