Below is a question by question compilation of responses by the Coalition, Australian Labor Party, Greens, Liberal Democrats (Senator David Leyonhjelm) and independent member for Denison Andrew Wilkie. The Coalition responded under subheadings, so Human Rights Watch has matched their responses to the questions.
- What changes, if any, should be made to Australia’s laws covering the rights of journalists, whistleblowers, and activists to speak out on matters of public interest?
The Coalition said “the Turnbull Coalition government will introduce new whistleblower protections for people who disclose information about tax misconduct to the Australian Tax Office. Whistleblowers will have their identity protected and will be protected from victimisation and civil and criminal action for disclosing information to the ATO. These protections will encourage whistleblowers to come forward and help support compliance with Australia’s tax laws.”
The Labor Party replied that “Governments should be listening to alternative voices, not seeking to silence them.
Since being elected in 2013, the Liberals have cut funding to community groups and legal services, attempted to gag advocates and cut off their access to the courts. Without appropriate resourcing, these groups are left unable to fight the Abbott-Turnbull Government’s cuts which are impacting the people they represent.
The 2014 Budget cut $6 million from community legal centres, along with $15 million from legal aid commissions and $43 million from advocacy services. People who cannot afford a private lawyer are increasingly being denied access to the legal representation to which they are entitled, and the centres cannot afford to campaign to protect the people they represent.
Labor, when in government, introduced the Not-for-profit Sector Freedom to Advocate Bill, which invalidated clauses in Commonwealth agreements with not-for-profit sector providers that restricted or prevented not-for-profit entities from advocating on Commonwealth law, policy or actions. The Abbott-Turnbull Government has trampled on these important Freedom to Advocate laws.
As a way to avoid being held to account on their environmental record, the Abbott-Turnbull Government made the decision to defund environmental defenders’ offices (EDOs). The EDOs of Australia consist of nine specialist community legal centres dedicated to public interest environmental law. Labor is well aware of the important role of EDOs and the appalling cuts inflicted on these important offices by the Abbott-Turnbull Government. Labor, when in office, provided significant funding to EDOs in 2013.
The Abbott-Turnbull Government also introduced the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standing) Bill in 2015 to silence the voice of the community on environmental matters. This Bill lapsed when Parliament was prorogued on 15 April 2016. This Bill, if had been passed into law, would have undermined the integrity of our environment protection laws. Labor opposed and will continue to oppose this Bill.
Labor, when in office, initiated historic public interest disclosure legislation to provide the most comprehensive protection regime for public sector whistleblowers in Australia. The public has the right to know the truth, the media has the right to publish the truth, and whistleblowers deserve protection for exposing the truth. These are principles Labor will stand up for.”
The Greens said it “negotiated with the Labor Party in the last parliament to strengthen the Public Disclosure Act for public sector whistleblowers. We argued then as we continue to argue today that this regime has to be extended to cover the private and not-for-profit sectors. But providing legal protection on its own is not enough. To encourage whistleblowers to come forward without having to sacrifice their work and financial security, the Greens advocate for a model based on the US False Claims Act where whistleblowers can be supported by getting a set proportion of any additional revenue collected by government agencies as a result of the information provided. This is a particularly important measure in relation to companies or individuals evading the tax office.”
Senator David Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democrats senator for New South Wales) said “[t]he Liberal Democrats are fierce defenders of free speech, including media freedom. The suite of national security legislation (there were 5 separate bills) enacted by the Abbott/Turnbull government adversely affected free speech and should be repealed as a matter of urgency. Taken together, they attacked freedom of speech, undermined press freedom, attacked whistleblowers, undermined legal professional privilege, and provided for mandatory data retention. Australia has now intruded on traditional rights and freedoms to such an extent its adherence to common law principles like the presumption of innocence has been called into question.”
Andrew Wilkie (independent member for Denison) said “[t]he history of my blowing the whistle on the Iraq War when I worked at the Office of National Assessments is well known. Since then, and since being elected to Parliament in 2010, I have been a strong advocate for improved whistleblower protection. I have introduced legislation twice that would provide more protection for whistleblowers and my Evidence Amendment (Journalists’ Privilege) Bill 2010 was only the 18th Private Member’s Bill to pass both Houses of Parliament since Federation. But more needs to be done.
The current federal public interest disclosure framework is seriously flawed. It fails to encourage and facilitate in many material ways the disclosure of corruption and wrongdoing in the public service. Its definitions and provisions are ambiguous, obscure and restrictive, and it excludes or impedes several classes of potential whistleblowers including those employed as intelligence officers, parliamentarians and parliamentary staff.
I have also been outspoken about how recent national security laws, and laws that restrict the rights of activists and protestors mean that Australia has become a pre-police state.”
- Should Australia permit gay and lesbian couples to marry? Why or why not?
