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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2015 Week 05 Hansard (Thursday, 7 May 2015) . . Page.. 1489 ..

It is my belief, and the belief of the opposition, that the most reasonable step forward would be to refer this bill to the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety for further inquiry in an effort to better inform members of this Assembly of what impact this legislation will have in practice and to explore the potential for unintended consequences.

As has been agreed with the government, we will support the passing of this bill today in principle, and we will then seek to refer it to the committee for further inquiry.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (11.38): The Greens will support the Human Rights Amendment Bill. Protecting and advancing human rights is, of course, a key part of the Greens policy platform, and human rights are always a prime consideration in all of our policy decisions. Indeed, another element of the Greens policy platform recognises that economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights are interdependent and must be respected and protected.

The bill that is before us today takes a step towards recognising economic, social and cultural rights. It extends the binding obligations on public authorities in part 5A of the Human Rights Act to the right of education. The right to education was previously recognised in the act as it was amended in 2012. The change today, however, amends the legislation to enliven that right and it ensures that the ACT government has to act and make decisions consistent with the right to education. I note that in 2012 the Greens proposed an amendment which would have activated the right in 2012, instead of waiting three more years, but it was not accepted at the time. I am pleased that this change is now taking place.

The bill also adds a new section to the Human Rights Act to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples hold distinct cultural rights. It specifies that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must not be denied the right “to have their material and economic relationships with the land and waters and other resources with which they have a connection under traditional laws and customs recognised and valued”. I strongly support this change, and I will talk more about this shortly.

The changes made in this bill originated from a 2010 report by the University of New South Wales and the Australian National University which examined the potential for the ACT’s Human Rights Act to be extended to include economic, social and cultural rights. The overall conclusion of the report was that the inclusion of these rights is desirable and feasible. It recommended that the act should be amended to include most of the economic, social and cultural rights contained in the international covenant on economic and social rights, to which Australia is a party.

While I am pleased that progress has been made by introducing education and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights to the ACT’s Human Rights Act, as I have said before I hold some disappointment that we have not yet gone further. I have put these views on the record before and have discussed them with my government colleagues.

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