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Australia rights committee urges greater legislative protections

[JURIST] The Australian public wants legislative protections for human rights in their country, according to a government report [materials] released Wednesday by the Human Rights Consultation Committee [official website]. According to the report, Australians believe that their country adequately protects human rights, but that further protections could be extended to a number of vulnerable groups. Among those groups that require extra protections, citizens felt that the elderly and those with mental illness, particularly in areas of the country with significant indigenous populations, were most likely to fall through the cracks of Australia's human rights systems. The Committee's recommendation was that Australia adopt a federal human rights act:

that recognises and fully protects the non-derogable civil and political rights and that offers a process for engagement by all three branches in government when parliament legislates to set limits on other civil and political rights could constitute a useful, cost-effective means of repairing some of the holes in Australia's patchwork of rights protection.

The government, despite releasing the report, has made no official statement, while advocacy groups have begun a vigorous debate [Brisbane Times report] on the issue.

Earlier this year, Australia endorsed [JURIST report] the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, in an effort to continue to "close the gap" between the indigenous and non-indigenous people of Australia. The topic of human rights, particularly with regard to Australia's indigenous people, was a prominent portion of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's election platform. In February 2008, Rudd released a statement apologizing [text] for Australia's past treatment of indigenous population. Australia's endorsement of the UN Declaration represented a significant change from the attitudes of former Prime Minister John Howard, who said [speech text] that the declaration would result in a national attitude of "victimhood".

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