The Coalition said they believe “that a decision on same-sex marriage should be made by a vote by all Australians via a plebiscite as soon as possible after the election.
If the majority of Australians vote ‘yes’ in the plebiscite, the Parliament should respect that decision and legalise same-sex marriage in Australia.”
The Labor Party said “[a] Shorten Labor Government will legislate for marriage equality within the first 100 days of the next Parliament. Marriage equality is a simple, overdue change to Australian law our Parliament could deal with in one day of considered debate culminating in a free vote.
Since the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality, to the present day, Labor governments have consistently been at the forefront of removing discrimination and fighting for the equal rights of LGBTI Australians. Labor opposes Malcolm Turnbull’s $160 million dangerous and divisive plebiscite on marriage equality. A plebiscite could act as a lightning rod for the very worst of the prejudice so many LGBTI Australians endure. Malcolm Turnbull’s plebiscite will give a taxpayer-funded platform and a megaphone to the very worst forms of hateful abuse which will only add to the burden too many Australians have to bear.”
The Greens said they “have been strong, long-time supporters for marriage equality. The Greens believe that all love is equal, and that our marriage laws should reflect that fact. The Greens oppose the Government’s proposed plebiscite. A plebiscite on marriage equality would open a divisive campaign that would adversely impact on the mental health of LGBTI Australians. This matter should be resolved in the parliament.”
The Liberal Democrats said “[y]es, it should. How individuals organize their private lives – as long as they do not harm others – is not a matter for the government.”
Wilkie said “[y]es. The legislated discrimination in the Marriage Act should be fixed to allow same-sex couples to marry.”
- What would you do to address the disproportionate incarceration of indigenous people in Australian prisons and jails?
The Coalition said they will “work closely with the States and Territories that control the criminal justice system to address the issues that have led to the unacceptably high rate of Indigenous incarceration. This includes increasing education, training and employment opportunities and tackling the misuse of alcohol and other drugs.
A key initiative is the development of a ‘prison to work’ blueprint to reduce repeat offences by addressing long term unemployment, one of the key drivers of contact with the criminal justice system. This builds on the momentum generated in 2015 when the States and Territories agreed to work with the Government to get people from prison to employment and in so doing help Indigenous people take the first practical steps towards a better life.”
The Labor Party said “[a] Shorten Labor Government will deliver a nationally coordinated approach to close the gap in Indigenous incarceration and victimisation rates. These rates have reached a crisis point. Labor will apply leadership and innovation to address the justice gap – through community-driven and national strategies that empower communities to address the complex causes of incarceration and crime.
The first meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) convened under a Shorten Labor Government will consider priorities for justice targets to be included under the Closing the Gap framework that build safer communities and address levels of Indigenous incarceration. Following this meeting, COAG will establish a working group of State, Territory and local government agencies, as well as key community organisations, to develop measurable targets that address rising incarceration rates and build safer communities. This will focus national attention on closing the gap in these areas, alongside and complementing existing targets in education, employment, the early years, life expectancy and mortality.
Labor will establish three new launch sites in a major city, regional town and remote community that build on existing community-led initiatives to explore the role of justice reinvestment in preventing crime and reducing incarceration. These sites will be identified by working with State and Territory governments, as there are currently justice reinvestment initiatives at various stages of development across Australia. Labor will resource a long-term study of the effectiveness of the justice reinvestment project currently underway in Bourke, New South Wales, to see what Australia can learn from this specific initiative.
Labor understands the need for a strong evidentiary base, to understand what is working and inform future policy. Through COAG, Labor will establish a national coordinating body to build the evidentiary base, collect data and measure progress as the new targets are implemented, and to monitor the effectiveness of justice reinvestment in the Australian context. Labor first committed to a justice target at the 2013 election, recognising that a nationally coordinated approach was needed to reduce incarceration and victimisation rates among Indigenous people.
In contrast, in November 2014, the Abbott-Turnbull Government announced it would not implement a justice target, despite offering bipartisan support for a justice target in 2013. Meanwhile, incarceration and victimisation rates have increased.”
The Greens said “Australian Greens spokesperson on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues Senator Rachel Siewert has repeatedly spoken out about the appalling incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Greens have repeatedly called for the Government to adopt a national justice target to address the disproportionate incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, in line with the recommendation of the Change the Record campaign.
The Greens have also called for the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, want an end to mandatory detention and are strong supporters of justice reinvestment. The Australian Greens have also called for reversing the funding cuts to key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services, in particular the half a billion cut as part of the shift to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.”
