Action Alert May 2010

This is an archived edition of Action Alert.

A Win for Religious Freedom in Australia

On 8 October 2009, Federal Attorney General Robert McClelland released the report of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee. Among its thirty-one recommendations, the report recommended – as its central recommendation – the introduction of an Australian Human Rights Act to codify a charter of human rights.

Since then, the Federal Government has been considering the recommendations of the Committee and listening to public comment on the possibility of enacting a Human Rights Act. And the public comment has been overwhelmingly against such an Act! For example, some 23,000 people signed a petition organised by the Australian Christian Lobby against the introduction of a charter of rights. A number of high profile Australians – such as former Governors General, High Court judges, retired generals, and prominent former politicians from both sides of the political ‘fence’ – spoke out against a charter of rights.

These voices have been heard! On 20 April 2010, in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Robert McClelland announced that the Government will not proceed with the introduction of an Australian Human Rights Act. He said, “a legislative charter of rights is not included … as the Government believes that the enhancement of human rights should be done in a way that, as far as possible, unites rather than divides our community.”

This is an important victory! A Human Rights Act codifying a charter of rights would have given unelected judges unprecedented power in Australia over moral and social policy (while actually doing very little to benefit human rights). In fact, in the light of what has happened overseas in countries that have adopted charters of human rights, it would seem that activists and ‘social engineers’ use such charters to limit the freedom of religion and to advance radical social causes like same-sex marriage. If a Human Rights Act was introduced in our nation, it would quite likely have then been used to threaten some of the basic freedoms that most Australian now take for granted, as unelected judges attempted to safe-guard the supposed rights of certain minority groups by curtailing the rights of the majority. For example, it would be likely that homosexual lobbyists would use the provisions of a Human Rights Act to challenge the Marriage Act, saying that the Marriage Act is discriminatory and infringes upon their ‘human rights’ to also have access to the institution of marriage. Despite the majority of people in our nation recognising that marriage ought to be between a man and a woman, an unelected judge hearing such a challenge to the Marriage Act could rule that it was an infringement of a same-sex person’s ‘human rights’.

Obviously, Christian people do care about genuine human rights, and want a society that protects the vulnerable from exploitation and harm. However, the experience elsewhere indicates that charters of rights do little to enhance human rights, and much to increase contentious litigation and to accelerate so-called ‘social reform’. The Government’s decision to not proceed is, therefore, to be welcomed as a victory for religious freedom.

Mr McClelland did announce that the Government would review the matter in 2014 to ascertain if there was, by then, an increased need for a charter of rights or a significant shift in public opinion toward the introduction of such a charter. He also indicated that the Federal Government intends to review and harmonise all of the Federal and State anti-discrimination legislation to create a consistency of approach to anti-discrimination and anti-vilification issues. This, in itself, could pose some significant problems if the Federal Government were to decide to standardise anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws at the more extreme end of the spectrum. Victoria’s anti-vilification laws resulted in two Christian pastors having to fight a lengthy and costly legal battle over the content of a seminar about Islam, and Victoria has recently increased the authority of its Equal Opportunity Commission to investigate whether religious bodies and faith-based schools are being discriminatory in requiring that employees share the same faith perspective as the employing institution. If these more extreme expressions of anti-discrimination and anti-vilification legislation were standardised across the nation, there would be a significant erosion of religious freedom.

Contact Hon Robert McClelland, Attorney-General [PO Box 6022, House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT, 2600, phone (02) 62777300, or email R.McClelland.MP@aph.gov.au] to commend the Government on its decision to not proceed with a charter of rights.  Commend him also on the Government’s intention to standardise anti-discrimination legislation, but urge him to avoid a standardising of such laws that result in an erosion of the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech.

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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.