Dr Michelle Bachelet at the Free + Equal Conference


– President of the Australian
Human Rights Commission, Rosalind Croucher and fellow Commissioners Mr. Les Malezer, a member
of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Members of Parliament and
Government representatives and colleagues and friends, It is an honor for me to pay my respects to the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, to their Elders past and
present, and to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander as the traditional owners
and custodians of this land. I also want to thank Rosalind and the Australian Human Rights Commission for their invitation to
visit Australia this week and to participate in this important national human rights conference. I am pleased to return to this country that first gave me refuge as a 23-year-old fleeing the Pinochet regime. I recall the solidarity,
warmth and generosity Australians showed to me at all times, although I cannot help wonder
whether I would experience the same as a refugee today. I am especially pleased to join with you in this national conversation
about what human rights mean to Australians today,
and how we can ensure their protection for all, now
and in future generations. I commend the Australian
Human Rights Commission for this important initiative. We all have rights, by
virtue of being human. But if we wait for our rights
to be conferred top-down through law and policy,
we will wait forever. Rights must also be
claimed from the bottom up, through empowerment and participation. The very process of
discussing and debating rights can help us to understand their value and defend them with greater conviction. Through this national
conversation, which I hope will reach the broadest
possible cross-section of Australians, you have
the opportunity to define a human rights agenda for Australia over the next five to 10 years and beyond. An agenda that can be
owned by young people and those in an advanced
stage of youth alike. As I always used to say about myself. From the newest Australians, from migrants and refugee communities,
to the oldest Australians, the First Nations, the indigenous
inhabitants of this land. An agenda for Australians
in the big cities and in the smallest rural towns. An agenda for people
living with disabilities, for women as well as for
men, and for everyone who defines themselves differently. An agenda in which business
can see the value added in championing human rights. A human rights agenda for all. The national conversation
will help you to arrive at a set of common goals,
around which you can build public support and with which
you can engage the Government. These goals can also be
presented to the international community next year
when Australia undergoes its third Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations
Human Rights Council. This is an important process
in which every single country, big and small, is asked to
take stock after four years, of its human rights
progress in consultation with civil society and
national institutions like the Australian
Human Rights Commission. Australia will report back
to the other countries and receive feedback and
recommendations from them, in turn. Friends and colleagues,
you are not starting this process with a blank canvas. The National Human Rights
Consultation led by Frank Brennan, 10 years ago, generated many
important recommendations. It is important to update
and renew that vision today. The Government’s human
rights white paper in 2017 also set out Australia’s
foreign policy objectives in human rights, both in
the region and the world. Australia has worked through
three national human rights national action plans,
the most recent from 2012. Since that time, Australia has also heard the Uluru Statement of
the Heart, a clarion call by Indigenous Australia
for a constitutional First Nations voice to Parliament, we just heard a very impressive
panel on all decisions. A treaty making process and a revelation of historical truth. I salute the elders and community leaders who have put forward such a
powerful vision of justice and reconciliation, one
that is fundamentally rooted in both traditional
wisdom and human rights. Australia has also benefited
from a wealth of advice and recommendations from the
UN human rights mechanisms. It has ratified most of the
core international human rights treaties and been reviewed regularly by the human rights treaty bodies. Just last month, as
Professor Croucher mentioned, Australia was reviewed by the Committee on the Rights of the
Child and the Committee on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities. Since 2008, Australia has
received at least nine visits from UN Special Rapporteurs
who have yielded detailed and actionable recommendations on issues such as Indigenous peoples’
rights; health; foreign debt; trafficking in persons;
human rights defenders; migrants; and violence against women. Why do I mention all of this? It’s to say that there’s
no shortage of analysis and diagnosis, of
recommendations and advice, with which to advance
human rights in Australia. Sometimes I hear Australian commentators bemoan all this attention,
suggesting that the UN human rights machinery should focus
its attention elsewhere. But this scrutiny is not the
function of some international policing system enforcing
rules from outside. It is based on international
