The Guardian April 5, 2000

Gross violation of human rights commitments

The Government's response to the criticism of the UN Committee for the 
Elimination of Racial Discrimination over the question of mandatory 
sentencing and the ILO over industrial legislation is in line with the 
demand of Pauline Nation to withdraw Australia from UN bodies. In this and 
other areas, the Howard Government is taking over and implementing One 
Nation policies.

A picture of deliberate disregard of various international conventions by 
the Coalition Government is emerging. 

Australian laws concerning mandatory sentencing and Reith's industrial 
legislation violate UN Human Rights accords and International Labour 
Organisation (ILO) conventions that have been ratified by Australian 

The complaint to the ILO was brought by the ACTU, the Maritime Union of 
Australia, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, and the 
International Transport Workers' Federation. All these organisations were 
involved in the MUA dispute against Patrick Stevedores in 1998 in which 
Patrick, with the full support of the Howard Government, sacked waterfront 
workers for the sole reason that they belonged to a trade union. The ILO 
has upheld the right of trade unions to bargain collectively on behalf of 
workers and the right of workers to belong to a trade union.

The Howard Government's reaction to criticism displays the extreme 
conservatism and petty-mindedness of government leaders. Their threat to 
downgrade Australian representation or even to withdraw from UN bodies is 
an indication that further violations of internationally accepted standards 
can be expected.

One of the international bodies that could be affected is that dealing with 
the Status of Women. Commitments made at the Kyoto environmental forum may 
also be up for review.

The Government's outrageous attitude logically flows from the policies of 
de-regulation or self-regulation which allows the big corporations the 
opportunity to do whatever they please in the operation of their workplaces 
and in trade relations. Extending the same principle to governments would 
enable them to legislate any law in disregard of international bodies and 
commitments entered into by Australian Governments. This is the path to 
international anarchy.

Foreign Affairs Minister Downer questioned the "efficiency and 
impartiality" of the UN committee which made the criticism of mandatory 
sentencing, claiming that the UN committee ignored the "significant 
progress" made in Australia on Indigenous issues. Jocelyn Newman, the 
Howard Government's Minister for Family and Community Services, asserts 
that threatened protests during the Olympic Games are "un-Australian". The 
Government, in effect, claims that its actions and laws are "Australian" 
and, presumably, in "Australia's interests".

Both government Ministers ignore the real state of affairs  the mass 
unemployment among Indigenous people, the health and housing situation, 
lack of educational opportunities as well as the much greater percentage of 
Indigenous people thrown into jail.

Government leaders and sections of the press are stepping up the rhetoric 
that the UN should keep its nose out of Australian affairs while the hairy-
chested assert that no-one is going to tell Australia what to do.

The threat to downgrade or withdraw from UN bodies is a serious step 
towards international isolation that will only intensify the criticism and 
the perception that Australia has other things to hide or that the 
Government intends to go even further in implementing more right-wing 
policies in various areas. 

The knee-jerk response of "keep your nose out of our garden" appeals to the 
most politically ignorant and isolationist sentiments among the Australia 
people without addressing the real issues.

When the UN body was considering the issue of mandatory sentencing 
Australian government representatives lobbied the UN in an attempt to have 
it remove references to this violation of the convention which says that 
there should be no arbitrary jailing of children and that their jailing 
should be a measure of last resort. 

There is no doubt that mandatory sentencing law and its implementation is 
racist in character and intent. 

Once again the Prime Minister is protecting those State Governments 
responsible for the mandatory sentencing laws while claiming to be 
personally against them.

The Federal Government should immediately exercise its powers to override 
mandatory sentencing. A failure to act can only be interpreted as 
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