Charting New Waters for a Queensland Bill of Rights - Part B
5th Feb 2016
You can read part A of this series here.
The political appetite for an inquiry for a Queensland Bill of Rights was not quite ready in early 2015. There was an already jam-packed agenda for an unexpected Labor government in its first term. Thus, in early 2015 the Rights for Queenslanders Alliance (RQA) was formed and a civil society movement for a Qld Charter of Rights was born. The RQA was co-spearheaded by Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR), the Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services (QAILS), the Caxton Community Legal Centre and Together Queensland. That group has now expanded to encompass over 150 endorsing organisations across the state. See ‘A Human Rights Act for Queensland’.
In August 2015 at the Queensland ALP State conference, Labor MP Peter Russo and the Together Union put forward a motion for a parliamentary inquiry into the implementation of a bill of rights for the state. The motion was adopted unanimously by members from all factions, which was a small but very strong and necessary symbolic success.
On 14 September 2015, the RQA held an official launch for a Qld Charter at Parliament House, which was packed to the rafters. Both Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath and Deputy Premier Jackie Trad gave rousing speeches to the large audience and articulated their commitments to the Queensland electorate to hold an inquiry and their visions for wide participation from the electorate statewide.
Now it is up to Queenslanders to take a stand and demand that basic human rights are legally protected so that we can move forward confidently and securely knowing that there is less risk of legislative regression toward non-democratic ends. In introducing his idea of a Queensland Land Bill of Rights in October 2014, the Hon Peter Wellington MP stated:
I believe the 2½ years of abuse of power we have suffered under this state government has mobilised Queenslanders to call for a specific act of parliament which would protect us from extreme governments, and recognise and enshrine the many rights and liberties we have traditionally taken for granted. We are not alone in our calls for protection from a government that abuses its power. The Australian Capital Territory passed its human rights act in 2004, and in 2006 the Victorian government adopted a Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. New Zealand has had a bill of rights since 1990 and Canada has had a bill of rights since the 1980s.
Some hysteria and anti-rights rhetoric from the naysayers and from the politically conservative press is to be expected. However, the sky did not fall in when other jurisdictions introduced human rights charters. In fact, on the evidence, the governance of those jurisdictions significantly improved:
In the experience of the 2006 Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities there are numerous and various case studies which illustrate that the Victorian Human Rights Charter enabled: wider social education on the meaning and importance of human rights in daily life; a more humane and compassionate public service and government bureaucracy including a more flexible approach to tax collection for disadvantaged families; better accessibility on public transport; better enforcement of the right to a fair hearing; allowing ratepayers to have opportunities to interact with their local councils; finding more flexible approaches to save disadvantaged Victorians, from single mothers to the elderly and disabled, from eviction; it has allowed older same-sex couples can now access superannuation benefits both prospectively and retrospectively; It has meant something as simple as a man living with a disability in shared supported accommodation was finally allowed access to his own mail and a woman in residential care had her right to privacy when showering better protected.
“the Charter has achieved a shift in the way that public institutions work, making consideration of rights an essential, rather than a luxury item, in the business of doing government”.
Mr Hull further commented that:
“Preventing a family from being thrown into homelessness, the provision of a shower curtain - none of these things on their own will change the world. There is no doubt, however, that they would have changed the world of the individuals affected and, in doing so, they would not only have changed the way in which treatment was offered to the next individual in line, but the way in which broader policies and decisions are made.”
The ball is now squarely in the court of the Queensland electorate. Written submissions addressing the terms of reference are now invited, and will be accepted until 4:00pm on Monday, 18 April 2016.
Benedict Coyne is a human rights lawyer and advocate at Boe Williams Anderson in Brisbane. He is currently running a diverse array of cases including; Aboriginal deaths in custody; indigenous rights and climate change; racial discrimination complaints; children’s rights; employment rights; education rights; international criminal law and international business & human rights. For the past three years he has served as a national committee member and Qld State Convenor of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR). In December 2014 he formed the national ALHR Human Rights Act subcommittee which he chairs and in February 2015 he co-spearheaded the movement for a Qld Charter of Rights which is no before a Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry. He recently completed a Master of Studies in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford where he wrote his dissertation on Australia’s need for a federal human rights act.
The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).