The following presentation was given as part of a public forum on human rights in Australia. Questions and discussion followed the presentation.
Going it alone – Why Australia (still) needs a Charter of human rights
I am going to address four questions in order to begin our conversation:
1. What is a Charter of rights?
2. What’s in a Charter of rights?
3. Who cares if Australia is going it alone?
4. What happened in the last national debate?
Australia is the only liberal Western democracy without a comprehensive list of human rights framed by Constitution or in statutory law (at a national level). Moreover we have had several debates over the years about whether to enact one, most recently in 2008-10 when there was a major national consultation. In each instance the proposal for a human rights ‘Charter’ of some form has failed.
It is especially curious that Australia has not enacted a ‘Charter of rights’ as we have a well-known reputation of advocating for human rights on the international stage. In fact, just over a week ago on 22 May, Australia recommended that Tunisia enshrine a rights into the country’s law and Constitution,
‘We recommend Tunisia formally codify in domestic law its international legal commitments… We further recommend that the new Constitution protects all fundamental human rights.’
Yet our own domestic laws and Constitution contain limited formal codification of our international human rights commitments… Read more here: Friday Forum_seminar presentation-June 2012.