Castan Centre for Human Right Law
Human Rights 2004: The Year in Review
Thursday, 3 December, 2004
The CUB Malthouse, Southbank, Melbourne
Session 1: The Twentieth Anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act 1985 (Cth): A Retrosepective
Commissioner Pru Goward
Sex Discrimination Commissioner
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
Abstract: The Sex Discrimination Act was passed into law in 1984 amid dire warnings of family upheaval. Although the Act has advanced equality between men and women, challenges remain. These include the gender equity pay gap, with its implications for retirement incomes and the continuing struggle women face in combining work and family and the consequences for female poverty, advancement and more recently fertility. Meeting both these challenges relies on the greater engagement of men in the struggle for equity.
Bio: Journalist, broadcaster and commentator, Pru Goward was appointed by HREOC as Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner for a five year term from 30 July 2001. Prior to her appointment, Ms Goward had been executive director of the Federal government's women's policy advisory unit, the Office of the Status of Women, from 1997 to 1999, reporting to both the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Status of Women. She was appointed to the Office after working as a national affairs journalist and political commentator for 19 years. At OSW Ms Goward implemented the first national programme for the prevention of domestic violence and oversaw the introduction of reform to superannuation laws for divorced couples. Over the past 10 years Ms Goward has also run her own media management company, was a freelance newspaper and magazine columnist and a part-time lecturer in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Canberra.
Professor Margaret Thornton
La Trobe University
Abstract: This presentation cautions against a too ready acceptance of progressivism in which the passage of time is automatically equated with improvement. Instead, it argues that the fragility of sex discrimination legislation renders the Act exceptionally sensitive to the prevailing socio-political climate. As a creature of social liberalism, its passage was animated by notions of collective good and redistributive justice. Now that neoliberalism is in the ascendancy, we have seen a resiling from these values in favour of private good and individualism. Against the swing of the political pendulum, the presentation exposes and analyses the underlying presuppositions associated with the policies, practices and jurisprudence of the Sex Discrimination Act.
Bio: Margaret Thornton has been a Professor of Law and Legal Studies at La Trobe University since 1990. She has degrees from the University of Sydney, UNSW and Yale. Her research interests are in the areas of discrimination law and policy, legal education, the legal profession, and feminist legal theory. Her books include The Liberal Promise: Anti-Discrimination Legislation in Australia (Oxford, 1990) and Dissonance and Distrust: Women in the Legal Profession (Oxford, 1996; Law Press, Beijing, 2001). She is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia.
Session 2: International Human Rights and the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women: The International Framework and Inconsistencies between the International and Domestic Regime.
Ms Heisoo Shin
Vice-Chairperson, UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
Abstract: This paper examines several critical issues related to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. It first explores the comprehensive nature of the Convention, which guarantees both formal and substantive equality, and the state obligation. Second, it considers how the interpretation of the Convention has been developed and expanded over the past 23 years of the Committee's existence. Third, the close relationship and cooperation between the Committee and the women's NGOs is examined for evidence of how it has helped with the visibility of the Convention and promotion of women's human rights. Fourth, the present status of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW and its use as a strengthened mechanism for the protection of women's rights is examined. Lastly, the key obstacles in CEDAW monitoring are identified.
Bio: Heisoo Shin is currently Vice-Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, a representative on the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan and a visiting professor at the Graduate School of NGO Studies, Kyung Hee University in Seoul. Ms Shin is a past winner of the 1st Women's Human Rights Award - Women, Law and Development International, Washington DC.
Ms Elizabeth Evatt AC
Commissioner, International Commission of Jurists
Abstract: The paper will discuss ways in which Australian law falls short of its obligations under CEDAW and other international instruments to provide equality rights and non-discrimination in regard to women. Topics discussed will include Australia's reservations to CEDAW, its failure to ratify the Optional Protocol, the exemptions under the SD Act. The lack of a guarantee of equality, as recommended by the Law Reform Commission, will be considered, in addition to the application of temporary special measures as a principal means of achieving the goals of CEDAW.
