At the swearing in of Justice Gageler in the High Court on 9 October 2012, the Attorney General Nicola Roxon made the first speech from the Bar Table, commencing: 'First, might I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we are meeting on — and pay my respects to the elders, both past and present.' She continued, 'Your Honours and distinguished guests, particularly former Chief Justices and Justices of the High Court, we are of course thrilled that your Honour on this occasion is joined not just by all of your new colleagues, but indeed an entire additional Full Bench of the High Court'. She then listed the seven retired judges in attendance, four of whom had sat on the 1992 Mabo case, or more correctly Mabo (No 2). It was as if the circle was now complete. Twenty years ago, the judges acknowledged that most if not all land had been the traditional country of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders prior to the assertion of British sovereignty. Now the Commonwealth Attorney was acknowledging that traditional owners still exist even in relation to lands where native title has undoubtedly since been extinguished. And so we acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we are meeting on — and pay our respects to the elders, both past and present.
Law and justice in the child sex abuse crisis
First a disclaimer and correction. The programs lists my post-nominals as SC AO. I am flattered but have to confess that I have no aspiration ever to be an SC. In my case, it is a misprint for SJ. In 1981, I had the good fortune to work briefly as the associate of Justice William Deane on the Federal Court. My fellow associates included later luminaries like Robert McClelland and James Allsop. One day now Justice Allsop travelled to Melbourne with his judge Chief Justice Nigel Bowen, and I travelled with my judge. The Full Court duly sat. At the end of the day's proceedings, Jim and I went across to check out the Chambers which were being decked out in an old building for me and few of my mates new to the Melbourne Bar. Unbeknown to me, my mates had put up the names on glass door with gold lettering. Mine was listed as Frank Brennan SJ. Allsop, quick as a flash, as he is, said: 'SJ, what's that stand for? Son of a Judge?' 'No, and I had then to explain some of the intricacies of religious orders in the Catholic Church and that we Jesuits were known formally as the Society of Jesus, SJ. The chambers were later affectionately known as Vatican Chambers.
You will all know that these are not easy times for Catholic priests; and they have never been easy times for those children in our society who have been sexually abused, a disproportionate number of them by Catholic priests. When in Sydney in July 2008, Pope Benedict XVI apologised in these words: 'I ... acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country. Indeed, I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering. These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation.' I adopt his apology without demurrer.
Whatever our religion or none, whatever our love or loathing of the Catholic Church, what is to be done in the name of law and justice? Clearly, the Church itself cannot be left alone to get its house in order. That would be a wrongful invocation of freedom of religion in a pluralist, democratic society. The State may have a role to play. As our elected politicians prudentially decide how best to proceed, they need assistance from lawyers committed to justice, not lawyers acting primarily to protect the Church or to condemn it. The Catholic Church in Victoria has admitted that 'in the past 16 years, about 620 cases of criminal child abuse have been upheld by the Church in Victoria'. In the Archdiocese of Melbourne alone, 301 complaints have been upheld since 1996.
Professor Patrick Parkinson, probably the nation's most experienced academic lawyer in the field, having conducted the 2009 Study of Reported Child Sexual Abuse in the Anglican Church and having advised the Catholic Church on its Towards Healing protocol, informed the Victorian Parliament last month:
[T]here were 44 allegations of abuse [since 1990] within the Anglican diocese of Melbourne which fitted within the criteria of our study.
Archbishop Hart [the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne] referred to 60 priests...of the archdiocese of Melbourne, who are substantiated offenders against children. We found 78 across the country against whom allegations were made in the Anglican Church. It gives you a sense of the scale of the problem.
If the Anglican and Catholic figures are statistically comparable, we all need to know the explanation for the discrepancy. If there be particular problems in the Catholic Church, they need to be identified for good of all citizens, not just Catholics. Professor Parkinson says that 'we have come a long way ... The reality is that we have come light years on from 1997. Most churches — I think all churches — have radically changed their attitudes to all of this.' Speaking of those things which helped to influence the change, he told the Victorian parliamentary committee that 'the Wood Royal Commission in New South Wales was very important, and generally an awareness that this was a problem not just for the Catholic Church.' In 1997, the Wood Royal Commission noted: 'While a good deal of evidence and assistance was provided by the Catholic Church, it is not the case that the Commission finds particular fault with that Church or its constituent bodies. Indeed, its response to the matters disclosed by the Royal Commission is held up as a model for other Churches and religious organisations to follow'.
