Victorian Government Moves to Support Human Rights … Against Vocal Christian Opposition
MEDIA RELEASE Friday 16 March 2012
Seek justice, defend the oppressed; take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)
IsaiahOne is encouraged by the Victorian Government’s commitment to key elements of Victoria’s Charter of Rights. The Government responded to a Charter Review report tabled by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC) in September 2011. The Government- majority SARC recommended far-reaching changes to the legislation. Against this, the Government responded by retaining at least two important features of the Charter, one, its role in relation to the courts (allowing courts to interpret legislation compatibly with human rights in the Charter); and two, retaining the Charter’s role in obligating public agencies and services to comply with Charter rights. In addition, the Government has undertaken to strengthen the use of the Charter in preparing legislation.
This approach is in line with the position of scores of submissions to the Charter review by welfare agencies. As IsaiahOne noted in its submission, many Christian agencies and leaders who work with the vulnerable and under-privileged argued that Victoria’s Charter had a valuable role in strengthening the accountability of Government. As IsaiahOne and others have pointed out, such benefits should be a major consideration for Christians in evaluating the worth of the Charter. IsaiahOne is pleased that the government did not agree with criticism from some Christian groups who called for its repeal on the basis that the Charter was ineffective and a threat to religious freedom.
The Government’s response, in particular regarding the scrutiny of legislation, should address concerns raised by many Christian submissions about the Charter’s effectiveness. The Charter has already advanced the level of human rights debate in Parliament above that in other states, as many submissions showed. It is to be expected that the Charter will continue to improve the accountability of Parliament in this respect. IsaiahOne also welcomes the Government’s decision to remove the redundant override power (s 31), which eroded rather than strengthened the Charter’s role in delivering more accountability on human rights.
IsaiahOne is however disappointed that the Government has decided to retain s 48, which relates to abortion laws. In its submission IsaiahOne argued that s 48 should be removed. The majority SARC report also recommended its removal.
The evidence to date is that Victoria’s Charter has delivered better outcomes on human rights. In light of this it is disappointing that the most prominent calls for repeal of the Charter came from sections of the Church. It is notable that a Coalition Government has rejected most of the recommendations put forward by such groups. It is more notable still that such submissions largely failed to recognise the evidence of the Charter’s benefits for the most disadvantaged Victorians.