The 2003 Medal and Awards presentation ceremony was held on 10 December 2003 at a luncheon at the Sheraton on the Park hotel in Sydney. The Human Rights Day address was delivered by Commission President, the Hon. John von Doussa QC and Julie McCrossin was the MC.

The judges were: Steve Ahern, Jack Beetson, Justice Catherine Branson, Nicholas Cowdery QC, Andrea Durbach, Cath Dwyer, Alastair Feehan, Greg Heesom, Professor Marilyn Lake, Debbie Lee, Stephen Long, Justice Ruth McColl, Peter Mares, Rachel Morris, Andy Nehl, Sandra Phillips, Michael Raper, Michael Simpson, Tony Stephens, Chris Uhlmann and Hewitt Whymann.

human rights medal

Winner: Marion Le

Refugee and asylum seeker advocate Marion Le has worked consistently and effectively in promoting human rights for over three decades. President of the Indo-China Refugees Association for over 10 years, Ms Le visits the refugee camps of Thailand and Malaysia and Australian detention centres, working to promote long-term durable solutions to the problems of the dispossessed of famine and war.

Her work has resulted in the successful settlement of hundreds of refugees and migrants into the Australian community. As a teacher of 30 years experience Ms Le was responsible for introducing programs into schools that raise issues of multiculturalism, human rights and social justice.

The judges were impressed by her outstanding contribution to the advancement of human rights in Australia. They said 'She has given so much of herself in a voluntary capacity to individuals and families, and has applied the lessons of those experiences to seek broader systemic solutions in policy and legislation. She has provided help to many and acted as an example to many more; she has not only spoken out but she has acted, consistently and courageously, to make human rights a reality in the lives of so many.'

law award - sponsored by the law council of australia

Winner: Justice Edward Mullighan

Since the early nineties Justice Mullighan, a Supreme Court of South Australia Senior Judge, has been actively promoting cultural awareness amongst the judiciary and magistracy in South Australia and supporting innovation in the sentencing of Aboriginal defendants. He has chaired the cultural awareness committee of the court since 1995. This committee has managed seminars, and community justice workshops through which cultural awareness within the judiciary is promoted.

In 1997, he instigated a Law and Justice Conference which was hosted by the traditional communities of the Anangu Pitantjatjara Yankunyjatara (APY) Lands, bringing together Aboriginal law men and a group of judges and magistrates. He has advocated for Aboriginal court interpreters and has promoted models of restorative and community justice.

Justice Mullighan has been active in nominating Aboriginal Justices of the Peace and has examined traditional Aboriginal ways of dealing with offending behaviours. He has championed Aboriginal Reconciliation among his peers and within the general South Australian community.

community award

Winner: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Australia's largest asylum seeker aid, health and advocacy organisation, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, was chosen for the 2003 Community Award due to the breadth and volume of their work and the day-to-day practical assistance provided to asylum seekers. They are a registered charity with no government funding. The service has three paid staff and over 250 volunteers that work in partnership with asylum seekers.

Since opening in June 2001, they have assisted more than 2000 asylum seekers from over 80 countries and have provided a welfare and advocacy service valued at approximately $10 million. They opened Victoria's first health service for asylum seekers and provided medical care to about 200 asylum seekers who have no Medicare. In addition, the Centre provided direct financial aid of over $100,000 to asylum seekers, as well as food parcels. They also established Victoria's first employment service for asylum seekers, as well as a range of other services including home tutoring and playgroups.

arts non-fiction award

Winner: Dark Victory, David Marr and Marian Wilkinson

Dark Victory, by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson, drew attention to the political motivations - and the human cost - of the Tampa crisis and the 'children overboard' affair, which generated so much coverage in the lead-up to the last federal election.

With Dark Victory, Marr and Wilkinson sought to dig behind the headlines and 'worked with tenacity' to uncover 'new and impressive research, covering all aspects of the events, by interviewing the people involved and gaining access to FOI documents'. In doing so they also 'displayed a genuine humanity and compassion to the people at the centre of these events - the asylum seekers.' According to the judges, Dark Victory was 'like ten Four Corners bound together' a 'phenomenal achievement and a genuine page-turner.'

television award

Winner: About Woomera, Four Corners, ABC Television - Debbie Whitmont and Jo Puccini

About Woomera has been widely commended as a ground breaking investigation of conditions inside the Woomera detention centre. The program was the product of more than a hundred interviews with staff, detainees and bureaucrats over the past two years.

Judges described the program as 'outstanding' and 'touching' as it took an issue in our society, researched and investigated it in a unique way, which encouraged public debate - dominating talkback radio and editorials throughout the country - causing changes in community attitudes. The program led to a police investigation, which is still ongoing, and its contents were used in evidence in the first successful application to the Family Court for the release of five children from detention.

radio award

Winner: The Place You Cannot Imagine: A Family and Detention in Australia, Radio Eye, ABC Radio National - Lea Redfern and Phillip Ulman

The Place You Cannot Imagine: A Family and Detention in Australia is an evocative and hauntingly produced piece of radio. It follows the story of Gyzele Osmani, an Albanian woman who fled Kosovo in 1999 with her husband and five young children. They came to Australia but were placed in Port Hedland Detention Centre after refusing to return to East Kosovo, which they believed was still unsafe for them.

According to the judges, it is a humanising story that 'avoids the trap of stereotyping by examining the life of this one woman and her family'. It is the story of a mother watching her children grow up behind bars, with little control over their education, safety and health care. The judges were impressed not only with the themes in the story, but also by the quality of the radio craft which was displayed in telling that story.

print media award

Winner: Series of articles on the sex trafficking trade in Australia - Natalie O'Brien and Elisabeth Wynhausen, The Australian

A series of articles on the sex trafficking trade in Australia by Natalie O'Brien and Elizabeth Wynhausen from The Australiannewspaper was described by the judges as 'a standout winner'. It began with the inquest into the death of a young Thai woman inside Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre. Her case prompted a series of news reports by O'Brien and Wynhausen which aimed to reveal the extent and nature of sex slavery in Australia; expose the lack of official action over sex slave traffickers; and, in the process, to highlight the gross human rights abuses suffered by the trafficked women and girls.

The O'Brien/Wynhausen disclosures soon revealed that the Thai woman was one of many trafficked into Australia every year for the sex industry. They wrote more than 35 stories on sex trafficking issues over six months in The Australian from March to September 2003. The judges chose this entry for 'the writers' tenacity, for staying with it when all others had given up... and above all for the result... it placed increased pressure on the government and led to a change in laws'.