The Guardian 23 February, 2005

Howard's human rights?

The Howard Government has announced the new Australian Human Rights Framework, once again completely ignoring the rights and freedoms of the gay and lesbian community. The Federal Government calls the framework "a forward looking approach to human rights protection", despite the fact the framework includes no national anti-discrimination laws to protect sexual minorities from abuse, discrimination and harassment.

Bizarrely, the Government's stance on human rights came just six days after Attorney-General Philip Ruddock stated in a message of support in the Mardi Gras Festival Guide that the "Government supports tolerance and freedom from discrimination against individuals on the ground of sexual preference".

The Coalition's message of "support" has been condemned by many as an act of hypocrisy bordering on offensive.

According to Australian Democrat's Sexuality Spokesperson Brian Greig, homosexual couples in Australia do not have any legal rights or formal recognition under federal law, thus gay and lesbian law reforms which have occurred at state or territory level have no impact on ongoing federal discrimination.

"The Australian Government and its various departments are now the biggest causes of discrimination against gay and lesbian people and their relationships", said Senator Greig.

"This includes unequal treatment with taxation imposts, social security benefits, public service entitlements, industrial relations awards and conditions, veteran's benefits, immigration processes, Defence Force accommodation, counselling and death benefits, Medicare costs and access to the Family Court."

These comments stand in stark contrast to Philip Ruddock's promise that the "Government is committed to maintaining the Australian traditions of tolerance and diversity ... each of us should have the opportunity to participate in the life of our community ... and accept the responsibilities that flow from such participation without fear of discrimination."

Despite wide-spread doubt of the sincerity of his message, and the fact that there is nothing in the Howard government's Human Rights Framework to protect the gay and lesbian community, Attorney General Philip Ruddock stands by his statement insisting the "Coalition condemns discrimination in all its forms". Ruddock has since refused to discuss or add anything further to his statement.

Senator Greig points to a Howard government Human Rights Framework that is "both unacceptable and embarrassing that Australia is the only western democracy that does not have a Bill of Rights to protect all its citizens from unnecessary discrimination".

Senator Greig reinforced the need for a national human rights framework.

"Human rights must be enshrined in solid legislation and protected by a Bill of Rights, otherwise they can be eroded and diminished by hostile governments and popular prejudice."

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