Federation of Ethnic Communities of Australia

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FECCA Submission to Australia’s National Human Rights Action Plan – Exposure Draft

March 2012

FECCA Submission to Australia’s National Human Rights Action Plan – Exposure Draft


Contents 1

Preliminary 2

Charter/Act of Human Rights 2

Intersectionality 3

Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and People from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds 4

Data Collection and Analysis/Research 6

People Trafficking 7

Representation on Boards and Committees 7

Prejudice Motivated Crime 7

Religious Freedoms 8


The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) thanks the Attorney-General’s Department for the opportunity to contribute to the Inquiry into Australia’s National Human Rights Action Plan – Exposure Draft.

FECCA is the national peak body representing Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. FECCA provides advocacy, develops policy and promotes issues on behalf of its constituency to government and the broader community. FECCA supports multiculturalism, community harmony, social justice and the rejection of all forms of discrimination and racism so as to build a productive and culturally rich Australian society. FECCA’s policies are designed around the concepts of empowerment and inclusion, and are formulated with the common good of all Australians in mind.

FECCA has, over the last year, been an active contributor to the inquiry processes related to the implementation of Australia’s Human Rights Framework. We have submitted papers to the Draft Baseline Study on Human Rights, to the National Human Rights Action Plan Background Paper and most recently to the inquiry into the Consolidation of Commonwealth Anti-Discrimination Laws. Our response to this inquiry draws on these previous submissions.

In the first instance FECCA compliments the Department on a very thorough and principled action plan, a plan which will most certainly go a long way towards advancing, promoting and protecting human rights in Australia. In particular we acknowledge the strongly articulated support for the initiatives outlined in Australia’s Multicultural Policy – The People of Australia.

We also thank the Department for its ongoing engagement with NGOs and the public more broadly in developing Australia’s human rights agenda.

Through this submission FECCA takes the opportunity to comment on the Exposure Draft document as a whole, and also to comment on specific action items, and their accompanying explanatory notes.

Charter/Act of Human Rights

While FECCA supports the Government’s Human Rights Framework, we continue to call for the implementation of a Charter/Act of Human Rights, which would provide more thorough and formal protection of human rights in Australia. The implementation of such a Charter/Act would be in line with the recommendation made by the National Human Rights Consultation Committee in 2009.i
It is evident that there is a high degree of public support for a formal mechanism of human rights protection. Indeed, the Human Rights Consultation process revealed that:

  • 87.4% of submissions which expressed a view on the matter of an Act/Charter, expressed support for the implementation of a Human Rights Act (29,153 out of 33,356).

  • 57% of respondents to a national telephone survey (of 1200 people) expressed support for a Human Rights Act.ii

It is notable, given this high level of public support, that there is no current action item listed in the Exposure Draft in relation to the further future consideration of a formal Charter or Act.

For FECCA’s formal position on a Human Rights Charter/Act please see our Submission to the National Human Rights Consultation.


While the Exposure Draft positively identifies, and seeks to address, key matters confronting a number of highlighted groups, including immigrants and refugees, women, youth and those with a disability, it often fails to consider and plan for instances where the exercise of human rights is further compromised because of a combination of attributes, such as culture and gender or culture and disability.

Intersectionality is a matter addressed in depth in FECCA’s submission to the Draft Baseline Study on Human Rights.

For instance, in our Baseline Study submission, in relation to the intersection between culture and gender, we noted that:

Women from CALD backgrounds can face double disadvantage, suffering from discrimination on the basis of both their gender and culture. We can see this particularly in the employment sphere were CALD women can earn less, and struggle more to attain employment in the first place.iii Indeed, CALD women, in particular newly arrived women who cannot speak English well, often find themselves in precarious employment situations where they can be exploited and where they are more likely to experience financial insecurity and poorer working conditions.iv

While there are some ways the action plan demonstrates a positive awareness of culturally specific needs, for example in its proposal to ensure Triple Zero posters are available in 12 languages (at paragraph 162), there are many other instances where it is unclear if the action plan proposals will actively engage with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities. For instance, it is unclear if actions listed in the section around ‘women’, such as projects to educate women about their rights at work (paragraph 115) or initiatives to raise awareness about family violence (at paragraph 111) will reach out to CALD women, providing information in-language if needed, and ensuring programs engage with CALD community groups to ensure effective reach.

With nearly one in two Australians being born overseas or having a parent who was born overseas, it is pertinent that the impact of cultural diversity be discussed broadly throughout the Exposure Draft, and be clearly evidenced in the description of action plan initiatives across the board.

Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and People from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds

The actions outlined at the end of the Exposure Draft in relation to refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and persons from a CALD background are welcome. However, as noted above, the needs of these groups cut across most of the other sections within the action plan and an awareness of this should be evident throughout the Exposure Draft, in addition to this more detailed analysis.

In relation to this specific section on immigrant and refugee communities, we compliment the Department on the Government’s clear commitment to implement Australia’s Multicultural Policy – The People of Australia as an ‘immediate priority’.

Within the scope of this commitment FECCA is pleased to note the focus on strengthening access and equity to Government services, and the support demonstrated for FECCA’s role within this agenda (at paragraph 217). FECCA is currently consulting broadly with communities and service providers around both the accessibility of government services and the Access and Equity Framework itself, and how this might be improved. We see our role as critical in promoting equity in service delivery for CALD communities by providing Government with key grassroots perspectives, after detailed consultations.

In addition to access and equity consultations, the Exposure Draft makes reference to the other activities currently underway as part of the implementation of The People of Australia. Given the utility and necessity of these programs FECCA reiterates here our call for appropriate funding to support these activities. Presently only $4.7 million has been allocated over a four year period to implement our multicultural policy, and this allocation refers to existing rather than new monies. FECCA calls for $10 million a year to resource our multicultural policy, and any action plan should indicate a commitment to further resource this stated immediate priority area.

We are also pleased to note the ongoing support, evident in the Exposure Draft, for both the National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy (NARPS) of which FECCA is a non-government partner, and for the Building Community Resilience Grants Programs (at paragraph 216), under which FECCA is currently implementing a workshop program (Teaching Democracy – Political Extremism, Global Lessons for Local Educators) for school teachers and associated professionals working with young people.

In relation to those seeking asylum in Australia, FECCA notes the stated commitments, in the sections’ explanatory notes, to ensure immigration detention is neither ‘indefinite or arbitrary’ and to increasingly prioritise ‘community-based detention when children are involved’ (at page 43).

Here we strongly assert that these commitments stop short of ensuring the adequate protection of the human rights of those seeking safety for themselves and their families in Australia.

Any commitment in the Exposure Draft must articulate that immigration detention must only ever be a measure of absolute last resort, used for quick health, identity and security assessments.

There must also be a clear commitment that immigration detention of over 30 days should only occur in the most complex and exceptional cases and children must not be held in immigration detention facilities. Detention of over 30 days should be subject to regular review.v

Community-based detention is preferable in this regard, not only for children but for all those seeking asylum. However, community-based detention arrangements should not in any way be used to avoid the timely resolution of claims for asylum.

Australian has international obligations to protect the human rights of all asylum seekers, including their rights to seek refuge, to safety, to security and to freedom from arbitrary detention. These rights must be clearly protected within the scope of the Exposure Draft.

Data Collection and Analysis/Research

FECCA is pleased to note the commitment at (at paragraph 212) that:

The Australian Government will work with State and Territory Governments under COAG to ensure that data collected by government agencies on client services can be disaggregated by markers of cultural diversity.

This disaggregation is imperative with near 45% of Australians being born overseas or having a parent who was born overseas. It is remiss to have a significant void in relevant data, as is currently the case. This void makes is substantially more difficult to measure whether services are adequately serving their constituents.

It is also imperative that data be made available as this relates to cultural diversity in areas such as representation on boards, employment participation and access to justice. To this effect there must also be an assurance that, as far as is possible, that data collected by non-government agencies in relation to cultural diversity will be encouraged, and when available this data will be considered and distributed.

It is also imperative that the group to be established to “provide advice on matters related to the collection and interpretation of data and other information, with the aim of improving measurement of progress on human rights in Australia (at paragraph one)” ensures it has adequate CALD representation, to advise on matters of data collection and cultural diversity.

FECCA also calls for an increase in resourcing for research into areas of critical need, such as in relation to the area of cultural diversity and rights – where there is currently a significant research void. To help facilitate this we call for the establishment of a Multicultural Research Institute in addition to other comprehensive means of research and data collection, and ask that this commitment be reflected in the action plan.

People Trafficking

In response to the actions outlined around people Trafficking (at paragraph 43) – FECCA acknowledges the current legislative moves to criminalise and, subsequently, the better preventative measures and support of people who experience or are vulnerable to trafficking. However we comment here on the lack of designated engagement with ethno-specific agencies within in this agenda.

