Australia has come under fire from the The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which has told the Government it is failing to protect the human rights of Australian women and girls in many areas.
In Geneva for the review, law reform solicitors from Kingsford Legal Centre, Maria Nawaz and Tess Deegan agree that UN’s derisive assessment fairly reflects the Australian Government’s lethargy when it comes to issues impacting women and girls.
Australia was probed by UN expert Patricia Schultz, who implied the Government’s claimed protection of human rights was not up to scratch.
“You say you (Australia) are at the forefront of the protection of human rights internationally, but you are the only western democracy without a bill of rights…I see a contradiction,” she said.
Maria Nawaz agrees Australia is falling short and needs to do a lot to rectify.
“Today, the UN experts directly asked the Australian government when they would introduce a charter of rights, and the Australian government delegation said they have no intention to do so.
“This is extremely disappointing and shows our government’s continued disregard for the fundamental rights of women and girls. The government can’t claim to be a leader on human rights internationally while violating women’s rights at home,” she said.
Under Australia’s current law and a direct consequence of our lack of bill of rights, politicians are essentially “free to pick and choose which rights they want to protect” says Maurice Blackburn lawyer, Lucia Osbourne-Crowley.
“A Bills of Rights would seek to enshrine human rights law and principles to ensure that politicians are not able to use them piecemeal for political ends. Having this extra degree of human rights protection ensures that governments must makes laws by reference to all human rights principles, and not invoke human rights obligations only when it suits them,” she says.
Yesterday’s UN Committee grilled the Australian government on barriers to women’s workforce participation and noted that levels of pregnancy discrimination were “sad and astonishing”.
Stories of women being made redundant shortly after telling their employer they’re pregnant or not being offered jobs as a result, are still all too common. Whilst other women face barriers upon their return to work and are frequently sidelined.
Tess Deegan said she’s managed numerous clients who’ve experienced “endemic levels of discrimination, sexual harassment, and difficulty accessing flexible work arrangements.”
“The Australian government should listen to the UN Committee and urgently implement changes to ensure women can exercise their right to work and fully participate in public life. The girls and women of Australia deserve so much better,” Deegan said.