Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 4 Hansard (9 April) . . Page.. 836 ..
MRS DUNNE (continuing):
On the other hand, a bill of rights has the potential to overturn many of the principles of Australian life and many of the institutions and practices that we hold dear. Is this what you are proposing, Mr Stanhope? A bill of rights seems incompatible with key components of Australia's hybrid constitutional system of federalism and responsible government.
Issues a bill of rights might concern itself with seem to me to be clearly defined under existing arrangements: freedom of speech and the relevance of defamation laws in that regard; freedom of religion-for instance, questions of rating on church properties; freedom of assembly; freedom of association; and, in particular, the general content and administration of criminal law and the criminal justice system.
The path down which Mr Stanhope proposes to lead us derives from an international covenant in which there is no guarantee of the right to own property or of not having it confiscated without compensation. Let me remind you what the Wran Labor government did in New South Wales in 1981 with its infamous Coal Acquisition Act. There the Labor government rode over the human rights of property owners in the Hunter Valley and took away their rights to the coal under their land with no compensation given. This was an outright piece of confiscation by a Labor government-Labor the exhorters of rights. What sort of attitude is that to the very important human right to own property and not have it resumed without fair compensation?
Although the international covenant protects the rights of the child, it does not guarantee the rights of the child before birth. This is of grave concern to me. A bill of rights will further engender a litigation culture, as my colleague said, and this is what we do not want. I am dismayed that Mr Stanhope has chosen to bypass the Assembly in his terms of reference and that we are not to be consulted in the process of this legislation. It shows scant regard for the institutions of democracy and the democratic process.
MR PRATT (3.59): Mr Speaker, I rise to support my colleagues and speak against the proposed introduction of a bill of rights. Why does Labor in this country, and now in the ACT, persist in attempting to introduce a bill of rights which is unwanted, unnecessary and inappropriate? In the words of Mr Murray Gleeson AC, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia:
Our rights are protected by the constitution in certain respects, by laws enacted by the Commonwealth and the state parliament in certain respects, and by laws developed by the courts in certain respects. This combination works reasonably well to secure the protection of the rights of the citizens in our community. Whether any particular right ought to be protected by one of those means as distinct from one of the other two depends on the right in question and the circumstances of the case.
In the federal parliament, former Labor Attorney-General Lionel Murphy tried, unsuccessfully, to introduced a bill of rights, as did former Labor Attorney-General Gareth Evans-again, unsuccessfully. The first bill of rights bill in the ACT was presented in this Assembly in 1995 by Mr Terry Connolly, who moved that the bill be agreed to in principle. It was not.