Photos by Mehar Ahmad

The Australian Human Rights Commission organised the “Free and Equal Conference” at Sydney’s Hyatt Regency Hotel on Tuesday 8 October with the keynote address given by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr Michelle Bachelet focussing on Australia’s human rights achievements and challenges.

The event also showcased a fireside chat between Craig Foster and Hakeem al-Araibi highlighting the power of mobilising international support for refugees and experiences of refugees and asylum seekers globally.

Craig Foster and Hakeem al-Araibi.

The ‘Free and Equal’ Conference is one part of a bigger project known as the National Conversation where the Australian Human Rights Commission is exploring what makes an effective system of human rights protection for 21st century Australia?

The outcome of the National Conversation will be provided in a report to the government with a release of roadmap for national human rights reform  in 2020.

Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher, President, Australian Human Rights Commission.

During her welcome speech the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher said, “We are deeply honoured to have the UN High Commissioner accepting our invitation to attend Free and Equal and we look forward to her insights and expert advice on shaping our nation’s future.”

“We live in a changing world and we face ever more complex challenges, so now is the time to have the hard conversations and bring our focus back to Australia’s human rights agenda,” said Professor Croucher.

MC Dr Julia Baird.

While referring to the government’s religious discrimination bill currently under consideration, Professor Croucher said, “While we are looking at the whole suite of federal discrimination laws, a particular topic of the moment concerns enforceable protections against religious discrimination for all people in Australia. Prohibiting discrimination on the ground of religious belief or activity is consistent with the tolerant, pluralistic nature of Australian society. The Commission has been a long-time advocate for such protections.”

Dr Michelle Bachelet AC, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Dr Michelle Bachelet AC during her keynote address commended the Australian Human Rights Commission for the national conversation initiative to ensure protection for all, now and for future generations.

“The national conversation will help you to arrive at a set of common goals, around which you can build public support and with which you can engage the Government. These goals can also be presented to the international community next year when Australia undergoes its third Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council,” Dr Bachelet said.

She also commented on the rights of indigenous Australians saying, “Australia has also heard the Uluru Statement of the Heart, a clarion call by Indigenous Australia for a constitutional First Nations voice to Parliament, a treaty making process and a revelation of historical truth.”

Dr Michelle Bachelet, a medical doctor from Chile has spent some time during the mid seventies as a political refugee in Australia and assumed her functions as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 1 September 2018.

She was elected President of Chile on two occasions (2006 – 2010 and 2014 – 2018), served as Health Minister (2000-2002) as well as Chile’s and Latin America’s first female Defence Minister (2002 – 2004).

Speakers and panelists at the Free and Equal Conference.

The Free and Equal event also featured  a number of panel discussions with leading human rights advocates and others in the fields of law, business, civil society, academia, media, Indigenous affairs and social justice, children and young people.

Conversation between Craig Foster and Hakeem al-Araibi.

While in conversation with Craig Foster, former socceroo, broadcaster, sports and human rights advocate, Hakim al-Araibi, community and human rights advocate and  former Bahraini national footballer described in graphic detail of his torture and abuse in Bahrain from 2011 to 2014 and his arrest in Thailand from December 2018 to February 2019 when he released after global outcry.

He finally got his Australian citizenship in March 2019 but is still concerned for his security and fears from travelling abroad.

Aisheeya Huq, 16, media spokesperson for School Strike 4 Climate Action.

The conference also featured a panel of young people including climate activist Aisheeya Huq, 16 who passionately talked about mobilisation of young people on climate action.

She is the media spokesperson for School Strike 4 Climate Action and an advocate for women, people of colour, Muslims and youth empowerment.