House of Representatives Committees


| Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

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Preliminary Pages

Foreword

During the course of this inquiry, it was clear that the wide range of non-government organisations (NGOs), ethnic community groups and interested individuals that made a submission or gave evidence at a public hearing held a number of concerns about Australia’s bilateral dialogues with China and Vietnam.

Submitters were critical of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) engagement with NGOs, in particular saying that it has been ad hoc to date. They were also critical of the current level of reporting on the human rights dialogues as well as the monitoring and evaluation of outcomes.

The observations above notwithstanding, it was clear that submitters was supportive of Australia’s bilateral human rights dialogues providing that it formed part of a multifaceted approach to human rights advocacy. Indeed, many groups and individuals suggested that Australia expand the number of countries with which it holds dialogues, calling for Australia to re-establish its human rights dialogue with Iran and consider initiating a dialogue with Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Burma and Fiji. Furthermore, the NGOs and ethnic community groups made a number of suggestions aimed at improving and strengthening the dialogue process.

Submitters were also very supportive of increasing parliamentary participation in the dialogues, arguing that it would enhance the process considerably. Many of the community groups called for greater participation by NGOs and civil society organisations from Australia, China and Vietnam. These groups also suggested that the dialogues be made more transparent through wider and more detailed reporting, and called for the establishment of aims and benchmarks so that the outcomes of the dialogues can be effectively measured and reported.

The Committee believes that it is constructive to be talking to other countries about Australia’s perspective on human rights, providing that measures are put in place to enhance the effectiveness of the dialogues, that NGOs are actively engaged in the dialogue process, that parliamentarians participate, and that the human rights dialogues are considered as one mechanism which is to be utilised as part of a suite of other mechanisms.

The Committee has therefore recommended that the Australian Government continue to support the human rights dialogue process, look towards establishing a bilateral dialogue with Sri Lanka and consider re-establishing the human rights dialogue with Iran.

To enhance the participation of NGOs in the dialogue process, the Committee made two recommendations: that DFAT host a biennial meeting with NGOs to discuss the human rights dialogues; and the establishment of a human rights web portal as a central access point for all Australian Government human rights information and activity. Creating a human rights web portal would have a number of additional benefits. In particular, it would provide an online hub for ongoing engagement between the public and DFAT on matters relating to the dialogues and increases the transparency of the dialogues as well as Australia’s broader human rights advocacy.

To further increase transparency, the Committee recommended that DFAT enhance how it reports on the dialogues in its Annual Report to include a list of dialogue participants, the topics discussed by both sides, and the key outcomes and achievements of each dialogue.

In order to ensure that the human rights dialogues are properly monitored and evaluated on an ongoing basis, the Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish an independent Human Rights Dialogue Consultation Committee to develop a set of principles, objectives and benchmarks for Australia’s human rights dialogues. The Committee has also recommends that the consultation committee meet each time a human rights dialogue is held and conduct an overall review of the effectiveness of the dialogues every three years.

Lastly, the Committee calls for greater parliamentary participation in the dialogues, recommending that the Committee receive briefings from the participating agencies prior to and after each dialogue is held.

The Committee would like to sincerely thank all of the NGOs, peak bodies, and concerned ethnic community groups and individuals for generously donating their time, effort and resources to make submissions and appear at public hearings. The high level of engagement by NGOs, concerned ethnic community groups and individuals has been one of the most pleasing aspects of this inquiry. I would also like to thank my hard working colleagues on the Committee who are dedicated advocates for human rights both domestically and internationally.

I would also like to thank the Committee secretariat for their work during this inquiry and in producing this report.

 

Hon Laurie Ferguson MP
Human Rights Sub-Committee Chair


Membership of the Committee

  Chair

Senator Michael Forshaw (to 30/06/11)

Mr Michael Danby MP (from 1/07/11)

 

  Deputy

Mrs Joanna Gash MP

 

  Members

Senator Mark Bishop

Mr Michael Danby MP

 

Senator David Fawcett (from 1/07/11)

Hon Laurie Ferguson MP

 

Senator the Hon Alan Ferguson (to 30/06/11)

Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP

 

Senator Mark Furner

Mr Steve Georganas MP (to 24/03/11)

 

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young

Mr Steve Gibbons MP (to 7/02/12)

 

Senator the Hon David Johnston

Hon Alan Griffin MP

 

Senator Scott Ludlam

Mr Harry Jenkins MP (from 7/02/12)

 

Senator the Hon Ian MacDonald

Dr Dennis Jensen MP

 

Senator Anne McEwen (from 1/07/11)

Hon Mr Robert McClelland MP (from 14/03/12)

 

Senator Claire Moore

Mrs Sophie Mirabella

 

Senator Kerry O’Brien (to 30/06/11)

Hon John Murphy MP

 

Senator Stephen Parry (from 1/07/11)

Mr Ken O’Dowd MP

 

Senator Marise Payne

Ms Melissa Parke MP

 

Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens (from 1/07/11)

Mr Stuart Robert MP

 

Senator Russell Trood (to 30/06/11)

Hon Philip Ruddock MP

 

Hon Dick Adams MP (from 24/03/11)

Ms Janelle Saffin MP

 

Hon Julie Bishop MP

Hon Bruce Scott MP

 

Ms Gai Brodtmann MP

Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP

 

Hon Anthony Byrne MP (to 14/03/12)

