The Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council says, ‘There are certain groups in Australia and in our region whose rights have been undermined – often over many years.
‘The First Peoples of Australia continue to be over-represented on almost every indicator of disadvantage. News that little or no progress has been made on key ‘Closing the Gap’ targets of life expectancy, literacy, numeracy and employment is an indictment on our society. Warnings by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner show that governments are failing to properly consult and gain free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous communities before imposing measures like the compulsory Healthy Welfare Card or plans to close remote communities.
‘Australia’s continued detention of asylum seekers in the offshore immigration facilities of Manus Island and Nauru is an unfolding human rights disaster. Numerous reports, including those of Federal Parliament, continue to reveal instances of child abuse, rape, violence and inhumane treatment. The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently expressed his concern over conditions in these centres and called for Australia to reconsider its military-style Operation Sovereign Borders. It is time for Australia to “think again” in its treatment of asylum seekers.’
Commenting on Australia’s role in promoting human rights in our region, Bishop Long said there were many areas where Australia can be a positive force. ‘The government is to be commended for its efforts at the moment to advocate for the global abolition of the death penalty and to address human rights abuses against women and girls in South Asia and the Pacific.
‘These initiatives give an indication of how we can be a greater force for human rights in the region. We can have a greater credibility when we exercise our leadership in accordance with our tradition and status as a welcoming and wealthy migrant nation. Multilaterally, we must work for a more effective response to the over three million asylum seekers looking for protection in the region. Bilaterally, we must be more active in addressing the kind of reports we regularly hear coming from West Papua of killings, torture and other serious human rights abuses against unarmed civilians,’ said Bishop Long.