A Human Rights Act for Australia

Linked with It’s Your Right! – a new teaching resource for immigrants to Australia.

  • A human rights act is needed to provide an Australian framework by which our society can more transparently and consistently protect and promote fundamental human rights.
  • This list of frequently asked questions addresses many of the issues of why, how and what we need to do to better protect the human rights of everyone in Australia. (why a HR act).

The Campaign; Get involved; Resources;
Partner: Australian Human Rights Group;
FAQs, (and Newsletter in the rights column);
Link: Australian Human Rights Commission.

16 Mythbusters, The facts about a Human Rights Act from the Castan Centre (scroll down):

Myth One: “We don’t need a Federal Human Rights Act. Our rights are already protected by the Constitution, the common law, and our political system of representative democracy.”

  • Fact: While some rights are protected, many if not most human rights are not adequately protected under our current system. Basic rights that many Australians take for granted – the right not to be tortured, the right to life, the right to vote, everyone’s right to equality before the law – are not currently protected by legislation. A Human Rights Act is needed to protect and promote the human rights of all Australians and to ensure a responsive and accountable government.

Myth Two: “A Human Rights Act will only be used to protect the rights of minorities at the expense of the majority – most people just won’t use it.”

  • Fact: A Human Rights Act will apply to everyone equally, whether you’re in the minority or the majority. A Charter will focus attention on any and all human rights breaches, whether it affects a homosexual man, a homeless couple, or a mother of school age children. A Human Rights Act will also ensure that the level of protection is not based on economic, social or cultural status, thus protecting every Australian.

Myth Three: “Creating a Human Rights Act will be detrimental because it will limit our human rights to those contained in the Act.”

  • Fact: It is unlikely that a Federal Human Rights Act will exclude other rights and freedoms not specifically contained in the Act. In other jurisdictions, the rights set out in the Act are in addition to other rights already protected.

Myth Four: “A Federal Human Rights Act would take power away from elected politicians and give too much power to unelected judges. This is undemocratic.”

  • Fact: A legislative Human Rights Act would be an instrument borne of the democratic processes: introduced by the Executive, considered and debated by an elected Parliament, and subject to the usual parliamentary constraints. The role of the judiciary would be to apply the Act, as they do with all other pieces of legislation. It is also likely that a Federal Human Rights Act would not give courts the power to invalidate legislation or to award damages – in other jurisdictions that have a Charter of Human Rights, Parliament retains total power to respond to the court’s declarations.

Myth Five: “Human Rights Acts or Charters are usually just a “Lawyers’ Picnic” – lawyers will use the existence of an Act in order to create excessive litigation.”

  • Fact: In jurisdictions that have a Charter of Human Rights, there has not been the expected flood of litigation – the courts have identified those cases that are meritorious and raise human rights concerns, and those that are not. In reality, it is highly unlikely that a Federal Human Rights Act will lead to excessive litigation by opportunistic lawyers.

Myth Six: “A Federal Human Rights Act will undermine religious freedom, particularly by constraining freedom of religious speech and expression.”

  • Fact: Human rights and religious faith are not mutually exclusive – legislative recognition of human rights can strengthen our community values and ethics by fostering a human rights culture. It is unlikely that religious speech and expression will be constrained under a Federal Human Rights Act. In other jurisdictions that have a Charter of Human Rights, public authorities have been excused from their human rights obligations where such an obligation will impede or prevent a religious body from acting in conformity with their religious doctrines. Religious freedom would not be undermined.

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