Recently there have been unresolved questions raised about Catholic Church processes by the ABC 4 Corners Program. I am one lawyer and dedicated Catholic who is mightily relieved that Tony Whitlam QC has been appointed to inquire into the Church processes in the Armidale case which featured on that program. Meanwhile in Victoria, the parliamentary inquiry is obviously strapped for time and resources, but it is a relief to know that Frank Vincent QC is assisting that inquiry. These two eminent and reputable, retired judges will hopefully assist all persons including victims and church members wanting transparency and better processes. Presumably if they think more State resources are needed to accelerate prosecutions for past criminal offences or to enhance procedures for contemporary detection, avoidance and deterrence of child sexual abuse, they will say so, and they will be heard loud and clear by Church and State authorities.
At the moment, there is little more that any Catholic priest can credibly say on this issue in the public square. I make this plea to all lawyers having a commitment to justice. While putting aside any religious prejudice, please contribute fearlessly to the debate on how religious and other organisations increasingly charged by the State with responsibility for the oversight of the care and nurture of our most vulnerable children can perform their tasks freed from the abuse of the past and with State protection of all children assured; and please advise how we can better deal with complaints which surface decades later, whether or not the now adult victims want to go to the police.
Law and justice for Indigenous Australians
This year, we Australians have marked the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Aboriginal tent embassy erected without a permit in front of the old Parliament House in Canberra, and the 20th anniversary of the High Court's Mabo decision putting right the long term failure to recognise native title to lands. Back in 1972, Aboriginal Australians were campaigning for 'land rights', taking to the streets because they had no voice within the national decision making processes. It was only five years before that the Australian people voted to amend the Constitution giving the Australian Parliament the power to make laws with respect to Aborigines. By 1992, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were celebrating the High Court's recognition of native title, and preparing to negotiate the Native Title Act with the Keating Government and with the conflicting parties in the Australian Parliament.
Marking these anniversaries, we need to be more attentive to the different meanings of justice when it comes to Aboriginal claims within a postcolonial society. We need to distinguish commutative justice, distributive justice, and social justice. Commutative justice is the relevant consideration when looking for example at the terms of a contract or when correcting a relationship between two persons or parties, one of whom may be the state, or in putting right historic wrongs such as land rights. We have all had to admit that land rights if properly applied may result in some Aboriginal groups becoming the land rich and others remaining land poor. Land rights is not primarily a matter of social justice nor even of distributive justice. It is a matter of acknowledging the due property rights of groups and individuals who have not been dispossessed of those lands by means of title being granted to other persons. Just as there will be some non-indigenous persons such as Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer who become land rich, there will be some indigenous Australians who are land rich while others are land poor.
Distributive justice on the other hand is concerned to ensure that there be a proper distribution of assets and income so that persons within the society might achieve their full human flourishing. In the past we have had schemes like the Aboriginal secondary grant scheme which was aimed at wholesale redistribution of wealth and opportunity so that those who had been greatly disadvantaged in the past might at an accelerated rate have the possibility of an education appropriate for all Australian citizens. Race was simply the convenient indicator of a major disadvantaged group in need of a leg up.
One mistake in recent times has been to confuse distributive justice with social justice, as if social justice is simply about a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.
As of 30 June 2011, there were 119 registered determinations that native title exists and 73 Prescribed Body Corporates (PBCs) registered on the National Native Title Register. There were 443 native title claims still pending. The Howard amendments of 1998 introduced the welcome device known as an indigenous land use agreement (ILUA) which could be entered into without the need for a formal determination of native title. As at 30 June 2011, there were 497 registered ILUAs.
The registered determinations of native title now cover some 1,228,373 sq km (or approximately 16 per cent) of the land mass of Australia, and registered ILUAs cover about 1,234,129 sq km (or approximately 16 per cent) of the land mass.
