Oration Highlights

The Whitlam Institute advocates an
engaged, curious, collaborative, compassionate, responsible and
contributory Australian foreign policy. An Australian public policy dialogue
that sees value in engaging with and participating in global discourse and
action for reasons beyond any immediate tangible direct dividend but because we
form part of the family of Nations. I’m thrilled and honored to have Dr Bachelet with us here tonight to deliver the Whitlam Oration on Australia’s Role in Human Rights in a Changing World. The Whitlam Government ratified 15
international human rights treaties in the space of three years. Most notably,
the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination which
became the basis for the landmark Racial Discrimination Act of 1975. Australia
signed the two great human rights instruments, the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights within six days of his election. Later, Australia
ratified other treaties and protocols on women’s rights, refugees and
statelessness. It joined nine International Labour Organisation
Conventions on freedom of association, unemployment, the minimum wage and
workplace discrimination and these have shaped Australia’s labor market to this
day. Ratifying treaties leaves a lasting legacy. They’re not something
imposed from outside but are freely accepted by sovereign countries. They
provide strong leverage for reform and secure the gains that are made for the
long term. They also give focus, legitimacy and strength to the vital
work of civil society groups and they provide a navigational compass, a guide
for managing the storms and sudden shifts of global change. By committing
Australia to the frame of international human rights law, Whitlam was effectively
building a human rights charter for Australia – something which is currently
lacking in its constitution. The treaties Australia has ratified have become the
basis for a patchwork of human rights laws prohibiting discrimination in
different domains but this has left gaps and a framing of rights as negative
prohibitions rather than in positive terms. I am convinced that Australians
would benefit greatly from a comprehensive Human Rights Act that
would provide an overarching framework for the development of laws and policies
and a source of remedy when government is in a breach of Human Rights.

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