The Liberal Democrats said “[t]his is more properly a matter for the States, but as a matter of policy the Liberal Democrats propose that people should not be incarcerated for non-payment of fines (as happens in WA, which led directly to Ms Dhu’s death). Cannabis should be legalised for both recreational and medicinal use, thus avoiding the disproportionate incarceration of both poor and the black people for drug offences, and as a corollary other non-violent drug offences should be medicalised (as in Portugal), taking them out of the criminal justice system all together. Further, Australia’s fondness for over-policing, particularly of trivial offences (parking, speeding, swearing, public drunkenness, drinking in public, riding without a bike helmet) needs to be dramatically wound back. Inevitably, indigenous people – particularly in rural areas – bear the brunt of our decision to make such trivialities a matter for the police rather than civil society.”
Wilkie said “[f]or a start, Australia needs to follow in the steps of some states and territories and implement national targets to reduce rates of Indigenous incarceration. The Government also needs to work constructively with Indigenous communities to address societal problems and needs to re-fund vital organisations such as the Aboriginal Legal Service. Australia also must finally implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. I have raised the issue of Indigenous incarceration with the Government and will continue to speak up where possible.”
- What changes would you make, if any, to Australia’s laws, policies, and practices regarding irregular migrants and asylum seekers?
The Coalition said “Australia has one of the world’s most generous humanitarian programmes. The Coalition has committed to increase the humanitarian programme from its current level of 13,750 to 18,750 by 2018-19. In addition, we are welcoming 12,000 more refugees to Australia as a result of genuine concern for the human tragedy and unprecedented displacement of people from Syria. Australia’s generous humanitarian programme is the result of the Coalition’s successful border protection policies which includes temporary protection visas, regional processing and turnbacks where it is safe to do so.
These policies have secured the border and restored integrity to the immigration system. The Coalition is proud of its border protection record, we have: stopped the boats; ended the deaths at sea; removed all the children from detention; and closed 17 detention centres.”
The Labor Party expressed “[t]he issue of those seeking asylum in Australia is very complex. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of displaced people fleeing from war, conflict or persecution and looking for a better future in other countries is the highest since World War II. An estimated 60 million individuals have been forced to flee their homes due to persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations.
Labor believes that Australia can do more to address this global humanitarian crisis. Labor believes in a compassionate approach to asylum seekers which enables refugees to progress their claims safely and securely. In the almost three years since the last federal election, it has become abundantly clear that the combination of offshore processing and regional resettlement, together with the policy of turning back boats, has stopped the flow of vessels arriving on our shores. None of these strategies could have succeeded in isolation but together they have ended a human tragedy. Provided it can be done so safely, a Shorten Labor Government will retain the option of turning boats around. This is a difficult decision but one which will save hundreds, ultimately thousands, of lives.
Labor understands this is an option that can be hard for some people to accept. But this journey was characterised by the people smugglers who made huge profits with the tragic result that 1,200 people drowned on our border. Labor cannot and will not allow this human tragedy to unfold ever again. Labor’s policy is focussed on Australia playing a greater role in the world with respect to asylum seekers and ensuring that we play our part in reducing the sum of global human misery.
A Shorten Labor Government will: Provide $450 million over three years to support the UNHCR for its global work program and its work in South East Asia and the Pacific; Take a leadership role within South East Asia and the Pacific to build a regional humanitarian framework to improve the situation of asylum seekers; Empower the Commonwealth Ombusdman to provide independent oversight of Australia’s onshore detention network, ensuring that those working in the immigration system enjoy the benefit of whistleblower protections; Appoint an Independent Children’s Advocate to protect the interests of children within the immigration detention system, backed by resources and statutory powers necessary to pursue the best interests of those children, including the power to bring court proceedings on a child’s behalf; Restore fast and fair processing of asylum claims for those people already living in Australia; Reinstate access to the Refugee Review Tribunal and abolish the Independent Assessment Authority established by the Abbott-Turnbull Government; Abolish Temporary Protection visas, which keep people in a permanent state of limbo, and place those found to be genuine refugees on Permanent Protection visas and; Reintroduce the “90-day rule” into the Migration Act.
A Shorten Labor Government will focus on removing people from detention as soon as possible, in particular children and their families. This package will enable Australia to play the largest role it ever has in tackling the refugee crisis facing the world.”
The Greens said that “we need to create a safe way for people to seek asylum in Australia, giving them a better option than a boat journey. Families don’t want to have to use a people smuggler and if there is a safer alternative, they will take it. The other parties’ policies have failed. It’s up to us to build a better way. Children don’t belong in detention and the Greens will remove all children and their families from closed immigration detention immediately, including those in offshore detention on Nauru.
The Greens will close the detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru and abolish the practice of offshore detention. Those yet to be processed will have their claims assessed efficiently and fairly and those found to be refugees will be flown to Australia for resettlement. The Greens want to abolish temporary protection visas and provide permanent protection to people seeking safety. The Greens support a maximum 30 day time limit for people held in on-shore immigration detention. This is ample time to conduct the necessary checks and to assess their claims for asylum. Once essential health and security checks are complete, people will live in the community while they wait for their visas to be assessed and processed.
