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President's Report 2009

Christopher Sheil

World affairs over the past year have been dominated by the crisis in the global economy. The Evatt Foundation has meanwhile mainly focused on promoting human rights and democracy. This was a natural function of 2008 marking the 60th anniversaries of the election of Doc Evatt as President of the UN General Assembly and the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But it was also with an eye to the potential consequences of the global disturbance. Human rights and democracy have often come under pressure at times of crisis. Upholding these values during a period characterised by one the most pessimistic world outlooks in postwar history presented an opportunity for the Foundation to make a distinctive contribution to public affairs.

The global economy now appears to have stabilised and Australia only endured one quarter of negative growth, partly due to an outstanding example of counter-cyclical demand management by the Rudd Labor government. I am pleased to report that, in the meantime, the Foundation upheld the ideals of the labour movement in many ways.

Research & publications

- Herbert Evatt, The Tolpuddle Martyrs: Injustice Within the Law, with a new introduction by Geoffrey Robertson, published by Sydney University Press in association with the Evatt Foundation, forthcoming.

The Foundation is in the process of publishing a new edition of Doc Evatt's 1937 account of the famous injustice visited on the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a timeless story of the forces arraigned against the trade union movement with uncanny parallels to WorkChoices. Featuring a new introduction by Geoffrey Robertson QC, this book will mark the 175th anniversary of the arrest of the Martyrs and the 30th anniversary of the Foundation.

- 'Submission to the national consultation committee on human rights', Evatt Foundation, 2009.

The Foundation forwarded a submission in support of an Australian Human Rights Charter by legislative enactment on 9 June 2009. Principal responsibility was carried by the Hon. Ron Dyer, Vice President and Chair of the Evatt Democracy and Human Rights Committee, assisted by Dianne Hiles, our Executive Officer, and Brett Easton.

- Ashley Hogan, Moving in the Open Daylight: Doc Evatt, An Australian at the United Nations, with a foreword by Michael Kirby, published by Sydney University Press in association with the Evatt Foundation, 2008.

An original contribution to the literature, this book tells the story of Doc Evatt's role on behalf of Australia in the conference that founded the United Nations, a moment in human history when the nation became known for its courage and liberalism.

- The State of Industrial Relations, Evatt Papers, (5) 1, Evatt Foundation, 2008.

This completed the Foundation's analysis of WorkChoices. Six chapters by experts in their fields are supplemented by three chapters bridging the story with the industrial relations directions of the Rudd Labor government. The contributors are Tessa Meyrick, Peter Waring, John Burgess, Rae Cooper, Bradon Ellem, Cath Bowtell, Meg Smith, Jeff Lawrence, Julia Gillard and Chris White, with a preface by Chris Gambian.

Evatt Lecture

The Evatt Lecture was presented by the Attorney-General, the Hon. Robert McClelland, MP, on 9 December 2008. A well-attended event held in the Eastern Avenue Auditorium at the University of Sydney, the lecture was entitled 'Getting into gear for the next 60 years'. The theme reflected the 60th anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration and the lecture featured the announcement of the Rudd government's national consultation process on a human rights charter. Festivals

Labour & Human Rights

As part of the Fringe Program of the 45th National Conference of the ALP, on 31 July 2009 the Foundation presented an address by Geoffrey Robertson QC on 'Labour & Human Rights'. Held in the auditorium of the Sydney Trades Hall and introduced by Julian Burnside QC, this was a sold-out event.

Dialogue on Democracy

The Evatt Festival of Ideas on the theme of 'Dialogue on Democracy' was held in Launceston, Tasmania, on 14-15 November 2008. Under the leadership of Executive Member Fay Gervasoni, the event was staged in co-operation with the University of Tasmania, local schools, the TAFE college, the Chamber of Commerce, the Examiner and the Mercury. It was opened at the Arts Academy at Inveresk by the Premier of Tasmania, David Bartlett, MHA, who presented the $500 Evatt art prize for a work depicting democracy. Speakers included Henry Reynolds, Jeff Malpus, David Adams, Greg Barnes, John Keane, Peter Hay, Bob McMahon, Andrew Wilkie, Helen Tait, Margaret Reynolds, Sue Napier, Kim Booth, Roderic Pitty, Natasha Circa and Hilary Burden. Entertainment was provided by the Railway Silver Band and African singers. The Foundation was also represented by Jeannette McHugh. Follow-up plans are in the wind.

Book launches

The State of Industrial Relations, was launched by John Robertson and John Buchanan in the Atrium of the Sydney Trades Hall on 4 September 2008.

Moving in the Open Daylight, was launched by Senator the Hon. John Faulkner, Special Minister of State, at the home of Bruce Childs in Edgecliff on 10 December 2008, the anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration.


A human rights charter for Australia?

Following up on the announcement of the national consultation process, the Foundation convened a public seminar on the issues in the Jubilee Room in NSW Parliament House on 7 May 2009. The seminar was chaired by our Vice-President, the Hon. Penny Sharpe, MLC. The speakers were our other Vice President, the Hon. Ron Dyer, and Professor George Williams.

The Life & Death of Democracy

On the occasion of the publication of the first full-scale history of democracy in over a century, it was my pleasure to introduce an address by the author, Professor John Keane, at NSW Parliament House on 9 August 2009 as part of his world speaking tour.

