Australia Votes Against Torture Protocol

26 July 2002

Key leaders of the Uniting Church in Australia have expressed their anger and outrage over the Australian Government's vote against the United Nations anti-torture protocol.

Rev Professor James Haire, National President of the Uniting Church said, "By voting against the draft optional protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Government has severely compromised Australia's right to speak out against cruelty and torture around the world.

"They have aligned our country with some of the most questionable regimes around the world.

"There is now a moral vacuum in this country. When the government of the day actually votes against a measure to eliminate torture, we have hit an all time low. I can't believe it.

"I never thought I would see the day when Australia would be giving comfort to those with the mentality of the Dark Ages who use electric shocks, branding irons and sharp blades to administer pain to their fellow human beings," he said.

The Rev Elenie Poulos, Director of Social Justice and Responsibility said, "The Uniting Church is proud of Australia's good record of advocating on behalf of those who suffer cruel and torturous treatment at the hands of authoritarian regimes. We spoke out when our neighbours in East Timor suffered at the hands of the Indonesian military. We spoke out against apartheid in South Africa. How will we be able to speak out now and what right will we have do so?

"Australia's proud record in human rights has suffered a terrible blow.

"Our right to speak for the well-being of all people has been compromised and traded for the right to ke the UN out of our detention centres. We can only assume the Government has something to hide.

"To be a moral and responsible member of any community includes accepting some level of accountability to that community. By refusing to be accountable, the Federal Government has placed our country outside the bounds of international law. At what cost to our nation's reputation and goodstanding does the Government continue to maintain the arrogant stance that no-one has a right to tell us what to do?"

In reply to the government line that it was not in Australia's strategic interest Professor Haire said: "How could it be in our national interest not to stamp out torture? This is a vote of shame".