The Greens will increase the number of people Australia helps from 13,750 to 50,000 per year. This includes increasing our humanitarian intake to 40,000 people per year and creating a new category of 10,000 skilled migrant visas for refugees. Using the money we will save from closing the camps on Nauru and Manus Island, the Greens will invest $500 million to speed up the refugee assessment process in our region. This money will be directed towards the UNHCR in Indonesia and Malaysia and organisations on the ground in these countries in order to ensure that people awaiting processing and resettlement will have access to housing, health care, education and work rights. Once people are assessed as refugees they will be flown to Australia. The Greens strongly believe that Australia has a leadership role to play in responding to the global refugee crisis in our region. By increasing our humanitarian intake and becoming a good global citizen of the Asia Pacific region, we will work with our neighbours to encourage other States to increase their intake.”
The Liberal Democrats said they “have a completely different approach to immigration policy to that pursued by any major party, based on research by Nobel Economics Laureate Gary Becker. Our policy is available here, while a Productivity Commission Inquiry into their policy is available here.”
Wilkie said “Australia should give protection to people genuinely fleeing persecution. Any credible policy must be regional, fully sanctioned by the United Nations and address issues in source countries, countries of first asylum and transit countries. Cruel Labor and Liberal policies such as mandatory detention, offshore processing and towbacks must be overturned. I have asked the International Criminal Court to consider whether the Australian Government’s policy constitutes crimes against humanity.”
- What should be done about the situation of refugees and people seeking asylum who are being held on Manus and Nauru?
The Coalition said “[t]he Turnbull Coalition Government has a strong record of respecting human rights worldwide. This reflects our underlying values and our commitment to promoting and protecting human rights internationally.
The refugee determination process in Papua New Guinea is managed and administered by the Papua New Guinea Government according to their domestic laws and processes. If a transferee is found to be a refugee, they are permitted to permanently settle in PNG.
The refugee status determination process in Nauru is managed and administered by the Government of Nauru, in accordance with their domestic laws and processes. If a transferee is found to be a refugee, they may settle in Nauru for up to ten years or settle in Cambodia.”
The Labor Party “does not believe offshore facilities should be run as punitive holding cells. They need to be humane and offer people seeking safety exactly that. Fast and efficient processing should occur so that claims for protection can be determined quickly and fairly.
Labor will implement independent oversight of Australian-funded processing facilities. Labor will seek the agreement of the Governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru to establish bilateral mechanisms (comprising officials of each relevant jurisdiction) to support the independent oversight of the Australian-funded offshore facilities. It will be important that this function be undertaken in a cooperative way to strengthen bilateral relations.
Labor will empower the Commonwealth Ombudsman to provide independent oversight of Australia’s onshore detention network. Labor will continue to ensure that those working in the immigration system enjoy the benefit of whistleblower protections to speak out about maladministration and corruption. A Shorten Labor Government will work with our regional neighbours to find lasting resettlement options.”
The Greens said they “will remove all children and their families from detention immediately, including those in offshore detention and on Nauru. The Greens will save $2.9 billion by shutting the detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru and abolishing the practice of offshore detention. We will give $500 million to assessment and support organisations in our region to speed up the process and give people access to education and work rights while they wait. The Greens want to abolish temporary protection visas and provide permanent protection to people seeking safety. The Greens will introduce a 30 day time limit for people held in on-shore immigration detention. This is ample time to conduct the necessary checks and to assess their claims for asylum. To provide safety for 50,000 people, the Greens will increase the number of people Australia helps from 13,750 to 50,000 per year; fairly and efficiently assess people’s refugee claims where they are waiting and establish a Skilled Refugee visa program for 10,000 people.”
The Liberal Democrats said “[w]e are more comfortable with offshore processing than mass drownings, although neither situation is ideal.”
Wilkie said “Australia’s offshore processing centres must be immediately closed, all people housed within brought to Australia, and their claims processed as soon as possible. If they are found to be genuine refugees, they must be allowed to stay permanently in the Australian community.”
- Should Australia work towards ending the use of the death penalty in Asia? How?
The Coalition said that they “do not support the death penalty. If Australia is elected to the Human Rights Council, we will be a strong advocate for global abolition of the death penalty, one of our core human rights objectives.”
The Labor Party said it “opposes the death penalty regardless of where an offence occurs. Australia has ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which is aimed at eliminating the death penalty.
A Shorten Labor Government will: Strongly and clearly state our opposition to the death penalty, whenever and wherever it arises; Join forces with other nations to push for the universal adoption of a global moratorium on the death penalty and; Use Australia’s aid programs to support civil society organisations campaigning for abolition in countries which retain the death penalty.”
