Julian Burnside, QC, barrister and Kate Durham, artist have been honoured for assisting asylum seekers redress infringements to their human rights and achieve the first steps towards a better life. The 2009 Australian Humanists of the Year (AHOY) awards are made by IHEU member organization The Council of Australian Humanist Societies.
Julian offered his legal expertise following the disgraceful Tampa ‘children overboard’ incident (August 2001) when officially Australia was disregarding the human rights of many vulnerable and disadvantaged people. He was the senior counsel for Liberty Victoria in subsequent Tampa litigation and later became president of that organisation. Julian still takes pro bono work for refugees and is one of Australia’s best-known human rights advocates despite suffering damage to his career and ostracism from colleagues during the ‘Howard years’ for his courageous public stand. Subsequently he has been recognised for his advocacy work by being elected a Living National Treasure (2004), and being awarded an AO (2009).
Kate Durham put her successful artistic career on hold to launch the successful Spare Rooms for Refugees program, which assisted refugees to find free accommodation in private homes in Australia. Together with Julian, she obtained the names and ID numbers of everyone in Nauru offering them to letter writers all over Australia enabling many to leave Nauru. They also provided accommodation for refugees in their own home and personally befriended refugees. Kate courageously visited Nauru with an undercover journalist and hidden camera to make a documentary on ‘Australia’s Pacific solution’, shown on BBC but never publicly screened in Australia. She later used her artistic talent to portray the often tragic stories of the refugees. Together she and Julian also set up the Spare Lawyers for Refugees Program.
Humanists are pleased to honour the valuable humanistic work of these two outstanding Australians.
In accepting the award in Adelaide, Julian urged Humanists to make individual submissions to the inquiry into a possible Australian bill or charter of human rights. This reinforced the resolution to support a bill of rights for Australia, passed by the delegates at the 44th CAHS Annual General Meeting.
Rosslyn Ives, President, Council of Australian Humanist Societies
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