Under the 1993 Keating Native Title Act, Parliament legislated for a ten year program of payments from Consolidated Revenue into a land fund administered by the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC). Between 1995 and 2004, the Australian Government made an annual appropriation of $121m (indexed to 1994 values) to the Land Account. That fund is now self-sustaining. The ILC has purchased 236 properties all up (about 6 million ha in total), including the Ayers Rock Resort. 161 of those properties have been granted to other Aboriginal corporations. There are now 15 ILC-managed commercial cattle and sheep properties.
At last year's AIATSIS Native Title Conference, Chief Justice Patrick Keane whose court oversees most native title curial matters said, 'We have become familiar with the use of Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) as a means to unlock the economic value of land for indigenous peoples.'
He laid down the gauntlet to those committed to maintaining the inalienability of Aboriginal lands. He said, 'Usually, if the economic, and ultimately political, value of land is to be unlocked, it must be able to be made available for commerce or trade, whether by lease or as security for loans or ultimately as an item of commerce itself. This means that it must be alienable.'
We are now at a crossroads when it comes to determining the mix between security and utility of lands subject to native title claim. Though the High Court in Mabo concluded that native title recognised by the common law was inalienable, Chief Justice Keane has observed, 'After a determination of native title, the prescribed bodies corporate (PBC) provisions of the NTA seem to afford a means whereby native title holders can deal with their land to their best advantage.' The Chief Justice has suggested: 'On this basis it is arguable that a native title determination and the trustee PBC provisions gave to the native title rights, defined and determined under the NTA the quality of alienability not available in respect of native title rights which have not yet been determined under the NTA. Even if land is not alienable in the terms of being sold or mortgaged or leased, these PBC provisions may empower the NT holders to deal with the native title in ways that can unlock economic potential.'
In the past when speaking with commercial lawyers or bankers, I have asked why banks would be so unwilling to provide a mortgage over native title or other Aboriginal statutory titles. The usual response has been that lenders would be unwilling to engage in the invidious exercise of dispossessing defaulting Aboriginal titleholders. Might not the time have come, in the name of self-determination and land rights, for the Indigenous Land Corporation or some equivalent corporation to act as guarantor for registered native title holders wanting to mortgage their land for the purposes of economic development? The challenge is to find the right mix of security and utility. My fear is that an ongoing policy of land purchases and native title determinations without the prospect of economic development will leave native titleholders marginalized from the economy while becoming the envy of other Australians beholding an increasing land stock unavailable for development even when such development is sought by the traditional owners. If the ILC were not to act as guarantor, might not the time be ripe for an Indigenous Land Bank which underwrites development of indigenous lands avoiding the need for permanent alienation of land from Aboriginal hands while making the land available for development? Lands subject to a defaulting mortgage could be held by the Indigenous Land Bank which would be statutorily charged with retaining such lands for future indigenous use. Alienation into non-indigenous hands would be permitted only with the consent of a super-majority of defaulting adult traditional owners, and after a considerable time lapse.
Twenty years on, we can say that native title is here to stay, and the Aboriginal land fund is too. It is time to heed Aboriginal requests for unlocking the economic potential of lands which have been won back, without risking the indigenous patrimony all over again. This is a task for good commercial legal minds. I note that Baker & McKenzie received $1.35 million in legal fees from the ILC for the 2010-11 financial year. The resources are there to come up with some creative legal answers.
We Australians belatedly have come to the right starting point on an endless search for justice between indigenous and non-indigenous citizens. Last week, Alison Anderson, the new Minister for Indigenous Advancement in the Northern Territory, herself an indigenous Australian, told the Northern Territory Parliament: 'The laws to return land to us and encourage independent development were fine achievements that grew out of the best intentions. Yet they produced the twin corruptions of welfarism and the belief that Aboriginal people ought to live forever in a cultural stone age'. Twenty years on from Mabo, land rights and self-determination can provide the right settings of commutative and social justice so that indigenous Australians might enjoy both the rights and the responsibilities entailed in their ongoing economic and cultural growth.