The Greens said they “believe we have a responsibility to do all we can to oppose the death penalty and protect people from it, wherever it exists. Campaign for an end to the death penalty wherever it is, raising the issue in all Australia's diplomatic representations to the more than 100 countries that still practice it. Secure an international investigation into the alleged interference in the judicial system that resulted in the death penalty being imposed in the case of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. Cease collaborating with drug authorities of nations such as Indonesia until they cease executing drug smugglers of any nationality. A full independent investigation into the role of the AFP and ASIO in the information sharing with those countries in Asia that still use the death penalty.”
The Liberal Democrats said “[y]es, but quietly. Foreign jurisdictions do not take kindly to unwanted interference from wealthy middle powers.”
Wilkie said “[t]he fact that other countries still think it’s okay to execute people is a shocking abuse of the power of the state, deeply unethical and entirely fruitless as a deterrent to crime. Australia must lead the charge and put whatever public and private pressure it can on countries in the Asia-Pacific region to end the death penalty.”
- How can Australia improve the human rights of people in countries with poor rights records with whom Australia is seeking closer commercial and other ties?
The Coalition Government said “Australia engages with the international community with active, practical advocacy, sensitivity and fairness, and a willingness to speak out against human rights violations and abuses. The Coalition Government will continue to invest in strengthening governance around the world with the aim of developing transparent, accountable and responsive institutions to ensure the advancement of human rights for all.
Under the Coalition, Australia will continue to play an active part in promoting Human Rights Council resolutions on freedom of expression, the safety of journalists, human rights defenders, human rights and the internet, and civil society. Independent national human rights institutions and a strong and robust civil society play a crucial role in preserving and advancing human rights. The Coalition is a strong advocate for strengthening the capacity of national human rights institutions to promote and protect human rights.”
“The Coalition are actively campaigning for Australia’s candidacy for membership of the Human Rights Council for the 2018-20 term. Under a Coalition Government, Australia’s focus will be on advancing the rights of women and girls; strengthening governance and democratic institutions, promoting freedom of expression and advancing the protection of human rights.”
The Labor Party said it “is disturbed by human rights abuses wherever they occur. A Shorten Labor Government will: Promote and protect human rights at home and abroad as a vital part of achieving a peaceful and secure world where people can live in freedom and dignity; Support stronger international mechanisms and processes for monitoring human rights violations; Continue to raise concerns, privately and publicly, about human rights abuses overseas. Commercial and trading relationships have not prevented Labor speaking out on these issues in the past and will not prevent a Shorten Labor Government from speaking out in the future.”
The Greens said “[p]romotion of international human rights with other countries, including the application of diplomatic and commercial pressures on regimes and governments that violate human rights. In United Nations forums such as the Human Rights Council, Australia must be willing to advocate on behalf of people in countries with poor rights records, and give honest and open statements about the situation on the ground. Australia should support UN-backed investigations into human rights abuses and war crimes (for example, that proposed in relation to the Sri Lankan civil war, which Australia refused to support).
Develop and maintain strong partnerships with civil society organizations at home and in the Asia-Pacific region who are working toward improving the situation in countries with poor human rights records.
Begin to address the widespread human rights abuses in the extractives sector, particularly in developing countries, through implementation of the Greens’ Publish What You Pay legislation, which would require mandatory disclosure of payments made by mining, oil, forestry and gas companies listed or based in Australian to all governments for the extraction of natural resources.
Ensuring that foreign security, police and military units that receive Australian Government funding are subject to a full vetting process to ensure we don’t fund those units associated with human rights violations.
Tackle corruption, which is often associated with human rights abuses, through cracking down on multinational tax avoidance.”
The Liberal Democrats quoted, “‘Where goods do not pass borders, armies soon will’, as Bastiat once said. The best way to improve our influence overseas is to trade honestly and freely with other nations, allowing them to invest in our country, and encouraging tourism. Anything else will be construed as unwanted interference from a wealthy middle power.”
Wilkie said “Australia has the opportunity to be a world leader on human rights and our commercial and diplomatic relationships with other countries is an ideal way to do that. But we must start by setting a good example for the rest of the world. So we need to stop imprisoning people who come to our shores seeking asylum and lift our humanitarian intake. And we need to address our indigenous incarceration rates which are far too high.”
- Australia has established ongoing “human rights dialogues” with China, Vietnam, and Laos. How will you make these dialogues more effective in promoting the human rights of the people in those countries?
The Coalition said “[s]trengthening our human rights engagement is an important component of the Coalition Government’s bilateral relationships in our region. An important means of achieving this has been Ministerial-level human rights dialogues where issues have been discussed in an open and frank forum.
