Open letter in support of the Australian Human Rights Commission

The following open letter was sent to editors of a number of Australian media publications regarding recent political attacks on the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs. Its signatories included a number of Castan Centre academics. If you would like to add your name in support of this letter, please do so in the comments section below

Dear Editor

Independent public office holders are an important part of modern democratic societies.  Their task is to ensure accountability for abuses of power by government.  Their capacity to perform this role depends on their independence and ability to act impartially. The Australian Human Rights Commission is one such institution.

The Commonwealth law under which the Commission operates empowers it to ‘inquire into any act or practice that may be inconsistent with or contrary to any human right’.

The Commission has done exactly this in its report, titled The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014. This report should be read by every Australian, and especially by every Australian parliamentarian.  It is a rigorously researched report full of facts largely taken from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s own data.

A well-functioning democracy requires that the executive respect the work of independent public institutions established by Parliament to perform specific functions even if it does not agree with specific positions adopted by them. Where this independence is threatened by politicised attacks on the office holder, our democractic system is jeopardised.

The Prime Minister has labelled this Report as a ‘blatantly partisan political exercise’ and a ‘transparent stitch-up’. Neither the Prime Minister nor any other member of the government has pointed to any factual errors in the report; their concern has been to attack the timing and motivation of the report and to seek to assign all fault to the other side of politics. But the question of responsibility for violations of Australia’s obligations under international law goes beyond politics.  The Commission has consistently made findings of breaches of human rights in relation to asylum seekers over the last twenty-five years under governments from both sides of politics. Given the serious mental health impact of our immigration detention policies on children as young as two, serious questions arise as to the past and ongoing responsibility of employees and officials of the Australian government for the prolonged suffering of children held in circumstances controlled by our government.

The Australian community and those who have been detained deserve a substantive, considered and reasoned response from government to the specific Recommendations made in the Forgotten Children Report, in particular the call for a Royal Commission into Children in Detention to be established. We also urge the current and future Australian governments to respect the fundamental integrity of independent commissions and recognize the critical role they play in sustaining a democratic Australia committed to the rule of law.

Signed:

Caroline Adams, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie Law School.

Professor Don Anton, Professor of International Law, Griffith Law School, Griffith University.

Dr Heli Askola​, Faculty of Law, Associate, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

Ataman Atlas, Barrister and Solicitor, Atlas Legal

Irene Baghoomians, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney.

Associate Professor Lee Ann Basser, , La Trobe Law School.

Ewen Bell, Travel Photographer

Emeritus Professor Ben Boer, Australian Centre for Climate and Environmental Law, Sydney Law School.

Kevin Boreham, Lecturer, ANU College of Law, Australian National University.

Dr Kylie Bourne, Philosopher, Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics

Trudy Bray, Activist.

Micah Burch, Senior Lecturer, Sydney Law School

Professor Brian Burdekin AO, Professorial Visiting Fellow, Law Faculty, UNSW.  Visiting Professor, Raoull Wallenburg Institute, Sweden.

Julian Burnside, AO, QC.

Professor Andrew Byrnes, Australian Human Rights Centre, Faculty of Law, UNSW.

Professor Judith Cashmore AO, Professor in Socio-Legal Research and Policy, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney.

Melissa Castan, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

Professor Danielle Celermajer, Director, Enhancing Human Rights Project, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney.

Professor Hilary Charlesworth, Director, Centre for International Governance and Justice, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University.

Madelaine Sophie Chiam, PhD Candidate, Melbourne Law School

Steven R Clark, human, Lawyer-in-remission, PhD student, Sessional Academic, School of Information Technology and Mathematical Sciences, Mawson Lakes campus, UniSA, Lecturer, South Australian Institute of Business and Technology, City East Campus, UniSA.

Joel Cohen, Chief of Staff, United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia.

Associate Professor Ignacio Correa-Velez, School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology

Professor Holly Cullen, Faculty of Law, the University of Western Australia.

Dr Azadeh Dastyari, Faculty of Law, Associate, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

Associate Professor Julie Debeljak, Faculty of Law, Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

Dr Alice de Jonge, Department of Business Law & Taxation, Monash University

Sara Dehn, Senior Fellow, Mebourne Law School.

Associate Professor Tina Dolgopal, Flinders Law School, Flinders University.

Professor Andrea Durbach, Director, Australian Human Rights Centre, Faculty of Law, UNSW.

Bassina Farbenblum, Senior Lecturer, UNSW Law

James Farrell OAM, Lecturer, Deakin University School of Law.

