The past year has been a challenging and rewarding one as president of Liberty Victoria.
It’s now almost trite to say that the last 18 months have been some of the most disruptive and difficult times for many of us. The pandemic has thrown up unprecedented and complex issues, including issues that affect civil liberties and human rights. We currently live with restrictions that would have been difficult to imagine in a pandemic free past. While being mindful and supportive of measures that protect public health, we called on Government to ensure there is a proper balance struck between competing human rights.
Committee members have continued to respond to the changing landscape with an even greater focus of our work this year on media participation than last year.
The past year has been one of our busiest years in respect of media appearances, most of which were related to the pandemic. Our website contains examples of those appearances, but at last count there were 79 media appearances done by different Liberty Victoria spokespeople during the pandemic. That is an immense achievement for a volunteer organisation and I thank the members of our media team who have gone above and beyond for Liberty Victoria for this work: Greg Hanson, Gemma Cafarella, Martin Radzaj, Michael Stanton, Tim Warner, Greg Buchhorn, Sam Norton, Hannah Dickinson, Jamie Gardiner, Tom Clarke and Adam Pulford. Many of the team have taken time out of their day (and sometimes very early mornings) to be on call to respond to media enquiries, with the occasional challenge of changing out of lockdown clothes at the drop of a hat for television interviews. Our annual report and our website further show the breadth of this work.
In the past year Liberty Victoria has spoken out about a number of issues concerning the human rights impact of the pandemic. In particular, we have called for:
Liberty Victoria has also continued its work on inquiries and made a number of submissions. Some in respect of COVID-19, including into the Parliamentary Inquiry into the COVID-19 response and the Parliamentary Inquiry into Contact Tracing, as well as issues that affect criminal justice, refugee and human rights concerns, and LGBTQIA issues.
I would like to acknowledge the work of our committee members in negotiating and responding to the ongoing issues that are occurring. Your professionalism, expertise and concern for humanity have contributed to a high-quality body of work that is continuing to have an impact.
The work of the Rights Advocacy Project (RAP) initiative has expanded our reach towards younger members and students and has continued their work this year. There has been great success in the publication reports including “Bridging the Department’s Visa Blindspot" and "Bailing Out a Broken Bail System".
Thank you to Emma-Buckley Lennox who finished up as RAP Chair this year, after several years in that role. Emma has been instrumental to RAP’s success. Rochelle Francis took over as RAP Chair mid-2021 and has continued the excellent work. A special thanks also to the RAP steering committee, those who have put up their hand to be supervisors and the volunteers themselves who have continued to produce high quality and important work during difficult circumstances.
This year we also held events that reinforced our focus on human rights. The first of these was our 2020 Annual General Meeting which was held online for the first time. Our guest speaker Osman Faruqi discussed the issues that arose in 2020 in respect of policing in the pandemic, His research highlighted how the expansion of state power reproduced some of the negative aspects of police culture. Covid-19-related policing disproportionately affected the most vulnerable in our community especially the Indigenous people and CALD communities. He reiterated the importance of vigilance in relation to these issues.
Our major event for the year, the Voltaire Awards continued as a webinar. While we were unable to meet with all of our members over our annual awards dinner, we were delighted to be able to continue to acknowledge and celebrate the work of a number of people who have been working tirelessly to support and progress human rights and civil liberties.
In 2021, the Children of Tanya Day were honoured with the Voltaire Human Rights Award. The advocacy of Tanya’s children around issues of Indigenous incarceration has been instrumental in the abolishment of the public drunkenness offence in Victoria. Their work continues by working with other families who have been tragically affected by deaths in custody and they continue to call Governments to account. Apryl Day accepted the award on behalf of her siblings. Apryl’s speech demonstrated the eloquence, perseverance, dignity and strength that contributed to this decision. April 15, 2021 marked the 30th anniversary of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The work that the Children of Tanya Day have been doing and continue to do shows how far Government and the community still has to come in properly acknowledging and addressing overpolicing and overincarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Mohamed Semra received the Young Voltaire Human Rights Award. Mohamed actively works to ensure that we have future decision-makers that represent and reflect the people that they are serving. Mohamed gave a remarkable and inspiring speech, outlining how he overcame personal challenges and was able to make an impact as an activist.
This year, the Empty Chair Award, was awarded to all refugees and asylum seekers in on and off-shore detention. The award was accepted on behalf of the recipients by Craig Foster and Mostafar Azimitibar who have both made significant contributions to improving the situation of refugees and asylum seekers.
This year due to Covid-19 we continued to face financial challenges with the cancellation of our awards dinner and a recent downturn in donations. Liberty Victoria remains in a sound financial position due to the donations of members and supporters, however we will remain vigilant about ensuring our longer-term financial sustainability. I appreciate the efforts of the Executive team in the financial management of our organisation, especially the work of our Treasurer, Michelle Bennett, and our Vice-President Thomas Kane in ensuring and safeguarding Liberty Victoria’s financial stability. Thank you for your support and enthusiasm for the future sustainability of Liberty Victoria.
I would also like to acknowledge our significant supporters, especially Michael Drapac, who has continued to provide accommodation to Liberty Victoria, including enabling us to move to a new office location. Michael has also been a great supporter of the Liberty Leadership fund which funds the professional development of committee members. The 2021 recipient of the Liberty Leadership scholarship is Hannah Dickinson and we look forward to seeing her continue and build upon the work that she has been doing.
Thank you also to our members and other supporters who have provided donations and participated in events throughout the year.
With limited funding, Liberty has been fortunate to have the voluntary support and expertise of a number of people who assist us in numerous ways. Maelor Himbury continues the extraordinary service of providing subscribers with our daily media links. We also thank Sally-Anne Raher and Jill Ruchel from Red Letter Fundraising who provided expert direction and assistance in the development of our fundraising activities. We also thank Lindy Smith, our volunteer coordinator, in identifying and guiding volunteers to help out on different projects. Thank you also to our executive officer Grace Girardi, Anna Kingston for RAP and Andrew Rawson with IT support.
I would particularly like to acknowledge Thomas Kane’s support, enthusiasm and drive which has continued to ensure Liberty Victoria’s success through the most difficult of times. Thank you, Thomas.
To our committee members and to RAP members: thank you for your generosity and the work that you have done and continue to do. All of our committee members are fully engaged in busy professional careers in their own right so I acknowledge the significant commitment and sacrifice that you have made to progress the work of Liberty Victoria. We are united by a shared commitment to the ideals of human rights and civil liberties.
Finally, I thank you, the members of Liberty Victoria for your continued support. Without you, Liberty could not survive.