With all the major parties focussing so heavily on economic matters once again, it can be easy to forget that there are other equally important things which also deserve major political attention. I tried campaigning on a few of these last week, albeit with not a great deal of success.
Most significantly, for me anyway, was our package on protecting and restoring Rights and Freedoms. A move to a Bill of Rights is a key part of this, based on incorporating long-standing, basic human rights principles that Australia has been signed up to – in name if not in practice – for many years. I launched this after speaking at the opening of a conference on the situation in West Papua, where serious human rights abuses have continued on our country’s doorstep for decades with very little attention. The absence of visual footage is a key reason why this has not grabbed greater public attention, but it is important the facts continue to be put into the public arena. The Australian government signed a security treaty with Indonesia this year without including any requirements for an improvement in human rights performance or monitoring, or even doing anything about the continuing lack of access allowed into West Papua for observers or journalists.
I also launched a package on the need to improve our decaying welfare system. The focus on economic growth and employment statistics tends to obscure the fact that there are still many Australians facing serious levels of poverty, and the gaps in our safety net have got bigger in recent years, despite the increasing prosperity.
Finally, I released an animal welfare policy. This is an area that is rarely given much attention by the media, and so it proved once again. However, despite the tendency to dismiss it as a fringe issue, it is one that concerns a very large number of Australians. The largest petition by far to the federal Senate in recent years has been against live animal exports – over 170 000 people. Yet the federal government still tries to dismiss concerns about the trade as just a campaign run by ‘extremists’. There is now a well-established link between people inflicting cruelty on animals and people who engage in violence towards humans – including domestic violence and child abuse. Earlier identification and more serious treatment of animal cruelty offences could save a lot of people of lot of harm down the track – and help the perpetrators of the violence too.