It has been an eventful year as president. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected every one of us and changed our daily activities. I send you my thoughts and wishes and hope that we can all support each other to work through this uncertain time.
The scale and severity of this crisis has required a response that necessarily limits the human rights and liberties of all Victorians. While sensibly, the focus of the response has been on saving lives, human rights must remain at the forefront to ensure each person’s inherent dignity is respected and that responses to the pandemic are equitable and non-discriminatory.
Many of the existing inequalities and issues that we have been fighting have been revealed even more clearly through the pandemic. This crisis has highlighted the desperate conditions and treatment that vulnerable people, in our community such as people seeking asylum and some first nations people are facing, as well as the threat we all face from growing intrusions into our privacy and expanding powers of government that operate with limited oversight.
During the year Liberty Victoria continued some of our more traditional activities in monitoring legislation and make submissions to reviews and inquiries including
Committee members have this year stepped up and responded to the changing landscape with a greater focus of our work this year on media participation.
In the first six months of 2020, media requests, press releases, behind the scenes consultations and enquiries and requests from the public about civil liberties issues have more than tripled. Our annual report and our website shows this work, the breadth of which holds up a mirror to the various issues raised by the Covid-19 crisis from face masks and sovereign citizens to the plight of people held in our immigration detention centres and prisons.
I would like to acknowledge the tremendous effort of our committee members in negotiating and responding to the rapid changes that are occurring. I would like to thank the media team especially Julia Kretzenbacher, Gemma Cafarella, Martin Radzaj, Michael Stanton, Tim Warner, Jessie Taylor and Sam Norton for their responses at all times of the day.
The work of the Rights Advocacy Project (RAP) initiative has expanded our reach towards younger members and students and continues to go from strength to strength, engaging in cutting-edge innovative strategic advocacy and law reform projects. Thank you to Emma-Buckley Lennox and the RAP team who seamlessly transitioned the RAP volunteer program to an online environment.
This year we also held events that reinforced our focus on human rights.
The first of these was our 2019 Annual General Meeting and Missen Oration. The Missen Oration was presented by Tom Daly Deputy Director of the Melbourne School of Government. His speech ‘Insiders, Outsiders, and Enemies’ was about the challenge of polarisation and fragmentation, how society can be broken down into hostile camps — and how it doesn’t have to be this way. His message of hope and encouragement to those of us who work to protect rights and freedoms was appreciated.
Our major event for the year, the Voltaire Awards continued this year 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 2020 Dylan Alcott was honoured with the Voltaire Award. In 2019 the Dylan Alcott Foundation launched the Remove the barrier campaign which aims to reduce unemployment among people with disabilities. The warmth and compassion that has guided his work came through in Dylan’s Voltaire award acceptance speech.
Dujuan Hoosan received the Young Voltaire award. He has advocated for increasing the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 and for First Nations led education models.
The secret trials of lawyer Bernard Collaery and Witness J, the joint recipients of the Empty Chair Award, challenge one of the fundamental bases of our legal system: the requirement for open justice and accountability. The live question and answer session with our empty chair recipients was compelling and disturbing and I urge you to watch the recorded version if you have not already done so.
This year due to Coronavirus we faced a serious financial crisis due to the cancellation of our awards dinner and a decline in new memberships and donations. I am pleased to report that due to your generosity and support, following appeals to our members, Liberty Victoria is now in a sound financial position. I appreciate the efforts of the Executive team in the financial management of our organisation, and their hard work in negotiating government subsidies as well and their support and enthusiasm for the future sustainability of Liberty Victoria. I would like to acknowledge our significant supporters, especially Michael Drapac who has generously provided accommodation and other support to Liberty Victoria over an extended period of time. Thank you to our members and other supporters who have provided donations and participated in events throughout the year.
Special thanks also to Arnold Bloch Leibler who have now generously hosted two Annual General Meetings, and to all our wonderful volunteers whose help is so vital to the smooth running of Liberty. 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 SallyAnne Raher and Jill Ruchel who provided vital assistance in the launch of our fundraising appeal, Lindy Smith for volunteer coordination and in the office by Grace Girardi, and Andrew Rawson
I would particularly like to acknowledge Thomas Kane’s tremendous contribution towards this year’s success. 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.
Julian Burnside QC