standards that Australia has helped to create;
which successive Australian Governments have voluntarily
adopted; and which Australians themselves, people like
you, have sought to engage and leverage, in your efforts
to make Australia a better, more inclusive and humane place. In many ways, I think
Australians have looked outwards to the international
human rights mechanisms because of the lack of a comprehensive national human rights
legislation or charter. Australians would benefit
greatly from a comprehensive human rights law to systematically
protect all their rights. I encourage all of you to
include this important issue in your human rights discussions and in your human rights
strategies and advocacy. Victoria, Australian Capital Territory and most recently Queensland
have taken leadership roles in this respect, by
developing their own State or Territory-level human
rights legislation, and I hope one day this can be
achieved for the Commonwealth as a whole, and for all
who live in this country. In the meantime, Australians
rely on a patchwork of laws that address different
forms of discrimination. But several of these
laws need to be updated, protection gaps need to be
filled, and broad exemptions and reservations need to be clarified. The laws also tend to
frame what should be rights in negative rather than positive terms, prohibiting certain actions,
and creating the need for individuals to bring complaints, rather than addressing broader
legal and policy issues. As a result, the model is
dispute-focused and remedial, rather than system-focused and proactive. I commend the Australian
Human Rights Commission’s detailed and careful
proposals for synthesizing and harmonizing these federal
and state discrimination laws. Friends and colleagues,
let me reflect on a few of the issues that have
already been highlighted during my visit, and I look
forward to more discussions with various groups over the coming days. Yesterday in Melbourne
I had a chance to talk with different groups working
on refugees and migrants, also a committed group of activists and advocates for the rights
of Australian women and girls. Australia has a significantly
better track record than many other countries in
the area of women and girls, but still women continue to face many barriers, including
unequal pay, workplace discrimination and
pervasive sexual harassment. And I have heard for a long
time about the exceptionally misogynistic approach to
women politicians by many men in Australian political life,
and elsewhere in society. I know from my own personal
experience that this is not unique to Australia,
nor will it go away overnight. But enabling more women to
take positions of leadership in politics, business and society, including indigenous women,
will help achieve the vision of a free and equal Australia. I also discussed as I already mentioned, with groups working with
refugees and young people, Australia’s heavy reliance on detention as a means to deal with social problems, and how disproportionately
this affects certain groups, particularly Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people. Just last month, I met in
Geneva with a 12-year-old Aboriginal boy from Alice
Springs, Dujuan Hoosan, the youngest person ever to address the Human Rights Council. I encourage you all to watch
the documentary about him, “In My Blood It Runs”. I was shocked to learn
that the age of criminal responsibility in Australia
is only 10 years old. Some 600 children under the
age of 14 are locked away in youth jails every
year across this country. Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander children make up almost 70% of them. It is often the most vulnerable
and disadvantaged children who come to the attention of the justice system at a young age. As a pediatrician I have
seen how harmful this can be and how rarely it is in the
best interests of the child. I very much hope Australia
can follow the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s
recommendation to raise the age of an internationally accepted
level of at least 14 years. Last month, the Committee on
the Rights of Disabled Persons also raised issues around the segregation and institutionalization of
people living with disabilities and the continuing practice
of forced sterilization of children and adults with disability, particularly women and girls. I welcome the appointment
of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse,
Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. Mandatory detention is also a mainstay of Australia’s migration
and asylum system. The people it affects have
largely committed no crime; many of them are in very
vulnerable situations, and some are children, yet they
are subjected to prolonged, indefinite and effectively
unreviewable confinement. This includes those who
remain in the offshore centers such as Nauru and Manus Island. We have a wealth of evidence
to demonstrate the harmful effect this has on their
mental and physical well-being. I know that Australia’s
asylum and migration policies have become entrenched over the years by successive governments. But I strongly believe
that we are at a point where it is time to roll
back these policies, or at least mitigate their worst effects. I encourage Australia to make greater use of human rights-compliant
alternatives to detention, which are non-custodial
