Climate change was not the only pachyderm in the room during the elections. Australian racism has also been lurking, scratching its head with its trunk and wondering why no-one seems able to see it.
The UN Committee that monitors breaches of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (the CERD Committee) will report on its examination of Australia this weekend. Consideration of Australia’s 15th to 17th reports took place during the pre-election caretaker period.
Judging by the criticism that UN human rights mechanisms have previously directed at Australia, the Committee could be expected to give the government another serve. Amongst other things, it can be expected to request urgent revision of the Northern Territory Intervention because it still discriminates against Indigenous Australians.
It can also be expected to request the government end the discriminatory treatment of asylum seekers who arrive by boat, and to provide them with access to the same system of administrative justice available to on-shore applicants. It can be expected to request an end to mandatory indefinite detention for asylum seekers.
By signing human rights treaties the government pledges to abide by certain standards of behaviour. It pledges to protect the rights and freedoms the international community has recognised as those required by a civilised state. The CERD treaty prohibits:
“…any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”
Both Labor and Liberal governments have shared policies that violate this prohibition.
The Greens have provided almost a lone voice in arguing for change. Will the caretaker government, the opposition or the independents join with the Greens in asking for prompt action to clean up race-based discrimination in Australia? If not now, when?
*Until recently, Robyn Seth-Purdie worked for a human rights organisation. She has now returned to practice as an independent consultant.