A Bill (or Charter) of Rights...? Good or Bad...?
Various lobby groups and political parties are advocating for a Bill of Rights or a Charter of Rights in Australia.
The main difference between these is seen to be that a 'Bill of Rights' would be incorporated in the Constitution as a permanent document. In order to establish a constitutional Bill of Rights a referendum would need to be held to approve the move. A 'Charter of Rights' is a statutory law passed by a vote of both Houses of the Parliament.
Importantly it is the content that is included that¬†determines what each of them¬†entails.
Many people refer to the US 'Bill of Rights' but essentially these are made up of separate amendments to the US Constitution. A modern Charter or Bill of Rights is very different - with many references to human rights law taken from United Nations documents.
It is important to remember that many dictatorships and nations with poor 'human rights' records have a 'Bill of Rights' - such as the former USSR, Nazi Germany, Korea, Cuba and so on. A 'Bill of Rights' does not guarantee 'equality' - it simply imposes more restrictions on citizens. If a government can give 'rights' they can also take them away!
During 2009, the¬†Rudd federal Labor government¬†conducted a 'national consultation' with a view to implementing a 'Charter of Rights'. They specifically ruled out a constitutional Bill of Rights before asking the Committee to investigate - perhaps because they know that it is extremely hard to get referendums passed to amend the Constitution.
The recent '2020 Summit' held by Mr Rudd¬†supported a national 'Bill of Rights'. But who was there? 118 members of Get Up! attended! Get Up! is a major left-wing lobby group that is actively campaigning for a Bill of Rights.
Many¬†commentators expressed concern¬†at the way the 'Consultation' might be conducted, fearing the government may set the guidelines to LEAD to a recommendation calling for a Bill of Rights. See 'Make bill of rights debate open to all'¬†- The Australian, 25 April 2008.
The Consultation - conducted during 2009
Click here for our Campaign page - it contains information about the¬†consultation¬† -¬†submissions closed on¬†15 June 2009.
The Committee then¬†considered submissions and is preparing a report.
Australian Labor Party Platform - 2007
The Australian Labor Party Platform supports the 'protection' of human rights, so it is not surprising to see them promote the idea of a 'Charter of Rights'.
The 2007 Platform said:
Ch 13 - 7. Labor will initiate a public inquiry about how best to recognise and protect the human rights and freedoms enjoyed by all Australians.
... Labor will engage with Australians in deciding which democratic, industrial and community rights recognised in international treaties and conventions ratified by Australia should be protected.
No 23 - Page 8 "Labor is committed to a just and tolerant society which fully protects the rights and freedoms of all people in Australia. Labor supports the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international treaties to which Australia is a signatory. This includes the fundamental political and civil rights of everyone to freedom of conscience, expression and association, and to due process of law. We respect basic human rights such as access to education, access to adequate health care and the right to reasonable working conditions. Labor supports the introduction into Australian domestic law of the rights that are recognised and protected in the international treaties, conventions and protocols of which Australia is a signatory. In introducing these rights, Labor will ensure that existing rights are also protected."¬†
Our considered view is that a Bill or a Charter of Rights would undermine our Christian heritage and freedoms. Our rights are God-given. In fact the Bible speaks about 'responsibilities and duties, not of 'rights'.
Rights are not¬†to be given (and taken away) by the State.
A Charter of Rights gives more power to unelected bodies, minority groups and judges and takes power away from the elected parliament.
Numerous socialist countries have Bills of Rights - and it does not make them free!
We have opposed the introduction of similar laws in the ACT and Victoria (now passed into law) and a recent proposal in WA.
Groups and people OPPOSING a Bill of Rights
Bob Carr, the former Premier of NSW, opposes a Bill of Rights, saying it will give more power to unelected judges and increase litigation.
Since the ALP is planning to conduct a national consultation on a Bill of Rights, it was surprising to see the ALP circulate Bob Carr's article by email!
Lawyers are already drunk with power
The Australian, 24 April 2008.
Hon John Howard AC
The Hon John Howard - Lecture - PROPOSED CHARTER OF RIGHTS
WINTHROP HALL, UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA, 7.30 PM, WEDNESDAY, 26 AUGUST 2009.