and community-based. Evidence demonstrates
that these alternatives reduce the distress and
harm caused to people; increase the likelihood
that migrants will comply with immigration decisions; and are often a significantly
cost-effective alternative to expensive infrastructure
designed for detention. The so-called Medevac
Law that came into effect in March this year is another
example of the practical improvements that can be
made to the asylum seekers to uphold international
human rights obligations and mitigate the harmful
effects of detention. I am concerned that the
plans to repeal this law may mean more, and costly, court battles, with lives being put at risk. I appeal to Members of
Parliament not to reverse these small steps of
progress that have been made. Friends and colleagues, one
vital objective for any free and equal society should
be a true reckoning with past human rights violations, particularly against Indigenous peoples, and acknowledgment of the many
ways this legacy of violence and pain continues to
scar societies today. A treaty with Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people, and constitutional recognition
of the First Nations people’s voice in national affairs
would be historic steps. These changes may require a
sustained process of education, debate and consensus-building, but I am convinced they are achievable. Australia has benefited from
being a multicultural society, with deeply rooted egalitarian traditions, and where the advancement of
women has made great strides. But while the country
as a whole ranks highly on most indexes of human
development and social wellbeing, there are significant
inequalities in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, especially for Indigenous
people and remote communities. So we need to make sure that
strategies to address this have full ownership and design
by Indigenous communities. From schools to
neighborhoods, the workplace and in every sphere of life,
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be
enabled to enjoy full equality of rights, freedoms and opportunities. Friends and colleagues, as
Professor Croucher has noted, this can sometimes seem a
difficult time for human rights, not just here but globally. It is essential that we take
the time to think through what has worked and where
we have done less well in responding to people’s needs. This is true globally, but
also nationally and locally: good governance, and sound activism, both need to ceaselessly
search for new approaches, new strategies, new partnerships,
new ways of working. Rather than labeling people
who favor refugee push back as bigots or racist, we
need to listen and recognize the fear, anxiety,
insecurity or other factors that may be behind such attitudes. We need to move away from
abstract notions of human rights and discuss the human beings involved in a language that
everyone can understand. We need to use reason and
evidence, and empathy, to help temper visceral
emotional responses. We need a conversation. We need to stop working in
silos, as women’s advocates, refugee advocates, indigenous advocates. In fact, we have to stop working in silos as human rights advocates:
we need to find common cause with people working on the
environment, climate change and sustainable development. We need to find new
partnerships, with businesses, with trade unions, with
religious groups, with educators and others, to expand the
constituencies for human rights. Above all, we need to
include young people. As Professor Croucher said this
morning, their entire lives will be shaped by the
decisions taken today and they surely have
a right to participate in making those decisions. We need their energy and their ideas, to ensure we work better to respect, protect and fulfill their rights. And we need the clear
legitimacy of their voices in determining the future
path of Australian society, and the planet which all of us share. The broad social movement that
was mobilized in Australia on the issue of marriage equality is an inspiring example
of what can be possible. The growing mobilization
around issues of climate change give us hope for the same. It shows that ambitious human
rights gains are possible to win, that Australians do
care, and can be mobilized to uphold the rights of others. This gathering reminds us that we are more than a collection of individuals. Together, we can be a
collective force for the defense and promotion of human rights in an age of tremendous challenges
for Australia and the world. Civil society participation is
the lifeblood of that effort, the vital force which holds up every healthy democracy and society. This is not about a niche
concern of the human rights community, or some globalist agenda, it is the business of each
and every person in Australia from every walk of life. I thank you for the principled, often difficult work you all do. It is an essential effort of
hope and positive construction, of what I like to call strategic optimism. By anchoring ourselves and our societies to human rights principles,
we can better face the challenges and
uncertainties of coming years. We can be certain that we
are upholding the true values of humanity and working towards
free and equal societies. I want to wish you very
fruitful discussions in the course of this
national conversation. Thank you very much. (audience applauding) – Thank you very much Dr. Bachelat. Strategic optimism, I like it a lot. We’re just waiting for