Bio: Elizabeth Evatt was Chief Judge of the Family Court of Australia from 1976 to 1988 and then became President of the Australian Law Reform Commission until 1993. She was a part time Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission from 1995 - 1998 and Chancellor of the University of Newcastle from 1988 to 1994.From 1984 to 1992, she was a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and chaired that Committee from 1989 - 1991. From 1993 to 2000 she was a member of the UN Human Rights Committee. Elizabeth Evatt has been a Judge of the World Bank Administrative Tribunal since 1998. She is Chair of the Board, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Sydney. In 2003 she was elected as a Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists.
Session 3: Current Threats to the Realisation of Human Rights for Women
Ms Anne Gallagher
Asia Regional Cooperation to Prevent People Trafficking Project
Abstract:Over the past several years, human trafficking has moved from the margins to the mainstream of international legal and political discourse. Trafficking is now widely recognised as a major revenue earner for transnational organised criminal groups and a source of political, social and economic insecurity for States as well as for communities and individuals. The discourse of trafficking is highly fractured along several different lines. Countries of destination such as Australia are generally focused on the suppression of trafficking, often as part of the broader struggle against irregular migration. Countries of origin have different concerns, usually related to how their nationals are treated and to what extent conditions at home have contributed to the trafficking of their citizens. Within the international and national non-governmental communities, there is a widespread and as yet uncorrected assumption that protection of victims' rights is fundamentally incompatible with a more aggressive criminal justice response to this crime.These tensions are being played out in a rapidly changing legal environment. The first international agreement on trafficking in over half a century was recently concluded under the auspices of the United Nations. The Statute of the International Criminal Court has recognised trafficking and related exploitation as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Regional legal and quasi-legal instruments have also been developed and, at the national level, an unprecedented number of States have enacted new legislation to prevent, suppress and punish human trafficking.
Bio: Anne Gallagher is an international lawyer specialising in human rights and criminal justice. She served with the United Nations from 1992 to 2003, most recently as Adviser on Trafficking to Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Ms Gallagher is currently leading a Project funded by AusAID which is working with the governments of Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar (Burma) to strengthen their criminal justice responses to trafficking.
Mr David Yarrow
Law Faculty, Monash University
"Systematic Human Rights Infringements Against Native Title: Australia and Canada Compared"
Abstract: This paper examines the underlying structural reasons for ongoing human rights infringements against Native Title in Australia. It compares the Australian experience with that of Canada and concludes that considerable reform is required in this country if it is to meet the Canadian standard.
Bio: David Yarrow has recently been appointed a Lecturer at the Monash Law School, having just returned from Canada where he conducted extensive research into the question of Native Title and indigenous rights. He has written extensively on the interplay between policy and legislation in the identification and application of Native Title in Australia.
Session 4: Hot Topics of the Year
Ms Debbie Mortimer SC
Abstract: This paper will concentrate on some recent proceedings, state and federal, where applicants have invoked vilification legislation. By reference to these proceedings the paper will evaluate some of the risks and problems in bringing and defending these kinds of proceedings. It will argue that, despite those risks and problems being significant, vilification legislation is an important and necessary component of any legal system which asserts respect for, and protection of, human rights.
Bio: Debbie Mortimer has been a member of the Victorian Bar since 1989 and took silk in November 2003. She has taught at graduate and undergraduate level at both Monash and Melbourne Universities. As a barrister, her specialist areas are administrative and public law (both merits and judicial review), refugee law, extradition law, anti-discrimination law, and indigenous legal issues. She appears at trial and appellate levels in these areas. She also undertakes regular pro bono work, principally in refugee law, but also in discrimination law and indigenous legal issues. She has appeared in the High Court and Federal Court as counsel for HREOC on several occasions.
Mr Richard Bourke
Louisiana Capital Assistance Centre
Abstract: It is tempting to see the establishment of Guantanamo Bay as a carefully planned assault on freedom and human rights by an executive government determined to expand its power both within and without the US. However, as the Bush administration's actions and policies have continued to unfold over time an even more frightening possibility has emerged: far from a conspiracy of evil geniuses, the US policy on Guantanamo Bay may be the paranoid and irrational product of a monarch gone mad. .
Bio: Richard Bourke is a criminal barrister from Melbourne. He is now based in New Orleans, with the Louisiani Crisis Assistance Centre. There he works for defendants in death penalty cases and has been active in advocating for the rights of detainees in Guantanamo Bay.