5 July 2018
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has questioned recent government attempts which threaten free speech in Australia and its poor track record on women’s rights.
The Committee’s Rapporteur for Australia, Ms Patricia Schulz, suggested to representatives from the Australian Government in Geneva on 4 July 2018 there was a contradiction between Australia’s claim of being at the forefront of protection of human rights internationally, while being the only western democracy without a bill of rights.
The Human Rights Law Centre, present in Geneva, said the Committee questioned how two Australian bills on foreign funding of charities and whistleblowers could be reconciled with the government’s pledge to uphold civil society voices and human rights defenders during its 3 year membership on the UN Human Rights Council.
“UN’s top women’s rights experts are rightly calling out the Australian Government for claiming that it respects free speech while at home moving to stifle critical voices and silence whistleblowers,” said Lee Carnie, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre who is in Geneva.
“We should be thanking people who speak out against injustice, not deterring them or punishing them. We should be supporting the vital role charities play in developing effective social policy. And when it comes to women’s rights, we should be supporting advocacy by those NGOs who work with the most vulnerable women and girls in our society.”
Also in Geneva, CEO of ACOSS Dr Cassandra Goldie says the Committee’s review of Australia’s compliance with its obligations under the CEDAW Convention highlighted the gendered nature of recent government cuts.
“The Australian government admitted to the Committee last night they had not completed a gender analysis prior to implementing billions in cuts to social services and social security, nor in implementing billions through cuts to taxation which will flow predominantly to high income earners, most of whom are men.
“The gendered effects of these cuts on low income women and their families is very concerning.
“Last night the government also confirmed they have no plan to progressively realise implementation of key gender equality rights. Instead, they have implemented regressive policy measures which will further impoverish and disadvantage women and their children in Australia.
Terese Edwards, CEO of the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children says the UN should hold the Australian government accountable.
“Australia has violated its international human rights obligations by denying women who are sole parents access to a parenting payment once their youngest child turns eight years.
“We hope the UN will investigate and make recommendations re the harm this policy is doing to single parents, and for antipoverty strategies to be developed to ensure future Governments do not use vulnerable single mother families as their ‘cost saving measure’,” says Ms Edwards.
“We call on the Australian government to ensure the impact of their policy measures on women is systematically considered, and that this gender analysis be made public when Parliament is asked to pass budget cuts and changes to taxation,” says Dr Goldie.
Background to the CEDAW review
The UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women is an international treaty body responsible for monitoring countries’ compliance with international human rights standards under the Convention.
In signing the treaty, Australia committed to taking all steps required under the treaty to eliminate discrimination against women and to a review every 4 years by the Committee – a panel of experts on women’s rights. Australia was last reviewed in 2010, following delays from the Australian Government in providing information to the Committee.
The Committee will release an advance copy of concluding observations for the Australian Government on 23 July 2018.