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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 9 Hansard (18 August) . . Page.. 3875..


MR STANHOPE (continuing):

The committee also considered whether a charter of responsibilities should either replace or accompany a bill of rights. It concluded, among other things, that rights in themselves create responsibilities and that to align a list of responsibilities with rights could create the undesirable presumption that the enjoyment of rights is only available to those who have shown "good citizenship". It could be used as an excuse to treat those who breach the code of conduct as unworthy of the same fundamental human rights as others.

The Human Rights Act tells people what they have a legal right to. It sets a standard for law-making and administrative action below which no person, no matter who they are or what they have done, is to be treated. Using a statement such as the charter to purportedly "complement"the rights in the Human Rights Act will also detract from the focus of the rights listed in that act, which is on fundamental and inalienable human rights, not on good behaviour.

Respect for human rights means respect by each person for everyone else, no matter who they are or what they do. It is for the protection of all members of the community and is based on respect for their inherent dignity as human beings. It also provides a rational and principled framework in which to balance the interests of the individual and the wider community. Respect for human rights cannot exist if people are single-mindedly selfish and individualistic. This is well recognised in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and is clearly set out in the preamble of the Human Rights Act.

When he introduced this charter, Mr Stefaniak stated that he thought it a shame that we have to go down the path of introducing a charter of responsibilities. He claimed that the Human Rights Act 2004 contains an "overemphasis"on rights. How often do we have to point out that rights cannot exist without responsibilities? Responsibilities are written into the Human Rights Act. Mind you, the Liberals are not alone in misrepresenting statements of rights. However, at least others, like the framers of the declaration, recognised that a statement of responsibilities should not have the same legal status as a statement of rights, nor should it derogate from fundamental human rights.

At a conference in February this year, Professor Jim Ife of the Centre for Human Rights Education at Curtin University of Technology said of those who believe that statements of rights undermine and even discourage responsibilities:

... it is important to overcome these ideological blinkers, and to see that rights and responsibilities are both important and are necessarily related. Rights imply responsibilities, as there is no point in a person having something called a "right"if others are not prepared to meet their responsibilities to enable those rights to be protected and realised. They include the responsibilities not only of the individual, but also the responsibilities of the community, the private sector, and the government."

In fact, Mr Stefaniak concedes that there are already responsibilities written into rights. The charter itself, in the preamble, paragraph 3, acknowledges:

Both the rule of law and human rights depend on the readiness of everyone to act justly. These rights cannot endure without the responsibilities that come with them.


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