Murri Ministry                                                               Edmund Rice International

84 Park Road                                                                  37-39 Rue de Vermont

Woolloongabba                                                             PO Box 104

Queensland  4102                                                         1211 Geneva 20

AUSTRALIA                                                                    SWITZERLAND                            

February 20, 2014

Re:  The impact of budget cuts and government policies in the State of Queensland (Australia) on the exercise of the rights of Indigenous minorities

Mr. James Anaya      UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples

Ms. Rita Izsák           UN Independent Expert on minority issues

Mr. Kishore Singh    UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education

Dear Ms Izsák, Mr Anaya and Mr Singh,

We wish to alert you to recent developments in policies and practices in the State of Queensland (Australia) and the impact of these on the free exercise of the rights of Indigenous minorities in Australia, especially Indigenous youth.

Summary of Human Rights Violations

The Queensland Government has funding policies restricting the right of freedom of opinion and expression of Indigenous peoples, education policies that are increasingly excluding Indigenous youth from schooling, and juvenile justice policies that will lead to an increase in Indigenous incarceration rates.

Background

Responsibility for administering Indigenous affairs, education, and criminal justice in Australia is shared between the federal government and six state and territory governments, but with state government legislation, policies and practices to be aligned with federal law and Australia’s international commitments.

The Special Rapporteur (on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous people) visited Australia in August 2009, and said in his report: “ … further efforts are needed … to ensure that Indigenous peoples living in remote areas can enjoy the same social and economic rights as other segments of the Australian population, without having to sacrifice important aspects of their cultures and ways of life.”[1]

Human Rights Violations

Recent policy and budget decisions by the State of Queensland have led to opportunities for advocacy by and for Indigenous groups being seriously threatened. Decisions to cut funding to key state peak bodies representing Indigenous peoples and individuals have prevented these bodies from defending the rights of Indigenous people to access housing, education and health services and to achieve just outcomes in the Youth Justice system[2]. That is in addition to cuts to the supply of community services to those living in poverty and disadvantage.[3]

There are other decisions made by the Queensland Government that prevent organisations that work with youth, including Indigenous youth, from receiving levels of government funding as a result of speaking out on situations or issues that involve violations of human rights.

“Where the Organisation receives 50 per cent or more of its total funding from Queensland Health and other Queensland Government agencies, the Organisation must not advocate for State or Federal legislative change. The Organisation must also not include links on their website to other organisations’ websites that advocate for State or Federal legislative change. (Extract of a clause from Queensland Government contract to providers.)[4]

This is in breach of the fundamental human right to “freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. (UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19)

A second set of policy decisions by the state government of Queensland has seen serious and rising levels of school students being excluded or suspended from school, as the following figures show:

2009: 51,177 Short term Exclusions (1-5 days); 5,819 Long term exclusions (6-20 days);

367 Exclusions from school.

2012: 54,524 Short term Exclusions; 7,220 Long term exclusions; 1,331 exclusions from school.[5]

In regional, rural and remote communities of Queensland (North and Central Queensland), where there are proportionately more Indigenous students, there are even higher levels of exclusion and suspension. In these remote communities, there are even fewer educational opportunities available for these students, yet school authorities are excluding more students from school.

2009: Long Term Suspensions– North Qld-513; Central Qld- 538; Metropolitan- 9687.

2012: Long Term Suspensions– North Qld- 999; Central Qld- 689; Metropolitan- 10,496.

2009: Exclusions– North Qld- 5; Central Qld- 57; Metropolitan- 170.

2012: Exclusions– North Qld- 113; Central Qld- 107; Metropolitan- 321.[6]

Given that participation and retention rates for Indigenous children in Queensland are lower than those of their non-Indigenous peers, these policy decisions pose a serious problem to exercising their right to education and so escaping from the poverty and related issues that threaten their futures.

In 2010, attendance rates at discrete Indigenous community schools ranged from 74.2% to 77.8% in the primary school years (Prep to Year 7). Attendance rates are considerably lower in high school with attendance rates at 55.2% in Year 10. It is estimated that 83.7% of students in Queensland are remaining in school from Year 8 to Year 12, with the apparent retention rate the highest recorded in a decade. The retention rate remains much lower for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at 62.1% [7]

A third set of policy changes in Queensland has been proposed to enable the state to hold in detention young people who have not been convicted of any crime (eg by criminalising breach of bail)[8]. This violates various rights of young people as set out by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC):

  1. 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. (UDHR, Article 3)
  2. No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. (UDHR, Article 37)
  3. The child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law. (CRC, Article 12)
  4. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. (UDHR, Article 9).

Conclusion and Recommendations

In times of financial crisis, an easy political option is to cut services to the poor and disadvantaged, as they have relatively less influence over resisting or changing such decisions. The outcome however is further poverty and disadvantage, and greater violations of human rights, which in turn require more financial outputs. It is economically and socially unproductive, as well as violating children’s rights.

Recommendations

That the Queensland Government:

1.         remove clauses restricting freedom of opinion and expression from their funding contracts, and actively support these fundamental human rights in their policies.

2.         review the increase in the practice of school exclusion by authorities, and implement policies that improve retention rates for all, especially disadvantaged students.

3.         ensure that detention of children is only used a measure of last resort, and for as short a time as possible.

Further contact:          

Moy Hitchen, Advocacy Officer, Edmund Rice International mmhitchen@edmundrice.org

 Jim D’Arcy, Coordinator, Edmund Rice Justice & Advocacy, Queensland, Oceania Support Centre
P O Box 197, Virginia BC QLD 4014, AUSTRALIA

 Ravina Waldren, Coordinator, Murri Ministry, 84 Park Road, Woolloongabba Queensland  4102 AUSTRALIA

 Wally Dethlefs AM, Youth Advocate, 2/38 Browning St, South Brisbane Qld 4101, AUSTRALIA


[1] James Anaya 2010 Report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous people. Addendum: the situation of Indigenous peoples in Australia. OCHCHR, Geneva, p 3.

[2]  Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS) Inc 2013 QCOSS Commentary: Budget 2012 – 2013. QCOSS, Brisbane.

[3]  Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS) Inc 2013 QCOSS Commentary: Budget 2012 – 2013. QCOSS, Brisbane, p 1.

[4]  Names of parties withheld, by request.

[5] Queensland Dept of Education, Training & Employment 2013 Report & Statistics: Queensland State Schools April 2013. Qld Dept of Education, Training & Employment, Brisbane.

[6]  Queensland Dept of Education, Training & Employment 2013 Report & Statistics: Queensland State Schools April 2013. Qld Dept of Education, Training & Employment, Brisbane.

[7]  Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian (CCYPCG) 2012 Snapshot 2011- Children & Young People in Queensland. CCYPCG, Brisbane.

[8]  Douglas, Heather 2013 Submission in response to the paper ‘Safer Street Crime Action Plan – Youth Justice’ Law & Justice Institute (Qld) Inc, Brisbane. Accessed on Feb 7, 2014, at: http://www.yanq.org.au/uploads/1/4/1/7/14174316/justice_institute_submission_2013_youth_justice_130628.pdf

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