everyone to enter and vote. I have another mechanism
to talk to you with. Vote for the Slido questions, but I’m gonna kick off by
asking a couple of my own. – [Dr. Bachelet] I define
myself as a strategic optimist but tactically not that
optimistic right now because the world is very complicated. – Right, right. It’s a time when a lot of
people are talking about that we’re in an erosion of democracy in a number of constituencies,
it’s concerning. But a lot of people talk about, wonder what Australia’s
role is on the global stage, given that there has been
for some time criticism of our record with indigenous communities, with the well-documented
impacts of mandatory detention as you yourself have pointed out. Does that mean we cannot speak with impact or with credibility on a global stage when it comes to human rights? Or is it the case that no-one’s got a perfect track
record on human rights. – First of all I have to say
there’s no perfect society. Even in countries who for long
years have been very advanced in human rights, like
Nordic countries and others, they still have pending issues. They still have challenges. So every country has the
need to look at themselves and see how we can
ensure better protection and better respect for human
rights and to see which are the inequalities in each
society and how we can advance. But having said that, I have to say that in the international level,
Australia has been playing in lots of very, very positive role. It is very active in the
Human Rights Council. And of course, it has been
very active in discussing and supporting in different
international issues, important positions in terms of promoting human rights globally. But, having said that, I believe
that when you’re a country, when you’re a developed country, that you have advanced a lot, and I mentioned some
progress in some areas, it’s bigger, your obligation to see and say “What else do I need to move forward? “What are my pending
issues on human rights? “What are my historical debts
and how I can work on that.” So I will say, it has important influence, international influence,
it is important voice in the Human Rights Council. But it’s also I think
important when you say to other countries that
they need to improve their human rights that
you also look at yourself and see what else we can
do in my country to ensure that the things I’m asking others, I am also being coherent
with that position. – That relates to the first
Slido question we have which is, “How can civil
society and the UN work together “more effectively to help
the Australian government “implement more humane asylum
seeker detention policies.” – Well I think that one
of the things that the UN can support and provide is
with evidence of what is the best practices and what
are not the best practices. In common with civil society
who knows the reality here on the ground, that
could be a ways of thinking of the best arguments and
also to build stronger support for change of those policies,
for a policy that is more in compliance with
international humanitarian law or international human rights law. To develop a policy, a
national policy, that is really looking forward to protect
the rights of refugees and asylum seekers and migrants. On the other hand, it was
unfortunate that Australia did not be part of the
Global Compact on Migration because what the Global Compact
on Migration wanted to do is not to make it mandatory
for a country to receive every migrant but to have a way, a situation that is not local, that is international, is global. It’s a global issue, migration. To find a global response to it. An orderly, safety response. So to get out of that,
means that at the end you have to deal anyway with the issue of refugees,
asylum seeker, migration, but in an isolated way. So we believe that there’s
still a place there, a space for Australia to be
part of that global compact. And I hope that the work that can be done with the UN and civil
society can, bottoms up, could help make the right decisions. – I was really interested in
some of the points you made towards the end of your
speech when you were talking about we need to think about
it not as an abstract term, we need to involve young people. How to get energy behind
the public discussions around human rights. But one thing that I’ve
discovered in Australia, and I think it’s the same
in many Western countries, is the idea that human rights have somehow become a partisan concept. And there was a former
Australian politician, sorry, a former liberal
politician George Brandis, who said that he considered
that to be one of the failings of the right in Australia
to have allowed human rights to be branded as something
coming from the left. Have you observed this as well? How is it best countered,
that concept that human rights is political instead of above politics? – The first thing I have
to say is that in concrete in Australia I was surprised,
because yesterday I have three or four different
meetings with different groups and one of the things
that everybody say is, “We cannot use the word human rights.” And I said, “In Australia you cannot use “the word human rights? “I mean, how come?” Sometimes people don’t
use the word human rights even though they don’t label it that way even though they are
working with human rights and I think that’s what Prof.
