Liberty Victoria Statement on the Federal Election
As you are no doubt aware, the Federal Election will be held on 21 May 2022.
Liberty Victoria does not, and will not, endorse any particular political party or candidate. We do, however, make submissions and engage with the community on particular issues. We have, throughout our history, had committee members from across the political spectrum. We receive no Government funding, and depend on volunteers who care deeply about civil liberties and human rights.
Your vote has a vital role in protecting and advancing human rights and freedoms. When you are making the deeply personal decision about how to cast your vote, and when you are making enquiries of the parties or independents about their policy positions, we would invite you to consider the following issues at the Federal level that Liberty Victoria has been campaigning on over the past few years.
A federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC): Liberty Victoria supports the creation of a federal ICAC. Liberty Victoria does not take this position lightly given the extraordinary powers that such a body would hold, and there would need to be important safeguards to prevent abuse of its powers. However, events across the political divide, at both the State and Federal level, demonstrate the need for a properly resourced federal ICAC. We condemn the increasingly politicised attacks on anti-corruption commissions, which undermine the institutional integrity of those bodies.
Uluru Statement from the Heart: Liberty Victoria supports the Uluru Statement from the Heart. As the oldest living civilization, Aboriginal people should have recognition in the Australian Constitution and have a voice to parliament. We do not accept that it would create a ‘third chamber’ in parliament or undermine parliamentary sovereignty. It remains a source of great shame and sadness that, over 31 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, over 500 First Nations people have died in custody, and many of the Royal Commission’s recommendations have not been acted upon.
Treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum: Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the Tampa Affair. Our treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum, adopted by successive governments, has been a source of great cruelty. We have breached the fundamental rule, shared across diverse ethical and religious systems, against treating vulnerable people as the means to the end of general deterrence. Our approach breaches international law and has significantly damaged our reputation. While some people have recently been released from detention after intense campaigning, indefinite onshore and offshore detention in appalling conditions (including a lack of access to appropriate medical treatment) has become normalised. The impact on people’s lives is immeasurable. It is to our shame that a version of this policy is now proposed to be adopted by the United Kingdom by sending some people seeking asylum to Rwanda.
We remain deeply concerned about the Ministers ‘god-powers’, and the failure to provide avenues of merits review in life and death decisions. We oppose the use of temporary protection visas, which leave vulnerable people in a state of limbo. We condemn the retreat by successive governments to a punitive discourse that creates division and fear in our communities, and welcome policies prioritising the crisis in refugee policy and immigration detention by ending mandatory and offshore detention, by ensuring fair access to permanent protection, by protecting those facing disadvantage, by demanding transparency, and by striving for cohesive and strong communities.
Mandatory sentencing: Liberty Victoria is opposed to mandatory sentencing. The pitfalls of mandatory sentencing regimes are systemic in nature; they necessarily result in individual instances of injustice. As observed by the Law Council of Australia, such regimes undermine the independence of the judiciary and wrongly undermine community confidence, increase costs through higher incarceration rates, disproportionally affect vulnerable groups including First Nations people, fail to deter crime, and increase the likelihood of reoffending because of the criminogenic effect of imprisonment. Notwithstanding this, both major parties have supported the introduction, and then expansion, of mandatory sentencing provisions in the Commonwealth sentencing regime, most recently with the passing of the Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2022 (Cth).
Privacy: Liberty Victoria is concerned about the continuing deference of politicians to security agencies, and the ever-expanding surveillance powers of those organisations. This includes a recent suite of new powers giving agencies the power to interrupt and modify, copy, add to or remove data on electronic devices. In our view such surveillance powers are extraordinary and always should require independent oversight and the granting of warrants by the judiciary (and not merely internal approval within organisations or by tribunal members on short-term appointments). Such powers should be part of a federal human rights framework grounded in transparency and accountability.
LGBTIQ rights: The lead-up to the federal election has seen increased attacks on LGBTIQ rights. Liberty Victoria opposed the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 (Cth) because it prioritised some human rights over others (and in particular the freedoms of religion and expression over non-discrimination and privacy). The debate treated some vulnerable members of the LGBTIQ community, in particular young transgender people, as a political football. More recently, some politicians have sought to politicise the participation of transgender people in sport, which has rightly been condemned by prominent voices from across the political spectrum. This is a purported solution in search of a problem and, in any event, the participation of transgender athletes is not a proper matter for Commonwealth intervention. The freedom of LGBTIQ people to equally participate in the community is a marker of a democratic and human rights-respecting society.
The need for a Federal Charter of Human Rights: We remain committed to freedom of expression and preventing the danger of Government overreach and censorship, However, the best way to protect the human rights of all Australians, including religious rights, is to enact a Federal Charter of Human Rights that would enable the careful balancing of rights when they inevitably come into conflict. Such legislation is now part of the landscape in the ACT, Victoria and Queensland, and contrary to some of the warnings of those opposed to such models, the sky has not fallen in. Indeed such legislation has been vital in protecting and promoting civil liberties and human rights in some cases, and it seems extraordinary that Australia remains without a national human rights instrument, unlike England, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa.
The Australian Human Rights Commission: Linked to the need for robust human rights protections at a federal level, it should be a matter of great concern to all of us that the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has not been reaccredited by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) as an A-status institution because of concerns about the appointment process for Commissioners. Australia has a long and proud history of leading the international community on human rights, with Doc Evatt pivotal in Australia, and the international community, adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For us now to have a peak human rights body that cannot meet A-status accreditation standards is a sad sign of how far we have lapsed. Further, this undermines any criticisms that we may make of other countries for not meeting human rights standards. We are also concerned by recent cuts to the AHRC’s budget which limits its capacity to protect and advance the human rights of all Australians.
Prisoner voting rights: At this stage in the electoral cycle it should be remembered that prisoners in Australia serving sentences of three years’ imprisonment and longer are prohibited from voting in federal elections. Liberty Victoria is strongly opposed to this systemic disenfranchisement. Rehabilitation of offenders has long been recognised as one of the great objectives of the criminal law, and the stigmatic exclusion from participation in the democratic process does nothing to assist in that process.
Thank you for taking the time to read this statement. I hope it has been helpful in setting out some of the work that Liberty Victoria has been engaged in over recent times.
We know there are politicians from across the political spectrum who are concerned about civil liberties and human rights, and the erosion of foundational norms in our systems of government. There is an increasing authoritarianism in our political life and a failure to protect the separation of powers and the rule of law. That should concern all of us, whether we regard ourselves as conservative, liberal or progressive. And that will not change unless those who we elect to represent us in Parliament are willing to prioritise the health of our democracy over short-term political gain.
President, Liberty Victoria
Authorised by M D Stanton, Liberty Victoria, Melbourne.