Oxfam Australia Chief Says The World Needs To Recommit To Human Rights

Oxfam Australia Says The Country Needs To Do More To Fight Climate Change

Helen Szoke is the Chief Executive of Oxfam Australia and her rise to the position has been a long journey. She recalls that one of her first jobs was defending the rights of a community in Melbourne that had been all-but-forgotten. In a recent newspaper interview, Dr Szoke says she was working with poor families that had been that way for generations and were not able to achieve upward mobility. Despite that fact, she says these people taught her a lot about how resilient humans can be and the importance of community which is a lesson that has remained with her to this day.

Recognised for her work

At the start of the year as part of Australian Day honours Dr Szoke was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. The award was made in recognition of Dr Szoke’s work over the course of her entire career and not just with Oxfam Australia. Previously Dr Szoke served as commissioner of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. She also served as race discrimination commissioner with the Australian Human Rights Commission and has worked in a wide variety of other fields ranging from health to workplace harassment.

Worried about human rights

Dr Szoke says the award is humbling and adds that she feels blessed to have had the opportunity to work in so many different areas and the acknowledgment is ‘icing on the cake”. Dr Szoke says that her time spent with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission where she was tasked with implementing the Human Rights Act in Victoria was an “especially fruitful” experience. Dr Szoke says that whilst there have been significant gains made in protection of human rights over the course of her career, the global trend continues to be worrying.

The world has to deal with some big problems

Dr Szoke says that we live in a world filled with disruption and there is a rising trend of nationalism in developed countries which means the commitment to enhancing and advancing human rights is being compromised. There are big problems that the world is trying to grapple with. These include growing income inequality and poverty as well as the impact of climate change. Therefore, it is important to reform the global tax system in order to finance social protections as well as deal with conflict and the mass displacement it causes.

Countries should not bury their head in the sand

Dr Szoke thinks that countries and their governments should resist the temptation to turn inwards during periods of global volatility and instead be more proactive and “act in more global ways”. She ends with the idea that there needs to be a re-commitment to the framework of global human rights and that there is simply no room for complacency because it is critical that we get ahead of it and deal with it.

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