The 12th Australia Vietnam human rights dialogue was held in 2015 and provided an important opportunity to raise human rights concerns and discuss practical ways to strengthen Australia’s engagement on human rights issues and implement international human rights standards. In March 2016, the Coalition Government signed the Declaration on Enhancing the Australia-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership, which lays the foundation for enhanced cooperation on security, economic, immigration, defence and human rights.
The Coalition Government is supporting Vietnam’s efforts to strengthen its legal framework through the Human Rights Technical Cooperation (HRTC) programme. This programme is making an important contribution to strengthening Vietnam’s gender equality law, ethnic minority rights law, labour law and human trafficking law. We are also working alongside Non-Government Organisations and national human rights institutions, providing aid for capacity building, and engaging through the UN General Assembly Third Committee and the UN Human Rights Council. Australia and Laos have held biennial human rights dialogues since initiated under the Howard Government in 2006. The last dialogue was held in 2015. In addition, the Coalition Government provides Laos with human rights capacity building under the Australia-Laos Human Rights Technical Cooperation Fund.”
The Labor Party said “Australia should be forthright about human rights violations overseas. Labor will raise these with the governments concerned, including through bilateral representations and formal bilateral human rights dialogues, as well as appropriate multilateral avenues. Labor considers the promotion of universal human rights to be a core foreign policy objective and we will continue to pursue effective human rights diplomacy at every appropriate opportunity.
In August 2012, the Human Rights Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT), chaired by Labor MP Laurie Ferguson, tabled the report More than just talk: Australia’s human rights dialogues with China and Vietnam. The report contained detailed recommendations on improving Australia’s bilateral human rights dialogues. The last Labor Government responded positively to JSCFADT report, including its recommendation that parliamentarians be invited to participate in bilateral human rights dialogues.
A Shorten Labor Government will build on this record and continue to improve the effectiveness and transparency of these bilateral dialogues, particularly by: Increasing the reporting on human rights dialogues in the annual reports of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Developing clear strategies and benchmarks for each dialogue and; Increasing the human rights training among Australian diplomats and ensuring that all our diplomatic posts undertake human rights monitoring.”
The Greens answered “[e]nsuring strengthened involvement of non-government organisations, human rights experts and civil society in these dialogues would strengthen credibility, transparency and accountability of the process. Far greater resources are currently directed toward other aspects of our relationships with these countries, like trade. Far greater resources should be directed toward supporting the dialogue process and ongoing engagement on human rights. Each dialogue should be results oriented, with clear, time bound objectives so that progress can be measured. Greater transparency of the process should be a priority. For example, at the conclusion of each dialogue process, the Government should table a report on progress, and time set aside for consideration of this report in the parliament.”
The Liberal Democrats explained that “[a]s a minor party Senator, this question is somewhat outside my purview. As a general statement, the prosperity that results from free trade becomes a powerful advocate for liberty.”
Wilkie said “I don’t have a direct role in contributing to human rights dialogues as I’m not part of the Government. But any human rights discussion with China, Vietnam and Laos should focus on serious issues of concerns such as draconian national security laws, limitations of freedom of speech and of the press, and harsh treatment of political prisoners. I have always been outspoken on Australian foreign and security policy and will continue to apply pressure on the Government where possible.”
- What role is there for public – as opposed to private or “quiet” – diplomacy in promoting human rights abroad?
The Coalition said that “Australia engages with the international community with active, practical advocacy, sensitivity and fairness, and a willingness to speak out against human rights violations and abuses… Under the Coalition, Australia will continue to play an active part in promoting Human Rights Council resolutions on freedom of expression, the safety of journalists, human rights defenders, human rights and the internet, and civil society. Independent national human rights institutions and a strong and robust civil society play a crucial role in preserving and advancing human rights. The Coalition is a strong advocate for strengthening the capacity of national human rights institutions to promote and protect human rights.”
The Labor Party said “Labor in government raised concerns, privately and publicly, about human rights abuses in other countries. We will continue to do so. We believe that private human rights diplomacy can be enhanced by, where appropriate, public diplomacy, advocacy, reporting and condemnation of human rights abuses.”
The Greens “believe in a right-based foreign policy that uses our bilateral relationships and multilateral forums to ensure that all countries act to prevent acts of genocide and/or violations of human rights. Australia should give much greater weight to public diplomacy in determining its human rights approach. Australia should speak more forthrightly about human rights violations in countries, particularly in our region and those with whom we have direct trade and political relationships. Australia should ensure human rights are raised in discussions of other issues, rather than decoupling them for political expediency.”
The Liberal Democrats said “[t]he NGO and charitable sectors have a valuable role in promoting human rights, through education and principled advocacy. Quite often, they are more effective than governments.”
Wilkie said “[t]here is a role for both public and private diplomacy. Public diplomacy is often necessary to achieve certain outcomes, especially when other countries are recalcitrant towards reform and it’s only global public pressure that might influence them.”