Ms Maria Vamvakinou MP

 

Mr Nick Champion MP

 

 

 

Membership of the Human Rights Sub-Committee

 

Chair

Hon L Ferguson MP

 

Deputy Chair

Hon P Ruddock MP

 

Members

Senator M Furner

Senator S Hanson-Young

Senator C Moore

Senator S Parry (from 1/07/11)

Senator the Hon U Stephens (from 1/07/11)

Hon D Adams MP (from 24/03/11)

Mr M Danby MP (from 1/07/11)

Mrs J Gash MP

Mr H Jenkins MP (from 7/02/12)

Ms M Parke MP

Ms M Vamvakinou MP


 

Committee Secretariat

 

Secretary

Mr Jerome Brown

Inquiry Secretary

Mr Paul Zinkel

Research Officer

Mr James Bunce

Office Manager

Ms Jessica Butler

Administrative Officers

Ms Sonya Gaspar

Ms Emma Black

 

 


Terms of reference

The Human Rights Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade will inquire and report on the effectiveness of Australia’s Human Rights Dialogues with China and Vietnam with particular reference to:

n  parliamentary participation and oversight;

n  involvement of non-government organisations;

n  the roles and obligations of participating agencies;

n  reporting requirements and mechanisms;

n  the monitoring and evaluation of outcomes including an assessment of whether any human rights reforms within those countries have been obtained;

n  whether this dialogue mechanism should be adopted with other countries;

n  exploring options for alternative human rights mechanisms.


List of abbreviations

 

ABC

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

ACFID

Australian Council for International Development

ACTU

Australian Council of Trade Unions

AFP

Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

AGs

Attorney-General’s Department

AHRC

Australian Human Rights Commission

ASEAN

Association of Southeast Asian Nations

ATC

Australian Tamil Congress

AusAID

Australian Agency for International Development

CHOGM

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

CLA

Civil Liberties Australia

Commission (the)

Australian Human Rights Commission

Committee (the)

Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

COPE

Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthesis Enterprise

Council (the)

Australia Tibet Council

CPVW

Committee to Protect Vietnamese Workers

CSOs

Civil Society Organisations

DEEWR

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

DFAT

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

DIAC

Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Dialogues (the)

Australia’s Human Rights Dialogues

EU

European Union

FaHCSIA

Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

FDA

New South Wales Falun Dafa Association

HRD

Human Rights Dialogues

HRGS

Human Rights Grants Scheme

HRTC

Human Rights Technical Cooperation

ICJ

International Commission of Jurists

ILO

International Labour Organisation

JSCFADT

Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

MP

Member of Parliament

NGOs

Non-government Organisations

ODA

Official Development Assistance

OHCHR

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

PCF

Prisoners of Conscience Fund

PEN

Poets, Essayists and Novelists

Sub-Committee (the)

Human Rights Sub-Committee

UK

United Kingdom

UN

United Nations

UNDP

United Nations Development Programme

UNHRC

United Nations Human Rights Council

UPR

Universal Periodic Review

US

United States of America

UVBC

Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation of Australia and New Zealand

VCA

Vietnamese Community in Australia

VCHR

Vietnam Committee on Human Rights

VGCL

Vietnamese General Confederation of Labour

WTO

World Trade Organisation

 

 

 

 


List of recommendations

2     Australia’s Human Rights Dialogues

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government continue to support the human rights dialogue process.

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government consider re-establishing its bilateral human rights dialogue with Iran.

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Attorney General’s Department ensure that all relevant staff receive human rights education and training. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should also ensure that human rights monitoring is an integral part of the duty statement for its diplomatic staff.

3     Parliamentary participation and oversight

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends that the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, or their nominees, participate in the Human Rights Dialogues as members of Australia’s delegations. Participation must be properly funded and facilitated.

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Attorney General’s Department provide a briefing to the Human Rights Sub-Committee, of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, as soon as practicable prior to and after each human rights dialogue.

4     Involvement of non-government organisations

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish a human rights web portal that provides a central access point for all human rights matters for the Australian Government, non-government organisations, civil society, the diaspora communities in Australia, and concerned individuals.

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish a biennial meeting, to be held alternately in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, with non-government organisations, civil society, the Diaspora communities in Australia, and concerned individuals to discuss Australia’s human rights dialogues.

5     Reporting requirements and mechanisms

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade enhance its reporting of Australia’s human rights dialogues in its Annual Report. At the very minimum the report should include:

  • a list of dialogue participants;

  • a list of issues raised at the dialogues about each country; and

  • a note of the key outcomes or achievements.

    6     Monitoring and evaluation of outcomes

    Recommendation 9

    The Committee recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade convene a panel of experts to produce a report that outlines a clear set of principles, aims and benchmarks for each of Australia’s human rights dialogues. The panel should conduct an overall review of the effectiveness of the dialogues every three years.

    7     Adopting a bilateral human rights dialogue with other countries

    Recommendation 10

    The Committee recommends that the Australian Government should make representations to the Sri Lankan Government to open a formal human rights dialogue. A human rights technical cooperation program should also be established in conjunction with the dialogue.

    8     Complementary human rights advocacy

    Recommendation 11

    The Committee recommends that the Australian Government assist interested Asia-Pacific countries in the establishment and development of a National Human Rights Institution within their respective country.

     

     

     

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