By Richard Griggs
December 10 is World Human Rights Day…and the perfect time to focus on why Tasmania needs a Human Rights Act.
On this day in Paris in 1948 the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
After experiencing the horror of World War Two the international community wanted to guarantee basic human rights and promote peace and prosperity.
Human rights are just as important today as in 1948 because the world still grapples with violent extremists preaching hatred and division.
There are young Tasmanian children who don’t enjoy the right to adequate food when they aren’t given breakfast and turn up to school hungry. There are elderly people who are denied their right to housing when they sleep rough at night. There are people with disabilities who are denied the right to self determination when they are excluded from decision making which affects their own lives.
Each of these vulnerable groups has their rights denied on a daily basis and there are more examples if you go looking for them. Human rights violations are found in the most vulnerable and marginalised groups of Tasmanians.
In 2007 the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute released a landmark report that recommended the state should enact human rights legislation to remedy three fundamental flaws in how we currently protect rights.
Firstly, the Institute found, current rights protection in Tasmania is partial because our laws do not protect all rights. For example, the right to education was much discussed in Tasmania this past year and is agreed as a human right under international law, yet it is not guaranteed in Tasmania.
Secondly, our rights protection is fragmented. The few rights that are clearly protected in law are scattered across hundreds of different regulations, thousands of different court decisions and an array of government policy statements.
Thirdly, rights protection is inaccessible because, unless you are a lawyer, you can’t find what rights you have or how to protect them.
Combined, these three flaws mean those Tasmanians who most urgently need to assert their basic human rights are the least likely to be able to.
The solution is a Tasmanian Human Rights Act which condenses all existing rights into one simple and easy to read document so everyone knows where they stand. The document would fill in the gaps where currently rights are unprotected and provide a formal way people could stand up for their rights.
By the time the next state election comes around it will have been 10 years since the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute report. The time for a human rights law has well and truly arrived.
Today a petition is launched asking all political candidates for the 2018 election to commit to implementing a Human Rights Act in the next term of Parliament 2018-2022. You can sign the petition online: www.tashumanrightsact.org.
How would a Human Rights Act protect the vulnerable?
The government would appoint a Human Rights Commissioner to help people and represent them. The Commissioner would be able to examine both long term systemic issues and also help individuals with their immediate issue.
People would be able to challenge government decisions that take away their rights.
The Human Rights Commissioner would first try to resolve people’s concerns through mediation.
Where mediation fails, a complaint could be taken to a court and a judge asked to make binding orders to ensure the person’s rights are protected.
Importantly, the proposed Tasmanian human rights act would not allow courts to strike down laws as invalid. MPs would always hold the ultimate decision about what the law should be.
If well written and properly implemented, a Human Rights Act would help vulnerable and marginalised people in direct and practical ways. Ultimately, the laws would help build a more egalitarian Tasmanian and guarantee a fair go for all.
So, please consider signing the petition and I look forward to reporting back on Human Rights Day 2017 on the progress we have made.
Richard Griggs is lead petitioner: www.tashumanrightsact.org He is also State Director of Civil Liberties Australia.