- What should Australia do to address the growing crackdown on human rights in China?
The Coalition said “[t]he Government has raised its concerns about the human rights situation in China with the Chinese Government through a variety of channels, including ministerial meetings; our bilateral Human Rights Dialogue; officials in Beijing and Canberra; and public statements. The Government recently co-sponsored a joint statement in the UN Human Rights Council alongside eleven other countries.”
The Labor Party said it has “raised concerns, privately and publicly, about human rights abuses in China. Our close trading relationship with China will not prevent a Shorten Labor Government from speaking out on these issues in future.
Labor supports people’s right to self-determination and a freely expressed and legitimate voice in their government. A Shorten Labor Government will support stronger international mechanisms and processes for monitoring human rights violations and will encourage the development of regional dialogue on human rights issues in our region.
Labor wants to encourage China’s continued emergence as a major constructive influence on regional and global affairs and ensure that Australia is positioned to benefit from China’s growth, while preserving our core national interests and adhering to Labor’s values.”
The Greens said “Australia should use its relationship with China as an avenue to advocate, both privately and publicly, for an end to human rights abuses in China. That’s why, when President Xi Jinping visited Australia in the last Parliament, Greens Leader Christine Milne personally handed him a letter regarding out concerns about human rights abuses, the protest movement in Hong Kong, and political prisoners, and persecution of minorities including Tibetan and Uighur communities, and people of the Falun Gong faith. Australia should ensure that in supporting initiatives led by China like the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, we only commit our support with the inclusion of high environment and human rights standards.”
The Liberal Democrats said to “[c]ontinue to trade, facilitate tourism and immigration, promote Australian culture, and accept political refugees.”
Wilkie said that “[t]he fact that China is important to Australia’s economy doesn’t mean that China should get off lightly when it comes to human rights issues. Indeed the reality is quite the opposite – the significant bilateral economic relationship keeps us noticed in Beijing and more influential than we might otherwise be. Australia needs to take a hard line when it comes to addressing human rights in China, including their freedom of expression laws, use of the death penalty, and treatment of prisoners.”
- On your first visit to Indonesia, what human rights issues will you raise with Indonesian officials?
The Coalition said “[w]hile Australia recognises and respects Indonesia’s sovereign right to apply its laws, Australia is strongly opposed to the death penalty and supports its universal abolition. The Australian Government condemns all violence in the Papua provinces. The rights of all citizens should be upheld and credible allegations of human rights abuses should be investigated.
Embassy officials visit the Papua provinces regularly and engage a wide range of contacts, including civil society, NGOs and religious leaders. These visits inform our assessment of the situation on the ground, which we assess has improved in recent years although clearly there are still problems to be addressed. Australia believes firmly that the freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human right belonging to all individuals - including those belonging to religious minorities and that this freedom must be respected in all countries in accordance with international human rights law.
Australia is a strong advocate for non-discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The Labor Party said “Indonesia is among Australia's most important diplomatic, security and economic relationships, and Labor welcomes Indonesia's emergence as the world's third largest democracy.
A Shorten Labor Government will continue to conduct robust human rights diplomacy with Indonesia. This will include both private and public representations where appropriate. A Shorten Labor Government will consider the promotion of universal human rights to be a core foreign policy objective and will continue to pursue effective human rights diplomacy at every appropriate opportunity.
As part of this global human rights advocacy, Labor will raise the following, among other issues, with Indonesia and all countries: A global moratorium on the death penalty; The protection and empowerment of women and girls; The rights of religious minorities; LGBTI rights; Treatment of prisoners and; Disability and mental health rights. As a country of first asylum, Labor is committed to working closely and cooperatively to assist Indonesia as well as the many other countries impacted by people movement to ensure the protection and processing of people seeking asylum under the Refugee Convention. In addition, a Shorten Labor Government will raise issues relating to human rights in West Papua with our Indonesian counterparts.”
The Greens said it has “raised numerous issues regarding Indonesia’s human rights record in the past, and will continue to do so domestically and when representatives travel to Indonesia. We are deeply concerned about the ongoing use of the death penalty in Indonesia… and believe we have a responsibility to do all we can to oppose the death penalty. We are deeply concerned about the situation in West Papua, and will continue to raise this as a key human rights issue, including detention of peaceful protesters and advocates, continued limitations on media and research access, and the right to self-determination. Discrimination against women is a continuing concern in Indonesia, with Human Rights Watch reporting Indonesia has a total of 279 discriminatory local regulations targeting women. Bylaws also discriminate against LGBTIQ and religious minorities. Religious minorities in Indonesia continue to be the target of attacks from militant groups, and this is a key human rights concern.”
Leyonhjelm said that “[a]s a minor party Senator, this question is somewhat outside my purview.”
