Queensland begins inquiry into Human Rights Act

SHAY LEDINGHAM

A copy of the Universal Human Rights Charter. Queensland may soon implement state legislation concerning human rights.

A copy of the Universal Human Rights Charter. Queensland may soon implement state legislation concerning human rights. Source: Creative Commons.

 

The State government has pledged to begin a parliamentary inquiry into the possibility of Queensland adopting a Human Rights Act.

Proposed by independent MP Peter Wellington, the reform would see Queensland join Victoria and the ACT in holding a charter of human rights.

It was also one of Wellington’s stipulations put to Labor in exchange for his support in forming a minority government.

Announced on Monday evening at Parliament House, Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath said the protection of human rights was central to Labor’s policy platform.

“As a government, we are very pleased to be joining in on the conversation about the role of a Human Rights Act in a free and democratic society,” Ms D’Ath said.

“We are also committed to consulting widely on issues, to ensure that all groups and interests in the community have a voice and their views are taken into account.”

While momentum around the issue has been building, some are cautioning that significant questions remain, citing the uncertain levels of power the bill may possess.

Griffith University lecturer Dr. Paul Williams has said that while no one is arguing against human rights, the form and content of the legislation need to be carefully considered.

“I would be loathe to see, given the nature of referendums and plebiscites in this country, that once things are ingrained or entrenched in these sorts of documents, they are very difficult if not impossible to change,” Dr. Williams said.

“My fear is that we might end up with a Bill of Rights that might be fine in 2015, but by 2025 it could be severely out of date.

“[However] I’ve been assured by some people that the parliament and those pushing for a bill are only talking about…a statute, which can be changed by the parliament.”

Brisbane-based lawyer and head campaigner for the Act Aimee McVeigh said the suggested reform was just an ordinary piece of legislation, drawing on the processes adopted by the ACT and Victoria, who gained charters in 2004 and 2006 respectively.

“It can be amended at any time to respond to changing values of society and to strengthen it if need be,” Ms McVeigh said.

“So, if you look for example at Victoria, they’re currently in the process of the eight year review of their charter, and they had a charter review at four years as well.

“There were changes at that time, and we expect changes again at this time, as well.” 

Ms McVeigh said the charters had already been used widely, offering dignity and aid to people who were living with disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and women who are suffering against violence.

Dr Paul Williams noted that a charter implemented in this way, although edifying and ostensibly welcome, could be a “toothless paper tiger”.

“If any parliament can change it, if we get a regressive government…will they not just change it, amend it or indeed repeal the whole act anyway.”

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