Corporate Crime & Human Rights

The Foundation joined SAVE Inc to present a forum on 'Corporate Crime and Human Rights: Preventing a repetition of the James Hardie scandal' on 10 September 2009. The event was convened at NSW Parliament House Theatrette and based around Matt Peacock's new book, Killer Company: James Hardie Exposed. The forum was opened by our Assistant Secretary, Sian Ryan, and chaired by Professor Ron McCallum, former Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney. The speakers were Karen Banton, widow of asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton, the Hon. Bob Debus MP, former NSW Attorney-General, Andrew Ferguson from the CFMEU, and Matt Peacock.

The Big Pictures

The executive has approved a new program to show films that raise important public policy issues. The general format will be to show the films and, after a short intermission, host a panel discussion for those who wish to participate. The first film, Generation RX, is on the pharmaceutical industry and health care and will be shown in the Parliament House Theatrette on 24 November 2009. It is expected to be followed by Business Behind Bars on the privatisation of prisons.


Causes & Consequences of the Credit Crunch A buffet dinner was held for the Foundation at the home of the Executive Member and former President, Bruce Childs, on 8 August 2008. The dinner was followed by a talk on the 'Causes & Consequences of the Credit Crunch' by Dr Steve Keen, Associate Professor in the School of Economics and Finance at the University of Western Sydney.


The Foundation published eight Evatt Newsletters, including one events notice. This is a lower level of activity than we would prefer, even though the site continued to attract between 2000 and 3000 page views a day, or almost a million page views over the year (2.5 million hits). As distinct from new contributions, most of the site's attraction is owed to the high quality of past published material, which now reaches back over eight years. The latent reach of this underused resource can be seen in the results of the March 2009 Newsletter, which attracted over 5300 page views the day it was published (over 16,000 hits) and 4300 on the following day. Hopefully the long awaited revamped website will be launched soon, providing the platform to revitalise our web presence.

Mainstream media

In the era where public discourse is otherwise increasingly electronically fragmented, the Foundation faces a difficult mainstream media environment. We received a round of publicity in conjunction with the Attorney-General's announcement of the national consultation on the human rights charter. The Foundation also received very good publicity for the Festival of Ideas in Launceston, with coverage in the Examiner, the Mercury, City Park Radio and the ABC. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Doc Evatt's election as President of the UN, I was interviewed on ABC-Radio's morning program with Adam Spencer. ABC-TV expressed an interest in our forum on human rights and the Fringe Festival event, but declined at the last minute on both occasions. The main difficulty in this area is due to the Murdoch/Fairfax press duopoly, which is not receptive to the Foundation. Two examples will illustrate.

We were advised that a story had been filed to run during January 2009 on Moving in the Open Daylight. The journalist went on holidays, leaving placement to the discretion of the editor, but it never appeared. This was despite the story being (1) based on a new book with original research (2) on a topical subject (given the 60th anniversaries) (3) with a foreword by a former High Court Judge, (4) published by Sydney University Press, (5) launched by a Cabinet Minister, and (6) not dependent on being published on any particular day or week during a month when competing stories were light and generally negligible.

Following the publication of opinions against a charter of rights by Bob Carr in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Menzies Research Centre in the Australian, we were unable to place an opinion in reply. This was despite: (1) the reply being from a former Carr Minister and Chair of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the NSW Bill of Rights in our Vice President, Ron Dyer; (2) Doc Evatt's role as a political counterpart to Menzies; and (3) Doc Evatt (unlike Menzies) having been a world player in human rights. The opinion, incidentally, proved to be popular when it was subsequently published on the Evatt website.

The editorial bias seems to have been so pronounced in these two instances that it's questionable whether there is any benefit to be gained from devoting resources to contributing to public debate in the print media. The concentration of ownership in two firms that control 90 per cent of Australia's metropolitan print circulation blights the nation's democracy.

Other organisations

In honour of the 60th anniversary of Doc Evatt's election as President, I addressed the United Nations Day Luncheon hosted by the UN Association of NSW in Parliament House on 24 October 2008. Our Secretary, Chris Gambian, opened the national debating competition for the Evatt Trophy in Parliament House in December 2008, which the Foundation sponsored in partnership with the United Nations Youth Association. Throughout the year, I represented the Foundation on Catalyst, which aims to network across Australia's progressive associations. We joined with Catalyst, the Australia Institute, Cpd, percapita and the Search Foundation to sponsor a two-day conference of Australia's leading think-tanks at the halfway mark of the Rudd government's first term on 22-23 April 2009. I also represented the Foundation at a meeting of think-tanks organised by the Chifley Foundation in the lead up to the ALP's 2009 National Conference.

The future

The world will keep an anxious eye on the global economy as we move into 2010, an election year in an Australia where unemployment is expected to continue to rise. While federal governments have always been returned for a second term in the post-war era, citizens will go to the polls without the Howard government to vote against. This implies a more urgent need for Labor to present a positive vision for the future, within which the response to the Brennan report on human rights could figure next to other progressive policies. We invite ideas and suggestions on the Foundation's direction and emphasis.

I'm sorry to note the sad passing of a former Vice President of the Evatt Foundation, Professor Jim Hagan. Jim was the foundation Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Wollongong and a distinguished labour historian who published major works on the history of the printers unions and the ACTU. The Foundation's condolences were sent to his wife and family.

My thanks to the Executive Committee for its support over the year, and thanks particularly to our Secretary, Chris Gambian, and our Executive Officer, Diane Hiles. I also wish to extend the Foundation's warm appreciation to Executive Member and former President, Bruce Childs, and his wife, Yola Lucire, for their generous support and hospitality on many occasions, which included receptions for Geoffrey Robertson and John Keane. Best wishes to all our members.

Christopher Sheil President 7 November 2009


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