Cr Jan Farrell, City of Greater Geelong

Dr Caroline Fleay, Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University

Professor Michelle Foster, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne.

Roger Gamble, Senior Lecturer, Department of Business Law & Taxation, Monash University.

Associate Professor Paula Gerber, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

Dr Rebecca Giblin, Faculty of Law, Monash University.

Madeline Gleeson, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales.

Associate Professor Beth Goldblatt, Faculty of Law, University of Technology, Sydney

Associate Professor Laura Grenfell, University of Adelaide.

Dr Michael Grewcock, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW.

Sheryl Gwyther, Children’s author

Les Haberfield, Lecturer, Department of Business Law and Taxation, Monash University.

Rev. Dr Avril Hannah-Jones, Minister of the Uniting Church in Australia

Ms Annette M Haridan Dip. T., B. Ed., M.Litt. Retired (disabled) Australian Public Servant

Anja Hilkemeijer, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania.

Dr Anna Hood, Lecturer, University of Melbourne.

Professor Sarah Joseph, Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

Dr Richard Joyce, Faculty of Law, Monash University; Associate, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law.

Fiona Katauskas, Cartoonist

Associate Professor Mary Ann Kenny, School of Law, Murdoch University.

Dr Joanna Kyriakakis, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Associate, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

Associate Professor Anthony J. Langlois, School of International Studies, Flinders University.

Toan Le, Lecturer, Department of Business Law & Taxation, Monash University

Dr Rain Livoja, Senior Lecturer, Melbourne Law School

Dr Victoria Mason, Lecturer, School of Politics and International Relations, College of Arts and Social Sciences, ANU

Siobhan Marren, Advocacy Officer, Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia & PNG.

Professor Jane McAdam, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales.

Assoc. Professor Adam McBeth, Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

Phillipa McCormack, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania.

Professor Paula McDonald, ARC Future Fellow, School of Management, Queensland University of Technology

Dr Mark McMillan, Senior Lecturer, Melbourne Law School.

Associate Professor Simon McVeigh, Melbourne Law School.

Associate Professor Bronwyn Naylor ​, Faculty of Law, Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

Megan Nielsen, Director, Megan Nielsen Pty Ltd

Dr Sharlene Nipperess, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University

Associate Professor Justine Nolan, Australian Human Rights Centre, UNSW Law.

Dr Tanya Notley, School of Humanities and Communication Arts, University of Western Sydney.

Professor Luke Nottage, Associate Dean, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney

Dr Wendy O’Brien, Lecturer, Deakin University.

Anne O’Rourke, Senior Lecturer, Department of Business Law & Taxation, Monash University

Professor Anne Orford, Michael D Kirby Professor of International Law, Law School, University of Melbourne.

Maria O’Sullivan​, Faculty of Law, Associate, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

Professor Dianne Otto, Francince V. McNiff Chair in Human Rights Law, Director, Institute for International Law and the Humanities, Melbourne Law School.

Robyn Oyeniyi BBus, CPA

Tania Penovic, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

Dr Alison Pert, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney.

Dr Tabatha Pettitt, Department of Business Law & Taxation, Monash University.

Professor Simone Rice OAM, ANU College of Law

Professor Ben Saul, Professor of International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney.

Adjunct Professor Chris Sidoti, Australian Catholic University.

Dr Ronli Sifris, Faculty of Law, Associate, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

Professor Gerry Simpson, Kenneth Bailey Chair in International Law, Melbourne Law School.

Dr Aashish Srivastava, Department of Business Law and Taxation, Monash University.

Professor Timothy Stephens, Professor of International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney.

Dr Carolyn Sutherland, Department of Business Law & Taxation, Monash University

Dr Savitri Taylor, Associate Professor, Law School, La Trobe University

Professor John Tobin, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne.

Paul Tyrrell BA science, CEO scheduleflow.

Dr Sue-Anne Wallace, Non-Executive Director

Kimberlee Weatherall, Associate Professor, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney.

Associate Professor Michelle Welsh, Department of Business Law & Taxation, Monash University

Dr Amanda Whiting, Lecturer, Melbourne Law School.

Henrietta Zeffert, PhD student, The London School of Economics; founder, Right Now Human Rights in Australia and Right Now Radio.

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Castan Centre

The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law seeks to promote and protect human rights through the generation and dissemination of public scholarship in international and domestic human rights law. In pursuit of this mission, the Centre brings the work of human rights scholars, practitioners and advocates from a wide range of disciplines together in the Centre’s key activities of research, teaching, public education (lectures, seminars, conferences, speeches, media presentations, etc), applied research, advice work and consultancies.

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