Former President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Catherine Branson, has delivered the George Higinbotham annual lecture at RMIT.
More than 60 law students and staff recently attended the lecture, which celebrates the legacy of politician and chief justice George Higinbotham (1826-1892) by exploring topical legal issues and the interaction between the law and society.
Professor Mark Farrell, Head, Graduate School of Business and Law, welcomed guests and introduced Ms Branson, who presented a measured exploration of whether Australia is meeting its international obligations with regard to irregular immigration.
Teasing out the definitions of refugee and asylum seeking and identifying the issue of detaining anyone who has not technically committed a crime, she illustrated that our policy of incarceration contravenes our human rights obligations and is particularly reprehensible with regard to families and children.
"As lawyers we know the history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Ms Branson said.
“We are likely to understand the significance and truth of its opening paragraph which states: Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable right of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
“I urge you to use your skills as a lawyer to reflect on the guidance that we should obtain in this area from international law; to evaluate the evidence said to support the various policy positions that have been adopted; and to examine with care the logic of arguments said to justify cruel and inhuman treatment of vulnerable people including children."
Ms Branson is a former Crown Solicitor of South Australia and CEO of the Attorney-General's Department.
She served for more than 14 years as a judge of the Federal Court of Australia and for four years as President of the Australian Human Rights Commission.