Law and justice for asylum seekers
The Coalition and the Greens are implacably opposed to any Malaysia proposal. Under the new law passed by the Australian Parliament, no country will be eligible to host offshore processing unless there is agreement from both Houses of Parliament. Both Houses of Parliament have now backed the Nauru option. Before the next election, there is no way that the Senate will agree to Malaysia. The Greens won't have a bar of any offshore processing arrangement. The Opposition describes the Malaysia deal as 'abominable'. The Houston panel thought there was merit in the Malaysia proposal. But like the High Court, they thought it fell short on human rights protections and recommended further negotiation of basic human rights review mechanisms with the Malaysian government. There is no way that Australian officials will credibly be able to reopen negotiations with Malaysia before the next federal election. The Malaysian officials will know that such discussions could never satisfy the Australian Senate as presently constituted, and that any discussions will simply be face saving exercises by the Gillard government. The Malaysians would find such discussions demeaning and a waste of time.
Between now and the next election, we can be fairly sure that anyone sent to Nauru will not have been resettled. They will still be awaiting processing and/or resettlement on a timeline which follows the 'no advantage' rule. There will be no further development of the Malaysia proposal. And the vain hope of a regional agreement to solve a regional problem, and not just the Australian problem, will still be on the long finger. We need another proposal which could pass ethical muster as well as being workable, given the Parliament's newfound bipartisan hostility to onshore processing.
So we need to find an ethically more appropriate way to stop the boats. A regional solution to the regional problem will take many, many years, and Australia with its unduly sensitive, relatively small problem will not be the key player to determine that progress. Here is my suggestion for a short term ethical, workable Australian initiative.
Over the next year in the lead up to the federal election, Australian officials should redouble their efforts to seek a bilateral arrangement with Indonesia, with the co-operation of both UNHCR which will be responsible for processing and IOM which will share responsibility with the Indonesian government for offering humane accommodation during processing and while awaiting resettlement. Under a memorandum of understanding (MOU), Indonesia would agree not to refoule any person whose asylum claim was awaiting determination nor any person proven to be a refugee. Whereas UNHCR has 217,618 persons of concern on its books in Malaysia, it has only 4,239 in Indonesia. Other than the Sri Lankans, all asylum seekers who head to Australia by boat come through Indonesia. We need to set up a workable, transparent, honourable queue in Indonesia. Persons in the queue would receive appropriately deferential treatment from UNHCR deciding that the neediest cases would be dealt with preferentially. What we need is Indonesian agreement to an arrangement whereby Australia funds the accommodation and processing arrangements in Indonesia, with Australia setting an agreed quota of resettlement places from Indonesia. The quota needs the agreement of both governments – being sufficiently generous to assist clear the Indonesia caseload, and being sufficiently tight not to set up a honeypot effect luring more asylum seekers to the Indonesian queue awaiting passage to Australia.
The human rights safeguards would need to match the requirements set by the Houston panel when reviewing the presently defective Malaysia proposal including 'the operational aspects need to be specified in greater detail' and that 'provisions for unaccompanied minors and for other highly vulnerable asylum seekers need to be more explicitly detailed and agreed'. The MOU would need to be accompanied by 'a written agreement between (Indonesia) and UNHCR' and 'a more effective monitoring mechanism' of human rights protection, including participation by Australian 'senior officials and eminent persons from civil society'.
Any person leaving Indonesia by boat for Australia could then be intercepted either before or after reaching the Australian mainland. They could be held briefly in detention while a prompt assessment was made whether they genuinely feared persecution in Indonesia. Almost none of them will. They could then be safely flown back to Indonesia and literally placed at the end of the queue. Should they attempt a boat journey again, they could be flown back having previously been informed that they would never be offered a resettlement place in Australia. This would be a more ethical way of stopping the boats than indeterminate warehousing of people on Nauru and Manus Island. The increase of the humanitarian intake proposed by the Houston panel could then allow us to take more refugees from further up the transport chain.
Even without the political static which is drowning us all out down there in Canberra, there is real doubt whether the Gillard bluff 'Don't get on a boat because you might end up in Nauru for an indeterminate time under the 'no advantage test' and you might not ever get to Australia' can do what the Howard bluff could not deliver second time around. Philip Ruddock has already put us on notice with his observation to parliament: 'Let me say very clearly that I think the task is bigger and harder than the task the Howard government faced. The prospect of the Nauru arrangement alone working is, in my judgement, quite remote.'
We can expect that there will be a cohort of people housed or detained on Nauru and Manus Island until the next election. While hoping that the Pacific Solution Mark II with the unworkable, unethical 'no advantage' rule will in fact stop the boats in the short term, we need to build greater trust and co-operation with the Indonesians so that those asylum seekers, other than Sri Lankans, minded to get on a boat to Australia can be processed in Indonesia.