Click here to read the full text of the lecture.¬†
You can actually WATCH the first three minutes of the¬†lecture on video at the ABC website - includes a report.
In September 2007 the then federal Attorney General Philip Ruddock wrote an article in the Sydney Morning Herald opposing a Bill of Rights.
Bills of rights do not protect freedoms
SMH, 31 August 2007. Philip Ruddock.
"Just when it seemed safe to be openly proud of¬†Australia,¬†the cultural cringers are at it again. This time we need to be ashamed of ourselves because Australia does not have a bill of rights. Forget the fact Australia is one of the world's oldest and most successful liberal democracies. Forget the fact bills of rights did nothing for enslaved African Americans or those persecuted in Stalinist Russia. No, we need a bill of rights to "keep up" with the rest of the world. . ."
New Website: 'Citizens for Rights against the Charter'
A website has been established to oppose any Charter of Rights by 'Citizens for Rights against the Charter':
See their website - it contains excellent articles on the subject of a Bill or Charter of Rights.¬†
Groups advocating FOR a Bill of Rights
The following information is presented to inform you about which groups and individuals support a Bill or Charter of Rights - we don't agree with their proposals!
A campaign for a Human Rights Act for Australia.
This group is actively campaigning for a Bill of Rights/Human Rights Act.
Geoffrey Robertson: Why Australia needs a Bill of Rights
Radio National, Fora, 1 April 2009. AUDIO available to download.
"Leading human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson gives a potted history of the development of human rights from the end of the monarchy's absolute power in Britain through to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights midway through last century. He then calls for Australia to follow just about every other developed democratic nation and enact its own Bill of Rights."
Only a Bill of Rights will do|
Courts 'becoming irrelevant' without bill of rights
Report on Geoffrey Robertson's call for a Bill of Rights. ABC, We
Prof George Williams
Prof Williams was the person appointed by the Victorian government to investigate whether Victoria should have a Charter of Rights.
Was that independent? NO! He had already written extensively calling for such Charters... and is continuing to do so...
Reform a national priority - Courier Mail, George Williams, December 26, 2006.
Who best protects rights: legislatures or the courts? Implications for the bill of rights debate: The case for a role for the judiciary
Paper given at International Conference - Legislatures and the Protection of Human Rights, Melbourne, 20-22 July 2006
A wide range of other papers also listed at the above link.
Finally, Australia's First Bill Of Rights - George Williams, Australian Financial Review, 12 March 2004.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland
Back in 2002, Mr McClelland, the federal Attorney-General,¬†was openly supporting a Bill of Rights:
The Rights Thing To Do? Towards an Australian Bill of Rights - Austlii, Bill of Rights Conference. 21 June 2002.
Time For A Bill Of Rights Debate
Shadow Attorney-General Robert McClelland, Media Statement - 25 August 2000.
Even back then he supported a call for a Bill of Rights and said "The ALP national conference recently endorsed an amendment to the Platform committing Labor to implement a legislative charter of rights and aspirations."
Victoria and the ACT have Charters of Human Rights....
The following pages on this website have information and articles about Bills and Charters of Rights and the relevant campaigns we have conducted.
Victoria legislated - through the governing Labor Party -¬†to establish a Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities in 2006.
Read our Campaign Page¬†on the political issue¬†surrounding the proposing and passing of this legislation.
Also our Campaign page on the actual debate and vote.
Numerous legal challenges have been made using the Charter: including by prisoners and the homeless.
This case, in April 2010 - click here - highlights the way the Charter was used to oppose a public housing group's eviction notice.
In this case, a woman convicted of drug charges appealed using the Charter - click here¬†and here.
In 2010, the¬†Liberal/National Parties came into government. Attorney-General Robert Clark has expressed serious concerns about the Charter.
Following that,¬†in 2011, the Victorian Charter was up for a 'Review'. The review was conducted by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC). The review found serious problems with the Charter.
Read SARC review process and Final Report¬†- click here.
The ACT passed the Human Rights Act in 2004.
WA had an Inquiry on establishing a Human Rights Act but have put the Report on hold until the national consultation is done. Click here for more information.