Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 3 Hansard (6 March) . . Page.. 668 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
importantly, it is wrong to make an example of women's rights in the campaign against the UN committee system. To do so shows an incredible disrespectful attitude towards the human rights of Australian women and undermines Australia's previous role as a leader in the international arena of human rights protection.
Some might say that Australia is so good at protecting its women's rights that there is no need to provide this further avenue for redress. I agree that Australian institutions such as the Sex Discrimination Act and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission are generally effective. However, at this stage we need to demonstrate leadership. If the Australian government is convinced by its rhetoric that the human rights situation in Australia is exemplary and it fulfils its role as an international supporter of human rights, then it should be willing to give its support to the human rights conventions, and it should be willing to sign the optional protocol to CEDAW.
As just demonstrated in the Assembly, we are an Assembly that cares for workers, enough to put forward a submission to the national arena about their wages. I hope that the Assembly will support my motion on women's rights and join with the Democrats in advocating for international women's human rights.
MS GALLAGHER (4.46): I would like to speak in support of Ms Dundas' motion. Australia has a long history of active involvement in, and support of, the role of the United Nations in protecting and advancing global human rights. This championing of human rights has led Australia to ratify a number of UN human rights treaties, many of which include a direct appeals procedure such as the one outlined in the optional protocol to CEDAW.
Unfortunately, Australia's reputation as a human rights advocate has been tarnished in recent years, at no time more so than in mid-2000 when the Minister for Foreign Affairs, The Minister for Trade and the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs announced that the federal government not only would be reviewing its cooperation with the United Nations human rights committee structure but would not sign the optional protocol to CEDAW.
It is unacceptable that the federal government, when it comes under the scrutiny of the international community, should seek to distance this country from the important role the United Nations plays in the protection of human rights. The actions of the federal government following criticisms of Australia's treatment of its indigenous population and of refugees suggest that Australia is beyond reproach in its human rights record. Mr Deputy Speaker, I assure you that it is not, and any action to the contrary is arrogant and undermines the importance of human rights in this country.
It is up to countries such as ours to lead the way in advocating for human rights and in supporting the international community in its efforts to secure those rights for all people. Part of that support is to accept the scrutiny of our human rights performance by the United Nations. Any nation that will not accept the criticism and direction of the peak body advocating for human rights cannot then lend its support to that body or call for other states to improve their human rights records. For the federal government to place Australia in such a position not only undermines our international standing but threatens the legitimacy of the entire international human rights system.