Even if the revised Pacific Solution does stop the boats, it can only be a stop-gap measure unless and until Nauru is equipped to discharge its obligations under the Refugees Convention. This is a long term work in progress, and it will need much more dispassionate consideration once the next federal election is behind us. Lawyers with a commitment to justice and human rights are in a position to make a considered, informed contribution. The search for a workable and ethical offshore solution to Australia's asylum caseload continues.
Law and justice without a Human Rights Act
Speaking to the Anglo-Australasian Lawyers Society in London in July this year, Chief Justice Robert French introduced his paper with this observation about Australian exceptionalism on human rights protections:
Australia is exceptional among Western democracies in not having a Bill of Rights in its Constitution, nor a national statutory Charter of Rights. A recent academic article in the European Human Rights Law Review used as a subheading the well-known Australian saying, 'she'll be right mate', intending to convey what the authors described as 'Australia's lukewarm attitude towards human-rights specific legislation.' There have been frequent criticisms of Australia's perceived exceptionalism in this respect and laments about its relegation to a backwater, while the great broad river of international human rights jurisprudence sweeps by.
He pointed out that Australian judges had many human rights protections in their armoury including the common law, strict techniques of statutory interpretation, the principle of legality, implied rights in the Constitution, and a robust expanding reading of the exclusive province of judges to exercise uncontaminated judicial power under Chapter III of the Constitution. Fourteen years since the UK enacted their Human Rights Act, Chief Justice French seems fairly sanguine that the Australian judiciary can arrive at the same conclusions as their fellow judges in human rights jurisdictions, without the need for the Commonwealth Parliament to enact a Human Rights Act. I don't know that his successor will be so sanguine once the Australian judicial isolation becomes inter-generational. If Australian judges are going to continue reaching the same conclusions as judges in human rights jurisdictions by using substitute techniques, you would wonder why the entrenched objection to human rights legislation. If over time, Australian judges are going to reach significantly different, human rights deficient decisions, there will be a need for some further human rights legislation.
At the conclusion of his address, Chief Justice French said:
A prominent element of the arguments advanced against the introduction of constitutional and statutory charters in Australia is that they would shift power on important matters of social policy from elected politicians to unelected judges. There is no doubt that human rights and freedoms guaranteed in constitutions and statutes around the world are broadly expressed. The definition of their limits in particular cases by reference to public interest considerations necessarily requires normative judgments which may be seen to have a legislative character.
Though our politicians remain mistrustful of judges possessed of a Human Rights Act, they have been prepared to enhance human rights scrutiny of all new Commonwealth legislation. At the pre-legislative stages there is now provision under the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 (Cth) for statements of compatibility and review by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Australia takes seriously its ratification of the key UN human rights instruments. Seven of those instruments require the Australian government to provide regular reports to UN committees about compliance and there is an increasing capacity for disaffected persons having exhausted all domestic remedies to bring their own complaints to the UN. In this case, it makes sense for our legislators to be apprised of these obligations before they legislate. Thus the dual approach – the provision by the executive of statements of compatibility and the Parliament's institution of a Committee on Human Rights.
Our elected leaders decided to put a Human Rights Act on the long finger. But they did legislate to provide for statements of compatibility and for a parliamentary committee on Human Rights. The Commonwealth Parliament's Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011, having passed the Senate on the final sitting day last year and having received royal assent over the summer, came into effect early this year. The Australian Parliament has now appointed a ten member Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights which is required to examine Bills and legislative instruments 'for compatibility with human rights'. It is chaired by ex-speaker Harry Jenkins. The Committee may also examine existing Acts and inquire into any matter relating to human rights 'which is referred to it by the Attorney-General'. 'Human rights' are defined to mean 'the rights and freedoms recognised or declared' by the seven key international human rights instruments on civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, racial discrimination, torture and other cruel inhuman or degrading treatment, including the Conventions on women, children and persons with disabilities. Anyone introducing a Bill or legislative instrument to Parliament will now be required to provide 'a statement of compatibility' which 'must include an assessment of whether the Bill (or instrument) is compatible with human rights'.
