Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 4 Hansard (9 April) . . Page.. 832 ..
MR STEFANIAK (3.43): I was pleased to hear the Chief Minister say in his tabling speech that the government was elected on a promise to investigate the establishment of a bill of rights. I am also pleased to see in his terms of reference, which he gave me a copy of when he issued his press release, that the first point states that the three persons in the committee, through community consultation, are to conduct an inquiry into and report to the government on whether it is appropriate and desirable to enact legislation establishing a bill of rights in the ACT.
I was a little concerned, but perhaps not surprised, to see the three members of the committee quite enthusiastic about their task and about a bill of rights. I know the Chief Minister is a very strong advocate of a bill of rights and therefore note two pleasing signs: that there is a first question-do we need one?-and a first hurdle, an invitation to the ACT community to have their say.
This is a matter of fundamental importance and something that every member of our community should be very keen to have their say on-and, indeed, a number of groups. One of the big problems in creating bills of rights in the Western world in recent times has been that, if you give some people rights, you take rights away from others. It is actually a very difficult thing to do.
I was looking through the scrutiny reports on the Legislation Amendment Bill and several other bills, and the other day I was looking at the categories and protections in the Discrimination Act in terms of citizens' rights. Through our conventions and various statutes, we enshrine a person's rights. We are constantly amending clauses in bills, through statute law, to keep up with modern times and changing circumstances and protect and look after people's rights.
Of course, we have our Constitution, conventions, common law and a system of democracy that goes right back to Magna Carta. It is a very big step going down the path of a bill of rights. A previous Attorney-General, Terry Connolly, was very keen on one, as a number of people have been. It has been mooted at federal and state levels over a number of years, and I do not think it has ever been successful. We in the opposition certainly feel that there are more problems than not in a bill of rights and that, basically, we do not really need one in the Australian Capital Territory.
At this stage, because this debate will rage over the next 12 months, I would like to read onto the record some very sensible and learned comments made by the New South Wales Premier in an edited version of an article that appeared in the winter 2001 issue of Policy, the journal of the Centre for Independent Studies. This is as it was reported in the Canberra Times on 20 August 2001. It is a strong encapsulation made by the Premier of some of the problems in a bill of rights, and I must say I have considerable sympathy with and agreement on some of his propositions. Bob Carr writes of how a bill of rights lays a trap. I quote:
The culture of litigation and the abdication of responsibility that a bill of rights engenders is something that Australia should try to avoid at all costs.
There have been many calls recently to introduce an Australian bill of rights. Debates have arisen over what rights to include, and how a bill of rights should apply.