Croucher mentioned today that some of the people
who were invited would say, “Why did you invite me?” Because they didn’t feel
themselves human right defenders, they saw themselves differently. So, this is an interesting
question to ask yourself, why is this? That is why we are calling
on avoiding on politicization of human rights because human rights, first of all, when the universal
declaration of human rights was developed, the
commissioners were people, because the other thing that you hear, but that’s interesting what you say. Some people say, “This is leftist.” And you listen to that of course, in other parts of the world as well. But on the other hand, other people say, “This is Western ideas
they want to impose to us “Africans or Asians and
we have our own culture, “we have our own values,
our own principles.” But the truth is, it’s not Western. Everybody speaks about Eleanor Roosevelt, and she was a fantastic
chair of the commission, but the commissioners were
from all over the world. Not all over the world
because at that time the majority of African
countries were colonies still. But Latin America, both
Chile and Peruvian, Chinese, Indian and of course
from different other parts. I mentioned this always
because the one who included the concept all human beings
was not Eleanor Roosevelt, was an Indian feminist commissioner. Because at that time, the
term that everybody used was the right of the men, that
came from the French concept (speaks foreign language)
from the French Revolution. So at that time, women
were included in men. But this Indian woman said,
“No, because government “will use that against women’s rights “so we need to speak
about all human beings.” What I mean to say, there
was the concept of Chinese of everyone and why was it? Because we were coming
from the Second World War and everybody was completely emotionally and rationally committed to avoid humanity from being again in
that terrible situation. So the discussion was,
what can be the conditions so everybody can live in peace? Well, it hasn’t worked so
well because we had a lot of conflict but at least
we ensured those rights. We could live in peace, leaving
no one behind, et cetera. So, this is not left or right, this is essential right of any people who thinks that dignity,
humanity are important. As one woman, many years
when I was at You Are Woman, in a panel with a judge with Africa and she said, “What is justice to me? “Justice to me is that a child can be fed “is that my son is cold at
night, I can warm him up.” So we’re talking essential things. Probably what happens
also is that many times we have been speaking about human rights mainly on the political and civil arena and not on the whole range
of human rights: social, economic, cultural rights,
women’s rights, et cetera. And now we’re starting to
work much more on other areas like environmental rights, or for example, technology and human rights. The truth is that maybe what
that former minister was it? Or political leader said, is also true that some other people did
not feel ownership of this but the truth is, the
rights belong to all of us, all human beings. – Bit like saying, I’m not a feminist but I want to receive equal
pay and be safe when I walk home at night et cetera, et
cetera and vote, perhaps. Another question. “What can we do to protect
the rights of gender diverse “people amidst a strong
push by the US to remove “any acknowledgement of the
existence of such individuals?” – The truth is that in
the US today it is easier to talk about LGTBI communities rights than to talk about sexual
reproductive rights. We have seen that in some
resolutions of the United Nations where it has been impossible
to include that women victims of violence and
conflict, sexual violence, raped women, should have
provision of services, of sexual and reproductive services. So we’re not talking about
the women of the world we’re talking about
raped women in conflict and it was impossible to
put that on that resolution because it was vetoed. So we are living in a
moment where human rights and gender rights are having a push back. And of course, LGTBI rights, it has been progressing a little bit later but you have seen progress in many places. But the thing is, as we talk on the situation of Indigenous people I think we need to in the conversation to include the rights of
everyone to live how they are. The rights of everyone
to love who they love. So I think it’s very important
to do those conversations. And I think the Australian
community understood it because the discussion on
the egalitarian marriage and what comes from it was
very open and very supportive. But I think it’s important
to talk about it. To understand that we need to include everyone in our society. And to accept the diversity is something that is positive to any society. What can we do about it? I think we need to, that’s
what I was mentioning, to build bigger constituencies
of human rights. So that women can also
fight for LGTBI rights. That LGBTI rights can also
fight for environmental rights so we need to do something
bigger so the voices are heard and we need to reach out to other people. We need to reach out to
people who may have full of prejudices or who are fear of the new, of something that is different. Those people who separate them and us and we need to talk to them
and give good arguments why this is not what will
bring the Australian society together, that we need to
find how we all can be part of the society and contribute to it. – Speaking of big movements,
