Human Rights Day: It’s time to talk about a Bill of Rights

10th Dec 2014

Australia must re-open the discussion about adopting a Bill of Rights in order to protect the human rights of all Australians, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.  

Today is International Human Rights Day, proclaimed by the United Nations (UN) as a day to promote the recognition of human rights around the world.

ALA spokesperson Benedict Coyne said Australia had fallen far behind most other ‘first world’ nations by failing to protect individual rights via a Human Rights Act.

“It is disturbing to note that Australia is currently the only liberal democracy that lacks a Charter of Rights in either constitutional or statutory form,” Mr Coyne said.

“This means that Australians still lack the legally enshrined fundamental and basic human rights that Americans have enjoyed for more than 200 years and that much of the rest of the civilised world has adopted over the last fifty years.”

“International Human Rights Day is the right time to start the conversation about ensuring that Australia catches up with the rest of the world in terms of protecting the basic human rights of its citizens,” Mr Coyne said.

Mr Coyne said that Australia has actually led the way in developing many aspects of international human rights law, including being one of the founding members of the UN in 1945, being one of the 26 nations that drafted the 1951 International Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, being one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1983, and being one of the first western countries to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008.

Mr Coyne said Australia’s lack of a human rights act contradicted its efforts to position itself as a candidate for election to the UN Human Rights Council in 2017. He said that there was strong public support for adopting a Bill of Rights in Australia.

“A Bill of Rights would guarantee the continuation of the Australian way of life and that facet of Australian society that we all hold so dear – a fair go for all,” Mr Coyne said.

“In 2008 the Rudd government rolled out an audacious national human rights consultation project that saw an unprecedented response of over 35,000 submissions from the electorate, 87.5% of which supported the introduction of a Bill of Rights,” Mr Coyne said.

“It is time for a genuine national discussion to recommence on an Australian Bill of Rights. Such a discussion can only be in the national interest.

“Speaking about human rights will enable all Australians not only to be further informed about the inadequacy our laws, but about the basic precepts of equality, fairness and justice that we hope to emulate, both as a legal system and as a community,” Mr Coyne said.

“A Bill of Rights would also provide a clearer pathway to redress and promote efficiency in the justice system,” Mr Coyne said.

Read Benedict Coyne's full opinion piece on the issue here.

Tags: Human rights