Action Alert December 2009

This is an archived edition of Action Alert.

The Possibility of a Human Rights Act

On 8 October 2009, Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland released the report of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee.  The Committee had consisted of Fr Frank Brennan [a Jesuit priest, Professor of Law at Australian Catholic University, and a human rights advocate for more than thirty years], Philip Flood [former diplomat and senior public servant], Mary Kostakidis [journalist, former television news presenter, and member of the Republic Advisory Committee], Mick Palmer [Inspector of Transport Security, former Australian Federal Police Commissioner, former Commissioner of Police, Fire, and Emergency Services in the Northern Territory, and a lawyer], and Tammy Williams [barrister, a former prosecutor of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, and an Indigenous Director on the Board of Indigenous Enterprise].  The Committee members had been specifically selected by the Attorney-General, who supports the concept of a national charter of rights.  And not surprisingly, after nine months of holding public consultations and receiving submissions, the Committee’s report recommended the introduction of a Human Rights Act!

The Committee’s thirty-one recommendations included the introduction of a charter of rights, either as a part of a Human Rights Act or as a list of rights.  If introduced, each piece of proposed legislation before the Federal Parliament would, in future, have to be accompanied by a “statement of compatibility” to demonstrate that it complied with the Human Rights Act.  Furthermore, the interpretation of the Human Rights Act, and the decisions about which ‘rights’ are more important when there is a conflict between different persons’ ‘rights’, would be in the hands of unelected judges.  If introduced, a Human Rights Act would result in a major transfer of power from an elected Parliament (with its checks and balances, and directly accountable to the people at each election) to unelected judges.

In countries that have introduced such charters of rights, the outcome has been an erosion of rights! For example, in Britain (which enacted a Human Rights Act in 1998), the charter of rights is now used to penalise the majority to supposedly safeguard the ‘rights’ of minority groups. Under the provisions of the British Human Rights Act, British Airways allows its Sikh staff at Heathrow Airport to wear their traditional turbans and daggers (yes, that’s right, daggers at an airport), because that is a part of those men’s ‘human rights’, while forbidding a Christian staff member from wearing a cross because that might cause offence to people of another religion. In Canada, the Canadian Government passed a law prohibiting the advertising of tobacco products, but a Court ruled that such a law breached the “freedom of speech” clauses in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Despite the proven health dangers of tobacco, the Government has to allow tobacco advertising because it is a ‘right’ of that industry to publicly speak in a positive way about its products.

Australia does not need a Human Rights Act or a charter of rights! Australia already provides better protection for human rights than almost any other nation, because our rights are protected by the Australian Constitution, common law, and the laws passed by our elected (and accountable) parliaments. Former NSW Labor Premier, Bob Carr, has accurately said, “The common sense of the Australian people tells them they are free. And that a charter [of rights] would increase litigation, not rights.” The NSW Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, has warned, “The delicate balance of power that now exists in Australia, hung evenly between the parliament, the executive, and the courts, would be altered” if a charter of rights was introduced. Former High Court Judge, Ian Callinan, has said that a charter of rights would shift the balance too far from the checks and balances of parliament towards individual judges. He said, “Unfortunately … there are some judges who find that sort of work very, very seductive. It gives them an opportunity to exercise a power they wouldn’t – and shouldn’t – ordinarily have.”

As yet, the Federal Government has not indicated whether it will adopt the recommendations of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee and introduce a Human Rights Act. However, the Federal Attorney-General has said that the Government will respond to the recommendations by the end of the year.

We need to contact Hon Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister [PO Box 6022, House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT, 2600, phone (02) 62777700, or email by going to the website] to say that Australia does not need a charter of rights in any form. We also need to contact Hon Robert McClelland, Attorney-General [same postal address, phone (02) 62777300, or email] to express the view that a Human Rights Act will not enhance human rights in Australia but will result in increased litigation and unelected judges determining which rights have priority over others. We ought to also contact our local Federal member of parliament to make the same points.

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Who will stand up for me against evildoers?
Who will take his stand for me against those who do wickedness?
Psalm 94:16

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This monthly release is prepared by Pastor Brian Robertson (P O Box 2367, Bundaberg, 4670) to inform Christian people about issues within our society.  “Action Alert” does not promote any one political party, but encourages its readers to be “salt and light” by speaking out on some of these matters.  The views expressed in “Action Alert” are those of the author and are not necessarily those of a local church or a denominational organisation.  To the extent permissible by law, no church or denomination accepts liability for anything contained in this publication and any use made of it.