we’ve seen this global beyond a stirring amongst young people when it comes to climate
and the environment. Unprecedented in our time,
accompanied by of course, inevitable criticism
of the 16 year old girl who spoke so powerfully in
New York a few days ago. The question is, like the
recent climate strike, how do you think, and of course
you spoke about young people before, how do you think
students further advocate for human rights in Australia
and around the world? – First of all, I understand
Greta, she’s angry. She’s angry because her future is at stake and the future of other
young generations is at stake and leaders are not doing
what they have to do. They’re not listening or
they’re moving to slow. And we know that we still have some time, but it’s not long and if
we wait, wait the more we’re not gonna be able to
diminish the temperature of the planet and we will have the biggest violations
of human rights ever. Because it’s not something of the future, we’re seeing it today. Today we see that climate
change is producing, I mean, what to say to you Australians, how you have biggest drought isn’t it? And this year you having
one of the biggest drought, last year as well and
this is, water is probably being scarce, rivers and
so on and I guess also the temperature of the ocean is rising. You have the coral reef
consequence et cetera, et cetera. So we’re not talking about
something that is futuristic, that could happen or
not and then when young, I mean it happens to me, I’m not young, I just say that I talk
about accumulated youth. Let me pass a message to all
of us who are not that young, That I think that youth
is passion for things. To believe in causes
and do things about it. I think that the opposition
of love is not hate, it is indifference,
when people don’t care. I think that youth cares
about these things. Not everyone though, but
the majority of the youth. So, let me go back to climate change and a little bit about youth. Because for me climate change is really a huge threat for humanity. We see in the Sahel region in Africa today a terrible conflict between
herders and farmers, killing themselves because
of scarcity of water or land to make their own activities. We see many small islands there has to displace people
living in the coastal areas because of the rise of
the level of the sea. And all this displacement,
sometimes internal displacement, sometimes they go abroad
because of the droughts, the lack of food security, the possibility of having a job and an income
produces migration as well. We are not talking abstract. Let me think on the
caravan in Central America. Of course it is because of insecurity, of course it is about poverty. But also poverty that has
increased because of a virus that’s come to the coffee production that was the main source of activity of many of those rural areas. And they don’t have anymore jobs, they have to look for something else. Today climate change is producing changes and problems and conflicts. We will have bigger, all
this intersectoriality of issues will only become worse. I think that when young people, and I was at Youth Summit in the UN. There are people like Greta, she’s angry. There are other people who
are a little bit different. There was this young African boy who said, “I don’t care about you old people, “we only care about us, the young people.” But you know we all were young, once. And sometimes we felt angry
about these kind of things so I don’t mind, I think
it means that they care and they want to do things and they are doing fantastic things. So I believe that youth, will mobilize, have been mobilized in terms of causes that they really believe in. I think they understand that
climate change is a threat. The other areas where I
think we could also engage, in countries where there
is a democratic system even though it’s not
perfect because there is not such a thing as a perfect
democracy, sometimes young people don’t understand that
political and civil rights are important because they
feel, they take it for granted. But there are other areas
where they can be involved: either cultural rights, economical rights or gender rights, being it
women and girls or LGTBI rights. Or new areas, frontier
issues that are linked to human rights and that we’re
trying to work very strongly like technology and human rights, artificial intelligence and human rights, because those are the
challenges of the future because everybody speaks about
industrial revolution .40 like it’s fantastic. But the truth is technology
can be a fantastic opportunity but it can be also very
threatful for societies when you have countries
that use facial recognition everywhere, in that sense
they can violate human rights. Or on social media you
can spread hate speech and in the case of Myanmar
that triggered violence against the Rohingya people. All of these things have great opportunity but also terrible risk. And to be sure also young
people because they are so fond of technology can also be
important part of discussion how we deal with all of
these very important things but on the same time we avoid
the misuse of technology or social media against
the rights of other people. – Dr. Bechalat, you have
done astonishing things in your life and continue to. We really appreciate you taking
the time to join us today. – Well thank you so much and
I wish you a lot of success and I will tell you the same
thing that people tell me, good luck.

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