A Human Rights Act for Queensland would show people their government cares.

13-Oct-2015 If a government is required to consider human rights while making decisions, a transparent dialogue with the people is created – the people can see their government cares about their rights writes Aimee McVeigh in the Brisbane Times

Human Rights Act for Queensland would show people their government cares

If a government is required to consider human rights while making decisions, a transparent dialogue with the people is created – the people can see their government cares about their rights.

When MP Peter Wellington supported the Labor Party to form government in February, they agreed to look at the issue of a Human Rights Act for Queensland.
Since then thousands of Queenslanders have demonstrated that they want action by petitioning the Premier.

Organisations representing many sectors of the community are working together on a campaign calling on the government to introduce a Human Rights Act.

The former ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope, reflecting on the time leading up to his government's decision to introduce a Human Rights Act, spoke about the experience of losing voters who would have been voting for the Labor Party if the party had only behaved in a way that they expected Labor to behave.

"We had to show them that we were interested in human rights, a just society, freedom from discrimination, equality of opportunity, the rule of law and that we would support those who required support to be able to participate in the life of the community."

Mr Stanhope said he had no doubt a deep commitment to human rights, the very centre of which was the introduction of a Human Rights Act, was fundamental to his government's long-term success. 
A Human Rights Act does two things – it improves how government operates and it provides people with recourse when their rights are violated.

The human rights legislation that exists in Victoria and the ACT protects the rule of law by putting constraints on the exercise of power. This constraint is simply to require each arm of government to consider human rights in their decision-making process.

So, for example, a Member of Parliament who introduces a Bill into Parliament must prepare a statement of whether the bill is compatible with human rights.
Bills must also be scrutinised by a parliamentary committee who must report to Parliament as to whether the bill is compatible with human rights.

Parliament is able to pass laws that are not compatible with human rights. However, if they do so they must explain the exceptional circumstances that justify their actions.

A Human Rights Act is an ordinary piece of legislation – it is not a US Bill of Rights that would mean that judges can interfere with the parliament's law-making powers and it won't mean that Queenslanders have the right to bear arms.

Human rights legislation has changed things for people in Victoria and the ACT.

Former Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls says it has:
  • Meant better accessibility on public transport;
  • Given older same-sex couples access to superannuation benefits;
  • Meant that the right to a fair hearing has been better enforced;
  • Saved single mothers, elderly people and people with disability from eviction; and 
  • Meant something as simple as a man living with disability in shared supported accommodation was finally allowed access to his own mail and a woman in residential care had her right to privacy when showering better protected.

A month ago the Queensland Government committed to holding a parliamentary inquiry into the issue of a Human Rights Act for Queensland. 

When announcing the inquiry, Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said, "this is an important conversation to be having and it certainly the right time to be having it".

She said: "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. This government is a passionate defender of human rights; the protection of human rights is central to our policy platform." 

These sentiments echo those of Mr Stanhope: "My attitude was that it was an important and good thing to do … I saw it as a strong signal of our commitment to human rights and Labor values."

The Queensland Government should embrace this reform as a way to define themselves according to their respect for the parameters of office. It is an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy that respects, protects and fulfils the government's human rights obligations to Queenslanders.

The Attorney-General's stated commitment to defending human rights can be demonstrated by referring the issue immediately to a parliamentary committee so that we can all join the conversation about a Human Rights Act for Queensland in the first part of next year.


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