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Helping to learn human rights lessons

Helping to learn human rights lessons

CLA has made a formal submission to the West Australian Consultative Committee on a possible Human Rights Bill. At the request of the WA CC chair, Mr Fred Chaney, CLA’s submission explores the lessons learned from five years of consultation/implementation of a human rights act – the first in Australia – in the ACT.


The debate about introducing a Human Rights Act in WA starts from a more informed base than in 2002 in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). In early 2002, there was no Bill, Act or Charter of Rights in Australia. The ACT was the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce one, from 1 July 2004.

Reviewing the process now, five years on, several things are clear to CLA:

  • proposing a bill of rights is ‘courageous’ (in Yes, Minister terms).
  • public consultation and debate is a useful end in itself towards a better informed and aware community – not a word is wasted.
  • the ACT’s move started a wave of rights debate in Australia (global
    terrorism’s coincident rise also caused discussion of community values
    and security tradeoffs), likely to continue for decades.
  • since the ACT, other States – and Australia – also began to debate:
    • what rights and responsibilities mean and how to balance them;
    • how can rising standards mesh with changing values; and
    • how can Australia (or a particular State/Territory) spread
      prosperity more widely throughout the community.
  • ideally, there would be a national bill of rights, reflected in:
    • compatible State and Teritory rights acts,
    • Local Government ‘bills of rights’, and
    • a bill or charter of rights for private sector organizations for twoway dealings with the public.
  • an international ‘bill of rights” for trade/commerce is also needed.

Commenting specifically on the Australian situation in late2007:§ being first, the enacted ACT legislation in 2004 was overly timid;

    Victorian Charter of Rights, in 2006/7, was slightly more robust in giving a right of action to individuals;

  • each new State adopting a human rights act can build on the ACT and Victoria, and move Australia closer to leading human rights nations and societies like Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Europe;
  • however, there would be distinct advantage nationally in Australia if a newlyadopting State had broadly similar, if not identical, legislation to the ACT and/or Victoria.

The full article is avaiable in a PDF file (357kb) by clicking here.

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