On Human Rights Day, the Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council has called on Government to take stock of its human rights performance.

“Recent developments in Indigenous affairs and immigration policy give cause for anyone concerned about human rights to ask, ‘What’s happening to our nation?’” Bishop Christopher Saunders said.

“What’s happening in a nation willing to outlay billions of dollars in on- and off-shore immigration detention that undermines human dignity and causes irreparable harm? The cost of running the Manus Island and Nauru facilities alone is over $1 billion annually.

“At the same time, Commonwealth and State governments seem unwilling to scrape together a small fraction of that amount to provide basic services to remote Indigenous communities. Anywhere up to 150 remote towns in Western Australia face closure because the State Government says it can’t find a meagre $90 million to fund municipal and essential services that were recently offloaded to the states by the Commonwealth Government. Aboriginal communities in South Australia are also at risk,” Bishop Saunders said.

“It seems that Australia’s human rights record is being undermined by policies aimed at denying people sanctuary.

“People in the cities and regional centres of Australia see it as their right to have basic municipal services. How can we possibly say that Australian citizens in remote communities do not have the same right?

“Last week’s changes in Australia’s asylum legislation strike out most references to the Refugee Convention – the international human rights standard for the treatment of asylum seekers, including our basic obligation to ensure no one is deported to danger.

“As always, the benchmark of a country’s human rights performance is seen in how it treats the most vulnerable. Australia is failing the test for First Australians seeking to maintain connection with their traditional, ancestral homelands and for refugees and asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands,” Bishop Saunders concluded.


For further information:

Bishop Christopher Saunders    0418 260 155
Mr John Ferguson            (02) 8306 3499