A prominent Catholic bishop has called on the Australian government to take stock of its human rights performance, record on asylum seekers and mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, in light of the nation's wealth and ability to be a positive global force.
By
NITV Staff Writer

10 Dec 2015 - 2:17 PM  UPDATED 11 Dec 2015 - 8:40 AM

Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Bishop Vincent Long, has used International Human Rights Day on Thursday to call out the nation's current social ills and urge governments to lift their game in working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to Close the Gap once and for all.

Bishop Long said Indigenous people are but one of several groups in Australia and the 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,” said Bishop Vincent Long in a media statement, released to mark the United Nation's International Human Rights Day.

“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, Mick Gooda, shows 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," he said.

Australia's first Vietnamese-born bishop, Long came to Australia as a refugee on a timber boat in 1980.

He was ordained in his position in 2013 and has long been an advocate for social justice.

“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.”

In November this year, Australia's human rights record was reviewed by 107 United Nations member states in its second Universal Periodic review, which assesses each nation against core human rights treaties every four-and-a-half years.

Member states expressed concern over Indigenous health, housing, education and employment; high rates of violence against Indigenous women and children; the threat of closure of Homelands communities; and Indigenous incarceration rates.

According to Tammy Solonec, Amnesty Australia's Indigenous Rights Manager, who was in Geneva for the UN meeting, the government's response following international criticism was “extremely disappointing”.

“Australia's claim it will address incarceration by targeting the long-term drivers of violence - education, employment and economic development - is the same rhetoric we have been hearing since the current government gained power,” she wrote for NITV earlier this year.

“After seeing such wide ranging criticisms of Australia's Indigenous rights record, I can only hope Australia takes on board the recommendations to face up to its responsibilities in these areas of such importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The health of our peoples and cultures depend upon it.”

RELATED STORY:
Comment: How will the UN judge Australia’s Indigenous rights record?
This Monday, 9 November, Australia will be reviewed by the other 192 member states of the United Nations in its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) –a UN mechanism which assesses each nation’s human rights record every four years.

Bishop Long also condemned Australia's continued detention of asylum seekers in the offshore immigration facilities of Manus Island and Nauru, calling it an “unfolding human rights disaster”.

He added that 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.

"After seeing such wide ranging criticisms of Australia's Indigenous rights record, I can only hope Australia takes on board the recommendations to face up to its responsibilities in these areas of such importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people."

"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, he added, Australia must work for a more effective response to the asylum seekers looking for protection in the region, who exceed three million people.

Bilaterally, the bishop has called on the nation to 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".