Lunch with the President of the Human Rights Commission and recipient of the Women Lawyers Association NSW Lifetime Achievement Award.
As President of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Rosalind Croucher is currently overseeing an array of high-profile investigations into possible human rights violations.
The AHRC’s current portfolio includes inquiries into Australian experiences of elder abuse, sexual harassment in workplaces, disability discrimination, and the rights of asylum seekers, among other issues. Most of these hit media headlines on a weekly, if not daily, basis. But often it’s the stories that don’t make the news that concern Croucher most.
“Since 9/11, there has been a vast expansion of the number of laws that encroach on individual freedoms in the name of national security, many of which were passed quickly and quietly,” she tells me over lunch at 1821 restaurant in Sydney.
“National security can be a completely legitimate reason for encroaching on human rights. But the power to do so can also go very unchecked. And when you’ve got an overreach of power in the interests of the state, on ‘legitimate grounds’, it’s hard to call it out.”
Croucher stabs a head of garlicky broccoli on her plate as she muses the legitimacy of Parliament poking holes in human rights and freedoms for the sake of national security. She has been monitoring the expanding reach of anti-terrorism legislation for many years, crucially in her former roles at the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC): first as a commissioner in 2007, then two three-year terms as President from 2009 and 2014. Between 2014 and 2016, she led the ground-breaking Freedoms Inquiry, which found that many civil rights and freedoms that Australians took for granted were under threat.
“I do worry that too few Australians understand what our rights are,” she says. “If you don’t know your rights, how can you assert them?”
Today, Croucher is asserting a rare freedom of her own – a clear diary. She has agreed to share her lunch hour at the Greek restaurant directly opposite her AHRC office on Pitt Street.
The restaurant is a bit of an institution for busy commissioners – close and discreet enough to pop across the road for a lunch meeting – but with warm lighting, jazzy background tunes, and enough of an atmospheric contrast to make it feel as though one has left the fluorescent-lit halls of the AHRC.
“I’m usually hopeless, I tend to just eat in my office – bring scraps and carry on working,” she laughs as we tuck into share plates of scallops, pan-roasted barramundi and two salads.
I’m eyeing off the lamb shoulder and rich beef shin ragu on the menu, but Croucher prefers to keep the meal light. Her work is meaty enough.
Most days, she devours complex law reform submissions, advocacy projects, media releases and other documents being compiled and published by the AHRC. All of them require the President’s eye and final approval before public distribution.
“Because of my law reform background, I’m a really good editor. I read things very carefully and have an eye for detail,” she says.
I’m pondering how to convince her to take over some of my editing duties at LSJ. The extra workload likely wouldn’t faze this former law dean, academic, lawyer and Member of the Order of Australia. Rather, it would feed her insatiable appetite for knowledge.