rights head in battle on powers is an April 19 2003 article by
Cynthia Banham in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The departing president of the
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC )has vowed to
"fight to the death" the Federal Government's attempts to curb
the commission's influence in the court system.
In legislation before Parliament
that would streamline the commission's structure, the Government has
included a provision that would strip the commission of its independent
right to intervene in court cases.
But the president, Professor Alice
Tay, who finishes in May after five years in the job, claims the
commission is united in its resistance to the clause.
The commission has been involved in
35 issues where it intervened since its establishment in the mid 80's. It
has argued against the government on a number of occasions, including the Tampa
the government shirked its international obligations toward refugees with
an absence of compassion which made world headlines.
Proposed new laws would mean HREOC
would have to get the Attorney-General's permission before it could
intervene in a case.
Professor Tay said that if the
legislation got through Parliament, "I will be passing on to the
next president a very much inferior set of responsibilities". She
argues the laws would create a conflict of interest for the Government.
"The Commonwealth very often
is a party to human rights action. How can it then be also the body who
decides whether we as a human rights institution should get its
The Attorney-General, Daryl Williams,
claims forcing the commission seek his permission would make sure
"the intervention function is only exercised after the broader
interest of the community have been taken into account". The claim is
that this will make sure any HREOC actions will be in the best interests
of the human rights of the community as a whole."
Victorian Attorney-General, Rob
Hulls, is reported by Ms Banham as saying "all that will be taken
into account are the interests of Daryl Williams. This is a gross and, in
my view, improper political interference with our national human rights
This is a serious issue for Australia
especially under a Howard Government which has demonstrated a suspect
attitude (at best) towards human rights.
Similar laws proposed in 1998 were
withdrawn after a Senate committee - including Liberals - said the
amendments threatened the commission's independence."
"The president of the
Australian Council for Civil Liberties, Terry O'Gorman, said: "You
can see a direct cause and effect between HREOC's intervention in Tampa
and this particular move."
Our future freedoms may be vastly
affected by this proposed change to the law.
Write to your MP now!