Page 195 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 10 December 2008

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observance of basic human rights. For many of us, at most times the protection of rights will never become an issue. This is perhaps especially the case for those of us who are white, male, middle-class, heterosexual and healthy. But there are some among us whose rights are vulnerable and who, for reasons of gender or faith or sexuality or race or infirmity, depend on an explicit statement of their rights. This is why, in 2004, the ACT government introduced the Human Rights Act, incorporating into local law the applicable rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Our long-term aim was to build a culture of tolerance and respect for human rights in all of our dealings with each other, a culture where socially progressive policy making was possible. In legislating, we broke the long cultural deadlock over bills of rights that had persisted in this nation. And we proved that the sky would not fall as a consequence.

It is evident that many, I think it is fair to say most, of those who occupy the benches in this new Assembly are conscious of the importance of formally recognising and protecting basic rights—accepting, of course, that the Liberal Party opposed our Human Rights Act and has consistently spoken against it. Equally, it is evident that not all share the conviction, although I do note, with the new leader, a growing willingness to accept, at least at face value, human rights and the need for us to be responsive to and respectful of human rights.

While this side of the chamber is united in its commitment to human rights, and to the pursuit of socially progressive policy making that flows from living that commitment, I have to say that those opposite have wasted no time in revealing divisions that are quite fundamental ones on this issue of respect for basic human rights. For one of our new members, the youngest member of the opposition, our record of socially progressive policy making makes us a “social laboratory”. The only thing missing from Mr Coe’s cliched mantra is his analysis of which among us are the guinea pigs and which are the rats. Mr Coe went on in his opening remarks to ridicule the development of a human rights compliant prison—

Mr Smyth: Relevance, Mr Speaker. The question was about the government’s social policy, not about Mr Coe’s maiden speech.

MR STANHOPE: and, by implication, of course, to damn everything there was about the culture of respect for human rights reflected in a socially progressive policy which we as a government have pursued. Of course, I think it is fair to say that his leader, who has recently and publicly been positioning himself as the champion of human rights, a republic and everything else that might shine in soft focus, might know a rat when he sees one.

Socially progressive policy making by this government, including legislating for a Human Rights Act, legislating to recognise same-sex relationships, creating an elected representative body for Indigenous Canberrans and allowing women reproductive control over their own bodies, has improved the capacity of many Canberrans to enjoy the rights that come naturally and easily to most of us, most of the time.

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