Page 388 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 4 March 2008
underlying legal principles”. I would contend that, at least in part, to borrow the minister’s expression, the trickle of cases demonstrates, in fact, the strength of the law as it stood prior to the introduction of a Human Rights Act. Existing heads of law provided protection of inherent human rights.
We are a small jurisdiction and I do not believe that anything is necessarily gained by social engineering or experimentation. It may not appeal to those with higher notions or ambitions, but I am a firm believer that the primary role of this place is to manage the nuts and bolts of Canberra’s society. I know that members on both sides of this chamber might disagree and dream of a higher playing field, of loftier debates and deep philosophical problems to consider, but I am here to represent the people of Canberra on the issues that matter to their everyday lives.
I do not believe this debate will fundamentally and substantially change Canberra’s society for the better. A more meaningful change would occur if the problems in our health system were fixed, if the appearance of our town stopped deteriorating and if our bus services improved. These things should be the primary consideration of the Legislative Assembly—a sentiment I hear echoed repeatedly when I meet with constituents on a weekly basis.
As I stated earlier, I will be voting to support this bill. Whilst I do not believe that the Human Rights Act justified the focus of the Assembly’s time and resources I feel that now that the commission is set up and much of the work has been done this bill does make some sense. As I have already said, I have no philosophical objection to this legislation. Any objection that I have is on the grounds of practical necessity.
The clause of this bill that allows entities that are not public authorities to opt in to this legislation is a case in point. I would be very surprised if this offer is widely taken up. Most entities do not need a piece of legislation to ensure that they behave ethically and with consideration to human rights. Existing heads of law ensure this behaviour and most entities act in this way already.
Let me make it clear that I believe that public authorities in the ACT should act in a manner beyond reproach and that in most cases individuals should have a right of action against them if their rights are encroached upon or disregarded. I have seen instances where the Leader of the Opposition, in his former capacity as shadow planning minister, pursued with vigour the position of some individuals who were almost terrorised by the planning agency in terms of the circumstance of renovations to their homes. Their rights were being violated, I felt, and every possible legal protection should be afforded to people—
Mr Seselja: The Human Rights Act did not do them any good, though.
MR MULCAHY: It did not do them any good. The Human Rights Act did not do them any good. I agree, Mr Seselja. But we certainly need to have some mechanisms whereby people can exercise their right of protection and bring grievances before independent bodies. Given my position, I will be supporting the bill. I think that the mechanics of it are fine and will achieve what the minister envisages, but I will take a short amount of time to consider the different clauses of the bill.