By ANDREW CLENNELL in Canberra
The minister forced to defend Australia's record on Aborigines to a United Nations committee last month says it is ironic that the committee is headed by someone from the United States, which not only has mandatory sentencing but allows capital punishment of juveniles.
The Immigration Minister, Mr Ruddock, who spoke on his return to Sydney yesterday, also defended a decision not to allow members of the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to visit Australia last year, saying such visits should only be to countries where "grave human rights abuses were occurring".
Mr Ruddock said the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mrs Mary Robinson, whom he met while he was in Geneva, had praised Australia's human rights record and did not raise any of the issues surrounding Aboriginal affairs brought up by the committee.
He said he spoke to Mrs Robinson after he gave evidence to the committee, whose report he described in parts as "gratuitous" and "pretty rich".
He also said that though the hearing was not supposed to be about mandatory sentencing, that was all it seemed to focus upon.
Mr Ruddock would not reveal the full extent of his discussions with Mrs Robinson, saying it was "a bit like having a [meeting] with the Queen - you don't [reveal] them in detail".
"[But] she did not raise that issue [mandatory sentencing] with me substantially other than to indicate certain documents that appeared in the press were not final documents of the UN, and the content of preliminary documents should not have been leaked in the way in which they were."
Mr Ruddock defended the Government's decision not to invite CERD committee members, including American lawyer Gay McDougall, into the country last year. The Family and Community Service Minister, Senator Newman, criticised Ms McDougall on the Sunday program as having "never been to Australia".
But Mr Ruddock admitted yesterday that the Government had refused to invite committee members last year, partly because it was dissatisfied with a previous committee criticism of the Howard Government's approach on native title.
"[That] sort of examination might have been appropriate in countries ... where grave human rights abuses are occurring, but in the context of our situation the committee had already demonstrated an unwillingness to listen or read all the material put before it," Mr Ruddock said.
"We would have to ask ourselves why we would embark on bringing a group of people to Australia when we had already had an experience of a poorly argued and unequally prepared response."
Mr Ruddock said Ms McDougall was "from the USA, whose performance I think on human rights issues would not generally be seen as wanting but where, at many provincial levels ... mandatory sentencing is not only in place but ... it remains one of the countries where capital punishment involving juveniles is still possible."