UN Committee reports on Australia’s performance on economic, social and cultural rights

SYDNEY, 29 June 2017 – A United Nations Committee today announced its observations related to the Australian Government’s performance in respecting and protecting the economic, social and cultural rights of Australians including the right to food, housing, health, education and an adequate standard of living.
 
The Committee has 18 independent members who monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 
 
“The Committee members have commended the Australian Government for some positive progress, however they have also called attention to a number of concerning gaps in national public policy that directly influences the daily lives of Australians,” said Amy Lamoin, Director of Policy and Advocacy at UNICEF Australia.
 
“The realisation of economic, social and cultural rights are crucial elements for achieving positive outcomes for children. Without protective and supportive environments and structures in place, the youngest and most vulnerable members are more at risk of falling through the cracks,” Ms Lamoin added.
 
Observations from the Committee related to children and their families, include:
 
Housing
  • The Committee noted the persistent gap in affordable housing in Australia and has called for a national strategy to address this. 
Ending domestic violence
  • Committee members called on the Australian Government to redouble its efforts, including increased financial investment to address domestic violence in Australia.
Poverty
  • The Committee expressed particular concern about levels of child poverty in Australia, noting that poverty affects more than 2.5 million Australians. 
  • The Committee has called for a national tool to measure poverty and improved data collection to understand how poverty affects specific groups. 
  • Committee members have called for a comprehensive strategy to combat poverty and promote social inclusion, including a key focus on child poverty and ending inter-generational poverty for Australian families. 
  • The Committee urged the Australian Government to reconsider financial cuts to social security which will make life harder for already vulnerable children and families, and young people seeking paid work. 
  • United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #1 aims to end poverty in all of its forms everywhere. The Committee urged the Australian Government to restore our investment in Official Development Assistance which falls well short of  0.7 per cent of Gross National Income. Australia has a proud tradition of being a leading donor to the most vulnerable people in our neighbouring Pacific Island Countries. Restoring investment in Australia’s Aid Program will save lives.
Quality education
  • Following on from a national conversation on Gonski 2.0, school resourcing and quality education, Committee members were specifically concerned about the limited availability of culturally appropriate and safe early education programmes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children – particularly those in remote areas. 
  • A recent UNICEF report on OECD/EU countries ranked Australia as 39/41 for inclusive and quality education: https://www.unicef-irc.org/article/1620/. On this point, Committee members stressed the importance of mainstream and inclusive education for children with disabilities and for children from asylum seeker and refugee backgrounds. 
Refugee children and family reunification
  • The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights joins a number of other UN bodies in expressing serious concern regarding the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, particularly those who arrive by boat. Committee members noted the severe and negative impacts of family separation and have asked the Australian Government to prioritise the principle of family unity in their national framework.
Business and human rights
  • To help ensure that business activities domestically and abroad do not violate economic, social and cultural rights, the Committee recommended that Australia introduce a clear regulatory framework, including legal liability for failure to exercise due diligence.
  • The on-going discussions around a national action plan on business and human rights present an opportunity for the Australian Government to consult and devise the best model to achieve this. 
Ms Lamoin added, “UNICEF Australia is eager to work in cooperation with the Australian Government to make progress towards these recommendations, ensuring a positive impact for children growing up in Australia.”
 
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For more information, please contact:
Laura Gibbons, UNICEF Australia, 04 35206273, lgibbons@unicef.org.au