Page 391 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 4 March 2008

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legislation that come into this place. Therefore, it is fair to say that there is no need for any significant human rights dialogue on such pieces of legislation.

But where matters are more contentious and are more controversial the government has sought to ensure that there is information put before this place on the issues that the government has considered in balancing human rights versus broader community interests that are also at play. A good example of that is the change to the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act around the use of electroconvulsive therapy. In that debate there was significant concern expressed within the government and within government agencies about the circumstances in which emergency treatment in ECT should be applied. It was the application of the Human Rights Act that led to a constraining of the powers originally sought by our medical professionals around the application of ECT treatment. The government provided a detailed narrative on those issues and how they were reconciled.

That applies equally to the changes to our anti-terrorism laws, particularly those laws relating to preventative detention. The government provided detailed legal advices on the issues surrounding the application of those proposed laws and the compatibility with human rights principles and how the laws were being changed to reflect and have respect for, and to be in accordance with, human rights principles and established human rights law. So it is wrong to say that there is not evidence and argument and information put to this place that outlines the dialogue that occurs within government. It is simplistic to suggest that that needs to be the case for every piece of legislation because not every piece of legislation raises and brings to the fore those issues.

That said, this bill is an important step forward in clarifying the interpretive rules so that a human rights consistent interpretation must prevail as far as it is possible to do so consistently with the purpose of underlying legislation. The bill clarifies the reasonable limits clause by setting out an inclusive list of factors to be considered in determining whether a limit on a right is reasonable. It provides for a direct right of action flowing from a duty on public authorities to comply with human rights principles.

This, I believe, is the most substantive and important change. It is why the government cannot and will not support the amendment foreshadowed by Mr Seselja. It is time, after four years of operation, for decisions of public authorities to be tested in court if somebody believes that their rights have been breached. It is four years since the Human Rights Act was passed by this place and it is time for those issues now to be open to be contested in courts, if that is believed to be necessary.

Our agencies have come a very significant way in understanding that a human rights culture must be pervasive through our organisations and that they must have regard to these principles in their decision making. I have every confidence that on the whole our agencies have that understanding. But where they do not and where they fail there will be an opportunity for those issues to be contested and reviewed by the courts. That is a positive thing because it continues to build and strengthen the human rights agenda and the human rights culture of our jurisdiction.

I would say to Mr Mulcahy that these are not issues at the margins. These are not issues at the periphery of ACT politics. They are important to the health and

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