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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 9 Hansard (18 August) . . Page.. 3874..

MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Environment and Minister for Community Affairs) (4.16): The government opposes the passage of what it regards as unnecessary and confusing law. This particular charter, the charter of responsibilities, has been modelled on the proposed Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities, a document prepared by the InterAction Council, a group of former heads of government from around the world.

Mr Stefaniak is wrong in stating that the United Nations has seen that a declaration of responsibilities is necessary. Despite moves to have the declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, this has not happened because there is not enough support throughout the member states to adopt it. Criticisms have been raised, for example, that it is already covered by United Nations human rights instruments, and that by "complementing"fundamental rights, which apply to every person, it appears to limit those rights to those who undertake the designated responsibilities.

Indeed, the Special Rapporteur, appointed by the General Assembly to investigate the adoption of the declaration, reported that the majority of non-government organisations opposed the adoption of the declaration as a possible means of oppression and noted that any general statement of responsibilities should not be applicable at the level of legally enforceable obligations but at the non-legal level of ethics and morality.

The Commonwealth Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade considered the declaration in 1997. It recommended that "The Australian government consider accepting the draft Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities."However, it stated that "the final document should be seen to complement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and should not derogate from it".

The original Universal Declaration of Responsibilities, which it is claimed forms the basis of the charter, was also not meant to derogate from the fundamental human rights set out in the international human rights covenants. Mr Stefaniak does not, however, want that. He intends that this charter would override the rights set out in the Human Rights Act 2004 where applying the charter in interpreting ACT law would give a different result to applying the Human Rights Act. As the Human Rights Act contains fundamental human rights similar to those in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this charter has the potential, and indeed is intended by the Liberal Party, to undermine those rights. Mr Stefaniak, on behalf of the Liberal Party, quotes the United Nations when it states that the inalienable rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights cannot endure without the commitment to the responsibilities that come with them. If these rights imply responsibilities, the question needs to be asked: why do we need to spell them out? The Liberal Party says that is because if we were concerned only with individual rights, society would go to pieces quickly. We would all become selfish and uncaring of others.

Is that true? When determining what form a bill of rights for the ACT should take, the ACT Bill of Rights Consultative Committee actively considered the argument that a selfish and individualistic society would result from the introduction of a bill of rights in the ACT. The committee concluded that that is not the inevitable result or even a likely result of a bill of rights.

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