Page 729 - Week 02 - Thursday, 10 March 2011

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The Greens very much look forward to working with all members to improve the recognition of human rights in the Australian Capital Territory.

MR SESELJA (Molonglo—Leader of the Opposition) (11.53): I would like to add a few words to this debate from the perspective of the Canberra Liberals. I think the human rights debate around the nation has been an interesting exercise. We have seen significant divisions nationally in the Labor Party over this issue. Some very high profile Labor leaders, such as Bob Carr and John Hatzistergos, have been arguing very cogently against the concept of a charter of rights or a bill of rights. Alternatively, we have seen the ACT Labor government and the Victorian Labor government pursue this issue.

But at the heart of the drive for bills of rights and charters of rights is a lack of trust in the legislature. It is effectively saying that if it is just left to the legislature and the processes we have inherited and refined over many hundreds of years, people’s human rights will not be protected. Of course, it was that thinking, perhaps understandably, in the US context that led to their Bill of Rights being constitutionally enshrined. Anyone who has looked closely at the experience in the US would say that that has not been a success. Gun control is an obvious example where, in many cases, even a basic restraint of people’s ability to carry weapons is deemed unconstitutional due to their Second Amendment rights, I think it is, to bear arms.

We have a different scenario here, but that gives some context as to where these things can eventually go and the dangers of a charter of rights or a bill of rights, and why many lawmakers, including many significant figures in the Labor Party, argue against them. In fact, the federal Labor government recently looked at this issue and appeared to in the end back away from it. Having had Father Frank Brennan look into this issue on their behalf, the federal Labor Party appears to have walked away from the issue, and with some justification.

There are a number of criticisms, and I will go into why we had concerns when the Human Rights Act was passed. The concerns are that the power is taken away from the legislature and that we eventually see a pitting of the human rights of one group or class of people against the rights of another group or class of people, and I will touch on some examples of that.

The other concern that we raise is that having a human rights act is the government’s way of saying, “Well, we’re human rights compliant because we’ve have got a human rights act,” even if they subsequently ignore that act and do not deliver human rights in many cases. I will touch on those various aspects.

In terms of the unintended consequences—perhaps the intended consequences for some people—of rights being pitted against common sense, we do not have to look too far to find examples. Of course, the most recent example here in the ACT was the issue at Lanyon high school. We have a very hard-working, diligent principal in Bill Thompson seeking to work with his community to work against truancy. Undertaking his legal obligations as principal, having responsibility for these students, one of the ways he wanted to work against truancy—certainly by no means the only way—was to stop kids hanging out in local shops. Some of the wagging kids would end up at the

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