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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (9 December) . . Page.. 3345 ..

MR WOOD (continuing):

(2) to foster a human rights culture in Australia by establishing a well funded National Committee for Human Rights Education; and

(3) to promote and protect human rights in the region in all aspects of domestic and foreign policy.

Mr Speaker, this is an important motion. I have anticipated general, let us say universal, support on a motion of this nature. Perhaps I should have informed the members of my intention earlier, but it has been an unusually busy week. Tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock the bells of Canberra will ring. Led by the carillon, school bells, church bells, even our own Assembly bells, will ring for one minute to mark Human Rights Day and the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Tomorrow will be the culmination of a campaign launched a year ago by Amnesty International, the worldwide human rights organisation, to encourage people around the world to recommit to the ideals of the universal declaration. Ten million signatures pledging support for the declaration have been collected in books from every continent. These books will be presented at the International Human Rights Defenders Summit being held this month in Paris and will eventually be housed in a monument near the building where the UDHR was first drafted.

The signatures have been collected to show governments that ordinary people care about human rights. Fifty years is a long time, but not long enough where human rights are concerned. Violation of human rights remains commonplace. Amnesty International's annual report for 1998 shows that we still live in a world of abuse. In 31 countries people disappeared. In 40 countries there were executions, and in 70 countries prisoners remain under death sentences. Prisoners of conscience were held in 87 countries. Torture was used in 117 countries. There were unfair trials in 34 countries. Fifty-five countries held people arbitrarily without charge or trial. Extrajudicial executions occurred in 55 countries. Armed opposition groups committed serious human rights abuses in 31 countries.

Australia is also criticised in this annual report. We are criticised for our record on deaths in custody, for the inadequate Federal Government response to the report on the stolen generation and for the continued mandatory detention of asylum seekers. Internationally, we are criticised for our refusal in 1997 to complete negotiation of a framework agreement with the European Union because we would not accept a binding clause which required respect for "basic human rights as proclaimed in the UDHR". That is why my motion calls on the Prime Minister to act to renew Australia's commitment to human rights in the eyes of the world.

The fiftieth anniversary is a time to look forward and to recommit; it is also a time to look back. Canberra has a special connection with the universal declaration. Ernest Burgmann was Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn from 1934 to 1960. The connection remains. His three surviving children still live here, as do many of his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. His name is remembered through Burgmann College at the ANU and the new Burgmann Anglican school due to open in Gungahlin next year.

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