Indeed, whilst little is known about the extent of trafficking practices, it is established that victims are predominantly from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and are largely transported from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and South Koreavi to work in such industries as sex work, construction and hospitality.

To this effect, the engagement of bi-lingual and ethno-specific service providers are critical, for to be effective, it is imperative that any services provided to trafficking victims be sensitive to cultural, linguistic and religious needs, as well as be gender appropriate.

Representation on Boards and Committees

We note the commitment made in the Exposure Draft to ensure gender equity on boards through designated guidelines (at paragraph 113). A commitment in relation to assurance of cultural diversity on boards in a like manner would also be a welcome addition to the action plan.

Prejudice Motivated Crime

FECCA is supportive of the action as listed at paragraph 17 to the effect that “The Victorian Government will implement the Prejudice Motivated Crime Strategy to increase understanding of prejudice motivated crime, reduce these crime types and increase community confidence to report such incidents.” Race and religion are two attributes to be considered within this strategy.

It is a sad reality that members of CALD communities continue to be the victims of racially and/or religiously motivated offences. As the Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations has noted, there has been an increase in hate based offences against Muslims in Australia, with attacks on mosques and individual assaults. This xenophobic sentiment has extended to other religious groups including Jews, Sikhs and Buddhists in Australia with attacks on places of worship, and incidents of vandalism, harassment and intimidation against some groups.vii

It is imperative that the cause of these crimes is understood, that communities feel empowered to report them, and that the police are well placed to reduce these incidents, all the while keeping communities informed.

It is also imperative that there are distinct offences, and sanctions, codified in relation to hate based criminal activity, in recognition of the severity of racially and religiously motivated crimes.

We recognise that a number of jurisdictions are also currently undertaking policing programs to better engage with CALD communities, such as the Police Ethnic Advisory Group in Darwin. FECCA supports these programs and encourages their inclusion in the action plan. We also recommend the inclusion of a commitment to implement programs, in a similar vein to the Prejudice Motivated Crime Strategy in jurisdictions where such strategy is currently absent. A commitment to create distinct offences for hate based crimes is also encouraged and recommended.

Religious Freedoms

FECCA notes that there is very little mention of the religion/religious freedoms in the action plan. Australia expressed a commitment to protecting these freedoms as a signatory to the ICCPR.

FECCA reiterates here our call that religion should be a protected attribute within the scope of all anti-discrimination legislation.

Designated actions around the protections of religious freedoms would be particularly pertinent at this time given current public rhetoric around religious dress, some religious practices and proposals around religious dispute resolution mechanisms. It is imperative that the Exposure Draft highlights how the right to freedom of religion will be protected and promoted through clear actions and timelines.

FECCA thanks the Department for the opportunity to contribute to this review and looks forward to further engagement with the Department around the implementation of Australia’s Human Rights Framework.

i National Human Rights Consultation Committee, Recommendation 18, National Human Rights Consultation Report (2009). Please see: http://www.humanrightsconsultation.gov.au/www/nhrcc/RWPAttach.nsf/VAP/(4CA02151F94FFB778ADAEC2E6EA8653D)~NHRC+Report+(Recommendations).pdf/$file/NHRC+Report+(Recommendations).pdf.

ii The Australian, A Fairer Go For All (9 October 2009) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/a-fairer-go-for-all/story-e6frgd0x-1225784458872.

iii Office for Women, Financial Literacy among Marginalised Women, (2007) Department of Family, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), Australian Government, Canberra, p. 41.

iv C Poljski & A Murdolo, Every Woman: Money, Power, Freedom: credit and debt experiences of immigrant and refugee women, full report of the Healthy Credit Project, (2009) Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, Melbourne, p. 10,: http://www.mcwh.com.au/downloads/MCWH_MPFbooklet_Full.pdf.

v For further discussion on this point please see: A Better Way: A Risk-Based Approach to Immigration Detention, Refugee Council of Australia (24 June 2011) http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/resources/statements/110624_RW_detention.pdf.

vi Dr Andreas Schloenhardt 2009, Support Schemes for Victims of Trafficking in Persons: Australia, Human Trafficking Working Group, TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland, p. 4, http://www.law.uq.edu.au/documents/humantraffic/victimsupport/Australia-Support-for-Trafficking-Victims.pdf.  

vii Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations, Submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission on Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century (2009) p. 4-5 at http://www.fecca.org.au/images/stories/pdfs/APRO_AHRC.pdf.

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