Page 392 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 4 March 2008
wellbeing of our community. They are as important as issues around good provision of municipal infrastructure, good public transport and good health services. They are just as important. In this place we have responsibility as much for these matters as we do for those municipal services and other services that Mr Mulcahy refers to. That is why the government is very proud of this legislation today. It strengthens the principles that underpin the very first bill of rights legislation in Australia and refines its operation.
I would like to turn now to the issues raised by the scrutiny of bills committee in its comments on the bill. The committee suggested that the codification of the proportionality test in section 28 could exclude important nuances and changes in case law from informing the reasonable limits test. The government does not believe that the committee’s concern will be borne out. The purpose of this amendment to section 28 is to provide guidance to the courts, tribunals and decision makers on the operation of the proportionality test.
The proportionality test is a well established concept in international human rights law. The list of inclusive factors to be considered in determining whether limits on rights are reasonable is drawn directly from international human rights jurisprudence and the case law of comparable human rights jurisdictions. They have been included to reduce uncertainty over how to apply the reasonable limits tests. Instead of locking out the consideration of precedence the amendments to section 28 will do the opposite. It will ensure that the principles evolved from human rights jurisprudence are imported into the reasonable limits test when decision makers are accessing compatibility. It will ensure that the interpretation of human rights here in the territory will keep pace and be as consistent with internationally accepted standards as is possible.
The committee correctly points out in its comments that the Human Rights Act does not currently spell out in so many words that public authorities have to respect human rights. The inclusion of a positive duty will make it clear that all public authorities must ensure that everything they do is compatible with human rights unless a statutory provision makes that impossible. The ACT community is entitled to expect that public authorities will respect their rights. The purpose of these provisions is to make the right of action under the Human Rights Act clearer and easier to use, and that is consistent with building a human rights culture here in the ACT.
The government considers that the community is also entitled to expect that private sector entities will move towards respecting their human rights. As part of the incremental entrenching of a human rights culture here in Canberra the bill includes a voluntary opt in arrangement that other members have referred to.
I think it is worth reflecting on this clause a little bit further. Increasingly in our community we expect our private entities to adopt a triple bottom line approach—social, economic and environmental. I would imagine that part of any serious commitment by an entity to a social sustainability test, if you want to put it that way, is having regard to the human rights of their clients or customers or others that they engage with in the course of their business. I will welcome very warmly any private sector entity that chooses to opt in and adopt a human rights approach to its own business and have regard to human rights principles in all its dealings. I think we will see entities do just that, and I would strongly encourage them to do so.