On the use of 'punitive language' and poverty

From Clare Morgan, UNSW Newsroom:

Australia's conservative government has drawn heavily on policy positions developed by American conservative think tanks, Professor Philip Alston told an audience at the Australian Human Rights Centre (AHRCentre) Annual Public Lecture. 

Professor Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, and co-Chair of the law school's Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice, discussed the connections between extreme poverty, extreme inequality and human rights in the lecture, "Why does it matter if others have more? How extreme inequality and poverty violate human rights". 

He noted that little attention was paid to the interaction between these issues: economists and development specialists often excluded human rights from their programs on poverty and inequality and, more surprisingly, a lot of human rights groups thought they could not address the issue of inequality. 

Before delivering the lecture, Professor Alston, who is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, spoke to Guardian Australia about the Turnbull government’s approach to social protection policy.

As well as taking aim at its use of 'punitive language' when characterising welfare recipients, Professor Alston criticised the government’s prohibition on community legal centres using commonwealth funding to lobby for legislative change, saying it has reduced the space for civil society.

Hear the full AHRCentre lecture here

From Ian Jacobs, UNSW Vice-Chancellor:

I enjoyed attending the 2017 Australian Human Rights Centre Annual Lecture on 10 August at the UNSW Law Faculty, co-hosted by the UNSW Grand Challenge on Inequality. The lecture was given by Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. In addressing the question Why does it matter if others have more? How extreme inequality and poverty violate human rights, Professor Alston discussed the connections between extreme poverty, extreme inequality and human rights, noting that  inequality in both wealth and income has reached record levels in many countries and is growing.  He noted that this threatens the foundations of democracy and many of the human rights that we take for granted.  He gave powerful examples to illustrate that in responding to the poverty that accompanies this extreme inequality, governments are often more concerned with finding novel ways to stigmatise those living in poverty than in crafting solutions, often using 'punitive language' when characterising welfare recipients.  He noted that little attention was paid to the interaction between these issues: economists and development specialists often excluded human rights from their programs on poverty and inequality, and, more surprisingly, a lot of human rights groups thought they could not address the issue of inequality. Professor Alston highlighted the importance of acknowledging the threat that economic insecurity represents to human rights, and put forward a strong argument for a universal basic income, describing it as “a bold and imaginative solution”.  It was a privilege to introduce the lecture and to award Professor Alston, Doctor of Laws honoris causa in recognition of his contribution to human rights and justice globally as an internationally renowned law scholar, and human rights practitioner. Professor Alston’s visit was generously sponsored by law firm, Maurice Blackburn.