Formal recognition of human rights?! In Australia?!

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Formal recognition of human rights?! In Australia?!
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All Australian’s should be aware that there is currently a Human Rights consultation taking place in Australia. The consultation committee is charged with address the following three questions:

1. Which Human rights (including correpsonding responsibilites) should be protected and promoted?
2. Are these human rights currently sufficiently protected and promoted?
3. How could Australia better protect and promote human rights?

Sub questions to help direct your thinking were: * What are the rights and liberties of Australians? * What should the rights and liberties be? * Where do I find them? * Where should I be able to find them? * Are there responsibilities that go with having rights and liberties? * How are rights and liberties protected? * could our rights and liberties be better promoted? * should we have a document setting out our rights and liberties? * What role does the Commonwealth Goverment play in protecting human rights? Businesses? Individuals? * Who should be obliged to protect human rights – the Australian Government? Businesses? Individuals? Elected Representatives? Unelected Judges? Someone else? * Are there any circumstances in which you think your rights should be suspended? If so, when? * Which human rights should be better protected and promoted? * Do you think that particular groups need special protections? * What should you be able to do if you think your Human rights have been breached? * Do we need a new Commonwealth law to protect human rights? * should our human rights be considered more formally by Government when they are making laws? * Do we need better ways to ensure that Government and it’s agencies respect our human rights? * What do you think the role of the Courts should be in the protection of human rights?

You will find information about the national Human Rights Consultation; National Human Rights Consultation Background Paper; consultation group discussion guide at

:: :: Have your say :: ::

All Australians are invited to have their say and may parcipate in a consultation workshop or may make a submission by to the Human Rights Consultation Committe on the web or by post:


postal The National Human Right Consultation Secretariat
Attorney-General’s Department
Robrt Garran Offices

Closing date for submissions Monday, 15 Jun 2009. All submissions will be treated as public unless the author indicates it is confidential, then it will be treated as such and will not be made public.

A range of public submission are available on the site, so you can read what others have to say.

If you are for a Charter, please share the reasons behind why you support a Charter. If you are against a Charter, please share your reasons as to why you are against it.

:: :: Important Note :: ::

At this time the Government have refused to consider having Human Rights incorporated into the constitution and as such a charter is being considered.

For those that believe strongly that Human Rights should be incorporated into the constitution it is outside of the Committee’s charter. If you feel it should be included in the constitution and raise this as a concern, the concern will be addressed in the report to the Government which will be presented by 31 August 2009.

It was suggested some postives about having a charter might be:

* Something is better than nothing
* Australia’s track record with referendums is that getting a YES vote would be unlikely
* By having a Charter in the first instance, it may manifest a cultural change, may make a YES vote in a referendum in the future more likely (we’ve tried it, we’ll buy it/cultural change)
* It provides the opportunity to road test the laws and see how they interpreted before they are embedded in the constitution (it’s very hard to change something once it in a constitution – eg. American’s right to bear arms). By road testing how the laws are interpreted, it gives us the opportunity to fine tune them before they become entrenched in the constitution.

:: :: Related resources :: ::
* Let’s talk about rights – toolkit and information –
* National human rights consultation –…
* Human Rights Links:
* What are human rights?
* Universal Declaration of Human Rights: (This page contains links to plain language versions of the rights)
* Your rights, your say (GetUp! Campaign – relates directly to the charter) –
* Save the ‘Net (GetUp! Campaign – freedom of information/speech) –

:: :: Discussion :: ::

Discussion, statements and questions arising from the consultation I attended (I am listing points raised regardless of my personal feelings – these are just things that came up during the course of the evening):

The need for education about rights – generally and within our education system. One group discussed that this should happen in primary school due to retention issues at the high school level (early dropouts) and that knowledge of the 30 basic human rights should be as important as reading and writing.

Such a charter may heighten accountability

Are unelected Judges the best choice in terms of fairness? (separation from Government?). Are Elected representatives in the best position to evaluate/judge community values? Do judges generally focus more on individuals than on the community? Judges are practiced in finding balance in opposing views – so woudn’t they be qualified? Wouldn’t unelected judges be more likely to represent the views of minorities who need protection? Would elected judges/representatives be more likely to do what is in the best interests of the Government?

Rights are like muscles and brains… if they are not exercised, you lose them. It is a responsibility of citizenship to actively stand up for our rights.

The right to be able to protest is important.

Is compulsory voting a huge impedement to Australia? (No further argument or explanation was given with this statement so I’m not of the rationale behind the statement – sorry.)

Freedom of thought

The right to express your culture

While many of us may agree on the basic ‘umbrella’ statements – we often don’t agree on the semantics – how would we address this conflict to ensure that if a Bill of Rights or Charter were implemented that it wouldn’t force values and beliefs on people and remove some rights of expression.

Can any piece of paper be enforced?

The constitution is the best we can aim for.

We need a government that is responsible TO the people. The people should have some way of being able to say we are not happy and demand a new government

Issues widely opposed by the people are often not addressed until there is a change of Government

We need to have a democracy in the community, workplace and in the economy

Does a charter lack enforceability?

If it is a charter, and is subject to the whim of Parliment it can be changed at any time.

International treaties and laws should override national laws and these are already in place. Australia does not enforce these laws and sometimes does not enforce/is not accountable for national laws. If these treaties/laws were enforced would we even have a need for this discussion

For something so important to all Australians, this consultation has been badly promoted and many of us here found out almost by accident – shouldn’t this be promted more widely in mainstream media (television advertising, full page ads in papers, radio, etc).

Are groups such as the homeless being consulted [answer from panel was yes – some representatives were meeting with a group of homeless people at a soup kitchen the same evening the consultation I attended was on – M.]

our system stifles debate and says that some rights are more important that others.

how do we balance two separate rights that conflict

should rights be unconditional – or are there instances where they should be revoked?

Responsibility to those who have had rights removed (eg. mental health patients who have had their rights removed for their own safety, etc and the incarcerated). When removing rights there is a responsibility to consider the rights of those who have had their rights removed and to protect them from abuse, uphold their dignity and show them respect). Don’t just take the easy way out and ignore the situation – take on the responsiblity that comes with revoking rights.

Have the incarcerated been spoken to as part of this consultation?

Often those who are unable to communicate effectively in spoken or written word are unheard and thus cannot have their rights addressed or make themselves heard and thus their rights are disregarded. As rights are often addressed by laws those who can not articulate in a spoken or written form in a language that is readily understood by the ‘system’ have no voice. How can we make it easy for them to know and address their rights.

Information about rights; where to seek assistance and general information should be available not only online and by telephone but also there should be a place to go where you can talk to someone in person (accessibilty/equity)

:: :: A relevant poem :: ::

First they came…
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

Then they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me.

This poem has been reworded and used in numerous rights and freedom related campaigns. The basic message, obviously, is – it may not be you now but if you don’t stand up for others and then later you find yourself the target of injustice, who will stand up for you? Don’t be ambivalent… get off your butts!

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