So at a national level, the Executive and the Legislature cannot escape the dialogue about legislation's compliance with UN human rights standards. Neither can the courts, because Parliament has already legislated in the Acts Interpretation Act that 'in the interpretation of a provision of an Act, if any material not forming part of the Act is capable of assisting in the ascertainment of the meaning of the provision, consideration may be given to that material'. Parliament has provided that 'the material that may be considered in the interpretation of a provision of an Act' includes 'any relevant report of a committee of the Parliament' as well as 'any relevant document that was laid before, or furnished to the members of, either House of the Parliament by a Minister before the time when the provision was enacted'. Clearly reports of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and the statements of compatibility provided by the Executive will be relevant in court proceedings in determining the meaning of new Commonwealth statutes which impinge on internationally recognised human rights and freedoms. Lawyers should be well positioned to providing the new parliamentary committee and the courts with assistance in utilising these new interpretative mechanisms.
That's not all. The Gillard Government's human rights framework notes that 'the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 enables a person aggrieved by most decisions made under federal laws to apply to a federal court for an order to review on various grounds, including that the decision maker failed to take into account a relevant consideration'. Ron Merkel QC in his submission to the National Human Rights Consultation pointed out that the High Court has already 'recognised the existence of a requirement to treat Australia's international treaty obligations as relevant considerations and, absent statutory or executive indications to the contrary, administrative decision makers are expected to act conformably with Australia's international treaty obligations'.
I believe that ultimately Australia will require a Human Rights Act to set workable limits on how far ajar the door of human rights protection should be opened by the judges in dialogue with the politicians. We will now have a few years of the door flapping in the Canberra breeze as public servants decide how much content to put in the statements of compatibility; as parliamentarians decide how much public access and transparency to accord the new committee processes; and as judges feel their way interpreting laws consistent with the parliament's intention that all laws be in harmony with Australia's international obligations, including the UN human rights instruments, unless expressly stated to the contrary. There is no turning back from the federal dialogue model of human rights protection.
The Executive has been a little testy during the initial teething period for these reforms. The Government took a dim view of the parliamentary committee wanting to scrutinise amendments to the federal intervention in the Northern Territory given that the amending bills were introduced before the new human rights machinery was put in place. When passing new laws to resurrect offshore processing of asylum seekers, the government used the artifice of introducing amendments to an already existing bill so as to avoid the need for providing a statement of compatibility and so as to keep the contested legislation away from the parliamentary committee. But over time, the number of dormant pre-human rights bills will dry up, and all future bills will need to run the gauntlet. For example, should government ever proceed with the so-called Malaysia solution, it will be interesting to see how they rationalise the transfer of unaccompanied minors to Malaysia given the requirement of Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that 'In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.'
It can only be of benefit to advocates like yourselves that you now have access to a new avenue in the legislative process for agitating the human rights of your constituents including economic and social rights. Addressing the 2012 Australian Government and Non-Government Organisations Forum on Human Rights, on 14 August 2012, Harry Jenkins said:
The committee wishes to see consideration of human rights genuinely elevated in the policy development process. The committee considers that the requirement for Statements of Compatibility has the potential to instill a culture of human rights in the federal public sector by integrating the consideration of human rights into the development of policy. Cultural change requires patience and constructive support. For its part the committee intends to approach its role in a considered and responsible way by seeking to foster an effective dialogue with the Executive and Departments.
I urge all who represent the interests of poor and disadvantaged Australians to familiarise yourselves with the workings of this committee. It is not a sole preserve of lawyers. Human rights language can be helpful in agitating questions of equity and social justice, especially when the major political parties are competing to bring in a budget surplus. This committee provides community advocates with a place at the table, even when seeking protection of economic and social rights including health, housing, education, and social security.
I congratulate all those who are receiving awards tonight and I thank all those lawyers who are committed to justice according to law for all, especially those in our community who continue to suffer grievous wrongs, including abused children, indigenous Australians, asylum seekers and those whose human rights though listed in international instruments do not yet command the assent of our politicians nor the attention of our judges.
The above text is from Fr Frank Brennan SJ's Law and Justice Oration at the Law and Justice Foundation 2012 Justice Awards Dinner, Wednesday 31 October 2012, Strangers' Dining Room, Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney.