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Commission warns on Howard Govt plans to gut human rights watchdog

Melbourne's Catholic Commission for Justice Development and Peace has warned that a new Government bill would gut the independence of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), Australia's independent human rights watchdog.

The warning came as the Federal Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee began hearings into the effects of the Australian Human Rights Commission Bill (2003).

Executive Officer Marc Purcell said Government plans to remove the power of the Commission to independently intervene in human rights cases in the courts will create conflicts of interest in cases where the Government is involved, such as the Tampa case.

He said: "The proposals contained in the bill do little to assist the Commission in its work, and do much to undermine its role as an impartial, fearless protector and investigator of human rights violations and discrimination in our community."

"The primary responsibility for respecting human rights lies with the Government, but if they weaken the nation's number one investigating body who will protect the community from Government excesses?"

Mr Purcell said the Federal Attorney General has failed to provide decent reasons why the changes should take place. He praised the Commission's record on defending human rights as "second to none".

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said.

Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace

Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
Parliament of Australia | Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Bill 2003

30 Apr 2003