Coalition Is Undermining Our Human Rights Commission, Global Body Asserts

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Coalition Is Undermining Our Human Rights Commission, Global Body Asserts

The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) is an independent body representing and monitoring national human rights institutions (NHRIs), which are bodies set up within countries to promote and protect rights, especially against government encroachments.

The GANHRI Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) conducts reviews every five years to ensure that NHRIs are acting in accordance with the 1993 Paris Principles, which are the minimum standards these bodies must meet in order to be operating in an effective and credible manner.

SCA reviews have three outcomes: reaccreditation with an A status, a downgrading to a B status institution, or the sub-committee can defer its decision to allow the NHRI a period of time to deal with any serious matter that needs addressing in order to obtain A status reaccreditation.

This nation’s NHRI is the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). Last month saw the SCA release its review report on the AHRC. And the GANHRI has determined not to reaccredit the AHRC with an A status, but rather it’s deferring its decision for another 18 months.

B status material

GANHRI’s main gripe with the way the Coalition government has been operating the AHRC is that it’s been abusing a loophole in the policy governing the full selection process for the appointment of AHRC commissioners from a pool of candidates, so the attorney general can simply make the choice.

The Morrison government last year did this with the appointment of Lorraine Finlay to the position of Human Rights Commissioner.

The then Murdoch University law academic had previously backed the Coalition on weakening race discrimination laws and supported strengthening religious freedoms.

But GANHRI is not only threatening to downgrade our nation’s human rights institution to status B simply because attorney general Michaela Cash bypassed the usual decision-making process with Finlay, it’s also that the SCA warned our country to stop doing this in its the past.

In its 2016 assessment, the SCA pointed to the Abbott government having appointed current federal Liberal MP Tim Wilson to the position of Human Rights Commissioner in 2013, in the same manner that Finlay was chosen.

Indeed, back then, Wilson had been the director of ultraconservative public policy thinktank the Institute of Public Affairs for seven years, and he was also an avid critic of the AHRC.

Undermining human rights

The SCA will make its final determination on whether to downgrade the AHRC to a B status in October next year. Over that time, Finlay, who specifically advocates for the erosion of Australian antidiscrimination laws, will continue in her position of supposedly upholding our human rights.

The current assessment of the AHRC also notes that the body is lacking funding at a time when discrimination and rights violation complaints have been on a significant increase in this country. And the SCA warns that to function as an effective NHRI, a body must have adequate funds to do so.

Yet, it’s hardly surprising that the Liberal Nationals government, which has been handpicking rights commissioners to actively undermine the body they’re working for, is failing to provide the AHRC with enough finances to deal with the rights complaints that it would rather see left unresolved.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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