The government is in the process of conducting a ‘Human Rights Consultation‘ with a view toward establishing some sort of Bill of Rights or human rights declaration. Good idea. We don’t have basic human rights codified in Australia, not even freedom of speech/expression.
However, the Terms of Reference for this consultation negate its very existence. Last note in the Terms:
The options identified should preserve the sovereignty of the Parliament and not include a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights.
Rights doctrines do one thing and one thing only- protect citizens from excessive exercise of government power. They’re of little value if they are enacted on a statutory basis, where they can be modified, overridden or even dissolved by a simple act of Parliament.
The notion of ‘preserving the sovereignty of the Parliament’ could only be acceptable to authoritarians and monarchists. Governments in liberal democracies are constituted of, by and for the people, not the other way around. You don’t get imbued with the right to deprive others of human rights merely because you have been elected to a public office. The only sovereignty which should be established by a rights doctrine is that of the citizen over the government.
If there’s to be a human rights declaration, it must be a constitutional instrument or it has little value. Regardless, GetUp are pushing participation in the human rights consultation:
This government consultation is a once in a lifetime chance to call for a Human Rights Act to permanently protect human rights in Australia.
Sorry, but the Act as framed will not ‘permanently protect human rights in Australia.’ It will be white-anted by the present or subsequent governments, merely because it will not be entrenched as part of the Australian Constitution, which offers some resilience against tampering by a simple Parliamentary vote. I can’t support GetUp’s campaign unless they lobby to change the terms to specify a constitutional rights declaration.
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