Tomorrow as a part of Law Week, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh de Kretser, will get up on his soapbox and have a good rant about Selectivity in Australia’s Human Rights Protection. It’s a free lunchbox/soapbox session at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre, so come along and bring your lunch: 12:45pm – 1:15pm, Thursday 16 May 2013.
As a preview Hugh spoke to us about the work of the Human Rights Law Centre and his vision for human rights in Australia.
What does the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) do?
We protect and promote human rights in Australia and through Australian foreign policy. We do this though a combination of evidence-based advocacy, strategic litigation, research and education.
What was your background before joining the HRLC?
I started my career in corporate law at Mallesons, but for the past decade I’ve been working in community legal centres, most recently as the Executive Officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, the peak body for Victoria’s fifty community legal centres. I’ve also been a Commissioner on the Victorian Law Reform Commission and I am a Director of the Sentencing Advisory Council.
What attracted you to the role at the HRLC?
I’ve followed the work of the HRLC closely since its foundation in 2006 and have previously been a board member. It’s a fantastic organisation with a great operating model, an outstanding staff team and strong partnerships across Australia. It has a big positive impact on human rights. It’s very exciting to get the chance to lead the HRLC and extend that impact.
What are the key priorities for the HRLC in the coming year?
We’ve got seven key priorities in our strategic plan that we will continue working on: strengthening the legal protection of human rights, UN engagement, foreign policy, Indigenous rights, rights of people in detention, police accountability and violence against women.
What are the major human rights issues facing Australia currently?
Entrenched disadvantage continues to affect many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and Indigenous Australians are fifteen times more likely to be in prison than non-Indigenous Australians. The treatment of asylum seekers is a continued source of injustice. We need to cut rates of violence and sexual assault. Poverty and homelessness need to be addressed and Australia can do much better on the treatment of people with cognitive and physical disabilities. We need to promote the humane treatment of people in prison and other places of detention. Rights are not adequately protected due to the absence of an enforceable national Human Rights Charter.
If you were the Attorney-General what would you change?
I’m optimistic about the potential to improve human rights in Australia with concerted action and improved protections. Genuine consultation and opportunities for education and work are needed in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and appropriate recognition of Indigenous peoples in the constitution is well overdue. Adequate social security will help to address poverty in Australia. A humane, rational and cost effective asylum seeker policy would end prolonged detention and offshore processing. In the Attorney-General’s portfolio, a justice reinvestment approach holds great promise in cutting crime, reducing prison spending and strengthening communities. Ratifying and implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture will prevent deaths and abuse in custody. An overarching national charter of rights will promote better decision making in government and help to ensure government and legislative actions don’t breach fundamental rights.
The foundation provided establishment funding to the Human Rights Law Centre. With its establishment in January 2006, the Human Rights Law Centre became the first legal centre in Australia dedicated to human rights law.
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