Another aspect which is important to be taken into account in respect to human rights issues is the right to seek asylum. The 1951 UN Convention for Refugees states that asylum seekers should be helped by the country where they seek assistance in order to prevent the return of the people in a situation which would put their lives or their integrity in danger. However, for the Australian government such a provision is less important than the actual attempt to cut down on immigration and reduce the possibility of people entering legally or illegally in the country. In this sense, there is a famous case which points out precisely this attitude of the Australian government which pointed out the fact that indeed, there is no particular desire for the Australian officials to go beyond their national interest and work for the global one. Thus, in 2001 Australia refused to give assistance to some 434 Afghan seeking asylums in Australia. After a serious dispute with the Norwegian government, the Australian government officially denied access for the vessel in the Australian port (Australia accused of violating UN convention, 2001). The reason pressed forward was the intent of the government to stop immigration. Still, in a democratic state, with one of the most important economic perspectives in the world, is the breach of a United Nations Convention the best means for intervening on an immigration policy? From an international point-of-view and from the moral legitimacy of the UN Conventions, it is fair to say that the Australian government acts in a wrongfull manner.
There have been wide considerations in recent years over the validity of same sex relationships. In the past this aspect has been dealt with in more silent environments; still, as the U.S. deals with it openly and nowadays discussing the issue of lesbian relations or gay marriages is no longer a taboo issue, the law must deal with these matters properly. On the international scene, the discussions focus on the right of the individual to express himself and his sexual identity vs. The proper behavior in the society and inside a social environment. In any situation, it is a matter of human rights. In the end, no government can be allowed to limit the freedom of expression of an individual. Still, by banning gay marriages, governments achieve just that. On the other hand however, the public display of affection between same sex persons can be seen as breaching the limits of our social behavior and extending those of the private life beyond the intimacy of one's own home.
This difficult dilemma cannot be solved without a proper judgment of the elements involved, from the respect for human rights to the weight this issue has on the next electoral campaign. Yet the Australian government is split on this matter, a case which may prove that a certain attention is being given to the respect of human rights. Thus, the piece of legislation was given twice in 2007 a strong refusal from the legislative body in the sense that "the ACT move would have allowed homosexual couples to enter into civil unions with the same legal rights as traditional marriages" (Karvelas, 2007) and thus civil and moral rights would have been respected.
The other side of the coin comes from the more traditional views of the political spectrum who do not consider same sex marriages as an element which could be compared in terms of rights, obligations, and duties. This evolution is not viewed in terms of the respect for human rights but rather in terms of the need for the maintenance of a conservator approach on the issue.
The Prime Minister however is reconsidering his own position concerning same sex marriages in the sense that Australia must prove that it stands by the respect of human rights, no matter their area of manifestation. The discussion on the right of two people of the same sex is indeed a moral one, but, at the same time it is a practical one. The recognition of same sex marriages would imply the existence of a law that would "end discrimination under welfare, tax and superannuation laws" (Karvelas, 2007).
The Australian government is in a clear confusion because on the one hand, the legalization of same sex marriages implies their recognition as individuals whereas the same action implies additional costs. In any situation however, the human rights record would improve should a positive decision on the matter be taken.
In general, the system of the United Nations is perceived as the most important reference point for the international scene, in terms of the legislation, the international influence. However, these aspects are theory based. Rarely have we seen the UN take action against a state. South Africa in the early 1990s was sanctioned for the policy of apartheid; Australia on the other hand, although shows signs of abuses taking place is merely "accused" of a nongovernmental organization which has practically little if no influence. Aside from the double standard, the Australian government is decided to follow its own national immigration policy rather than to abide by the international laws it set create. Therefore, can there be a discussion on the respect for human rights in Australia? One may say yes, depending on the interests of the Australian government and its desire to recreate a positive image. Others say no, as there are limited results to show an actual respect for human rights. No matter the answer, the question is an open end question.
Amnesty International, 'Australia: Too many open questions: Stephen Wardle's death in police custody'. Library: Asia Pacific. (1996). http://asiapacific.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA120131996?open&of=ENG-AUSat 19 May 2008.
Australia accused of violating UN convention. RTE news (2001) http://www.rte.ie/news/2001/0829/australia.html
Australian Government, Human Rights. Attorney General's Department. (2008) http://www.ag.gov.au/www/agd/agd.nsf/Page/Humanrightsandanti-discrimination_Humanrightsat 19 May 2008.
Human Rights Watch, 'Australia: Anti-Terrorism Proposal Threatens Civil Liberties'. Human Rights Watch (2006) http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/10/13/austra11863.htm. At 19 May 2008.
Karvelas, Patricia. 'PM to review same-sex couples' rights'. The Daily Telegraph. (2007) http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,21,00.html. At 19 May 2008.
McCorquodale, Robert, 'Introduction - Implementing human rights in Australia'. Australian Journal of Human Rights (1999) http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/AJHR/1999/32.html
Pilger, John, 'Australia Is the Only Developed Country Whose Government Has Been Condemned as Racist by the United Nations'. New Statesman. Volume: 129. Issue: 4508. (October 16, 2000).
Shah, Anup, Australia and Human Rights. Global Issues (2000) http://www.globalissues.org/HumanRights/Abuses/Australia.asp#HistoricoppressionoftheAboriginalPeopleat 19 May 2008.