Wilkie said “I’m not part of the Government so there won’t be an opportunity for me to make an official visit to Indonesia as a representative of the Government. But issues that should be raised include the death penalty and the overuse of force by police and the military. If ever I should visit Indonesia on a parliamentary delegation I will be sure to raise these issues.”
- Rape and other violence against women and girls is common in Papua New Guinea and other countries in the region. What can Australia do through its aid program or other means to reduce violence against women?
The Coalition said that they recognise that “violence against women is an attack on basic human rights and severely limits a woman’s ability to participate in social, economic, cultural and political life. Under the Coalition, around 80% of Australian aid investments now address gender issues in their implementation.
Through development cooperation and aid investments, Australia is supporting our regional partners with practical initiatives to help empower women and girls and allow them to live without the fear of violence. These services are often provided through partnerships between the Government and private sector organisations. For example, in Papua New Guinea the Coalition Government has partnered to create a mobile banking system for women stallholders so they can bank their earnings at the market and avoid being exposed to danger by carrying cash.
Australia has become recognised as a world leader in supporting gender equity and women’s empowerment. For this reason, the Coalition appointed Natasha Stott-Despoja as Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls to ensure that the empowerment of women and girls is a central focus of Australia’s diplomatic and development concerns. By advocating internationally for women’s equal participation in political, economic and social affairs, the Ambassador is able to advance global progress, peace and stability.”
The Labor Party said “[a] key goal of Labor’s aid policy is to empower women and girls and expand women’s access to political, economic and social opportunities across the world. Violence and the threat of violence against women and girls is both a violation of the basic right to live in safety and security and a barrier to full political, economic and social participation.
Australia’s aid programs have made a real difference to the lives of women in our region. In Papua New Guinea, for example, beginning in 2008, Australian aid has supported specialist police Family and Sexual Violence Units in police stations across Papua New Guinea to provide a designated space where trained officers respond to family and sexual violence cases in an appropriate and sensitive manner. The last Labor Government committed $96.4 million over four years to combat violence against women in developing countries, with a particular focus on Asia and the Pacific. In just one year, Australia helped almost 15,000 women survivors of violence access critical services such as emergency shelters, counselling and legal advice. This support was provided through organisations such as the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre, the Vanuatu Women's Centre and the Solomon Islands Family Support Centre.
Unfortunately, since the 2013 election, the Abbott-Turnbull Government has cut the overseas aid budget by $11.3 billion, turning its back on the world’s poorest people and slashing programs that were supporting close neighbours including Timor-Leste, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar. The Liberals have taken Australia to its lowest level of spending on overseas aid as a proportion of gross national income (GNI) since the program began. A Shorten Labor Government will act immediately to protect overseas aid projects facing closure due to the Liberals’ funding cuts. A $224 million cut to overseas aid in the Liberals’ 2016 Budget will mean critical projects delivering maternal and child health, schooling, clean water and sanitation risk being axed from 30 June this year.
If elected, Labor will reverse the $224 million cut – to keep these projects going in 2016-17. A Shorten Labor Government also will commit an extra $40 million a year as a first step towards reversing the Turnbull Government’s brutal cuts to Australia’s aid budget: $30 million a year will support Australian NGOs working in developing countries. $10 million a year will be devoted to improving aid effectiveness – ensuring we are getting the most from every single dollar spent. Labor will also restore accountability by reintroducing the annual Ministerial Budget Statement detailing how overseas aid is being allocated by sector, country and region.”
The Greens said “Australia’s aid program is a key way we can address human rights concerns in our region, including reducing violence against women. This begins with addressing the Abbott-Turnbull Government’s unprecedented cuts to foreign aid. The Government have gutted Australia’s foreign aid budget by over $11 billion since 2013, plunging our aid investment to a shameful 0.22% of our GNI. The Greens have committed to increase foreign aid to a minimum of 0.7% GNI by 2025.
In conjunction with increasing foreign aid overall, the Greens have introduced a bill to Parliament that includes gender equality assessments with our overseas aid by linking reporting requirements for all programs with their impact on women and girls in low income countries. The Greens Bill would require the Minister to report on how aid money is spent and specifically how the aid funded projects promote gender equality.”
The Liberal Democrats said they “are not convinced that foreign aid achieves any long term benefits in recipient countries. To the extent that aid and other means are contemplated, Australia should encourage law reform that allows women to keep and manage their property upon marriage, promote education and delayed marriage, and provide education in the use and provision of contraception.”
Wilkie said “Australia can boost its foreign aid to at least 0.7% of gross national income, as per the Millennium Development Goals, which would mean that we could spend more in our region. Reducing violence against women should be one of the key priorities of our aid program. Investing in education for young women has proved to reduce violence, as well as programs that influence men and boys to behave better. Our foreign aid program must also continue to invest in services that provide women with counselling, legal and other assistance.”