Pollies promoting human rights in parliament

It’s been over 100 days since the election and we’ve been working hard to kick start our Amnesty International Parliamentary Group in the 45th Parliament. This Amnesty group has members from across the political spectrum working together to promote human rights in the Australian Parliament.

The Amnesty International Parliamentary Group has been around since 1973 and was the first Amnesty Parliamentary group of its kind anywhere in the world. It has been recognised in every Australian Parliament since. There are now heaps of groups – but ours is still one of the most active.

The group has four Co-Chairs: Mr Trent Zimmerman MP; Mr Andrew Giles MP; Senator Janet Rice; and Mr Andrew Wilkie MP. They’re a great bunch of leaders and we’re pretty stoked to be working with them in the 45th Parliament!

Left to Right: Trent Zimmerman MP; Andrew Wilkie MP, Senator Janet Rice and Andrew Giles MP.
Left to Right: Trent Zimmerman MP; Andrew Wilkie MP, Senator Janet Rice and Andrew Giles MP.

This year they’re working to advance Australia’s advocacy against the death penalty; promoting human rights in the Philippines where some 3,000 people have been murdered in extrajudicial killings this year; and standing up for the rights of individuals at risk of serious human rights abuses by getting involved in Write for Rights.

Who are the Amnesty Parliamentary Group Co-Chairs?

Trent Zimmerman MP is the Liberal Member for North Sydney, and is a passionate defender of individual rights and freedoms, multiculturalism and equality. Trent has been involved in community and public service since a young age, and was formerly a councillor on North Sydney Council. He’s also the first openly gay MP in the Australian House of Representatives and a strong supporter of marriage equality. In his powerful first speech to the Parliament earlier this year he spoke eloquently of the continued discrimination LGBTQI Australians face:

“While we have made great strides, discrimination remains and too many people are prepared to peddle prejudice. Our laws still deny access to marriage, our society’s ultimate expression of love and commitment.”

Trent Zimmerman, MP

Most recently, Trent moved a private members motion on behalf of the Amnesty Parliamentary Group calling for an end to capital punishment on World Day Against the Death Penalty just a couple of weeks ago. 

Andrew Wilkie MP is the Independent Member for Denison in Tasmania, and he’s not afraid to speak up about human rights in the halls of power. Andrew was an army officer and an intelligence analyst before he resigned from the Office of National Assessments intelligence agency in protest of Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War. In 2004, he published Axis of Deceit, a book detailing his reasons for opposing the Iraq War. Andrew has been a key member of the cross-bench to promote human rights issues in parliament since his election as an Independent in 2010.

Senator Janet Rice is the Greens spokesperson for LGBTIQ, Transport, Forests, and Agriculture. Janet is a climate scientist, environmentalist, and a founding member of the Greens in Victoria. She grew up and lives in the multicultural western suburbs of Melbourne, has worked with and supported people with disabilities and is passionate about safer pathways for refugees. A fierce advocate for a smarter transport system, Janet started Ride to Work Day while working for Bicycle Victoria – and she walks the talk; riding her bike almost everywhere.

Andrew Giles MP is the Labor Member for Scullin in Victoria and Shadow Assistant Minister for Schools. Andrew joined Labor at a young age and has been involved in politics ever since. He is a lawyer by training and worked as a solicitor before entering Parliament in 2013, including acting for refugees on the Tampa. In Parliament he’s been a passionate defender of human rights. In the 1990s, Giles played guitar in an indie rock band called Ether, along with James Cecil, who went on to play in bands such as Architecture in Helsinki!

Throwback to Amnesty in Parliament in 1983

In 1983 – think Flashdance and Billie Jean – Amnesty International was busy celebrating our 25th birthday. The Amnesty International Parliamentary Group at the time had four patrons: Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Opposition Leader John Howard, Leader of the Australian Democrats Don Chipp and National Party Leader Ian Sinclair. On 28th May each of the patrons got together with the ACT Amnesty Group to hold a candle lighting ceremony in the Parliament to commemorate the occasion.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke said at time time:

Amnesty took as its symbol the candle surrounded by barbed-wire in recognition of the truth of the ancient Chinese proverb, “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. Here today, in lighting this candle, a ceremony which I perform on behalf of all Australians, we remember the fate of those who are not fortunate enough to live in a country where their rights and freedoms are respected. We support the work which Amnesty has done for a quarter of a century on their behalf, and I invite the Leader of the Opposition to join with me in our expression of support for Amnesty’s continuing efforts.

Time to reach out to your local MP?

Pollies aren’t passionate about human rights by osmosis. They need constituents banging on their door asking them to make human rights a priority.

Now that the dust has settled from the Federal election, now is the time to reach out to your local member of parliament and tell them that human rights matter to you. Find out more about how to engage your local MP here.

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Stephanie Cousins, Advocacy and External Affairs Manager, Amnesty International Australia