A Human Rights Act: What is it and why we need one in Queensland11-Feb-2016
Why Queensland needs a Human Rights Act
What is a Human Rights Act?
This means that a Human Rights Act does not stop the Government from pursuing good policies that may affect people’s rights. The reality is that all rights have limits and in most situations there are, in fact, competing rights. However, a Human Rights Act is a statement by the government that it supports fundamental human rights and that those rights will be considered by government in the introduction of new legislation.
Why do we need a Human Rights Act?
There are Human Rights Acts in the ACT, Victoria, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. In these jurisdictions, the respective Human Rights Acts operate in addition to the other rights safeguards, and the sky has not fallen. Rather, people’s lives have improved.
Queensland is not only lacking in human rights protection compared with some of our neighbouring states; we are also more vulnerable to abuses of process. Queensland is unique in having a unicameral parliament, meaning that there is only one house of parliament. There is no upper house to review the laws passed by the House of Representatives as in other states, where this mechanism acts as a fetter on government power.
A Human Rights Act would protect Queenslanders by explicitly requiring law-makers to turn their minds to the human rights implications of legislation, compensating to some extent for the lack of checks on government power embedded within the system.
Australians are lucky to live in one of the most prosperous, developed and civilised societies in the world. Despite this, we must not be complacent and there are, in fact, numerous human rights issues in Queensland right now that require redress. Among them is the lack of mental health services in rural and remote areas, the lack of availability of appropriate public housing, the treatment of vulnerable people with disability, the treatment of older people in nursing homes, domestic and family violence and the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children within the child protection system – including the failure to properly respect the child’s ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background.
The first step in addressing these human rights issues is the introduction of a Human Rights Act that clearly sets out our fundamental human rights, guarantees that the government will respect those rights and allows for redress when our rights have been violated.
Human Rights Acts have been successfully used in other jurisdictions to bring about better outcomes for vulnerable people. For example:
Housing: Human Rights Acts have been used to prevent homelessness. In the ACT the decision to evict a man and his three kids from crisis accommodation – which would have resulted in homelessness – was found to be an interference with his human rights and the Tribunal did not allow the eviction.
Disability: Human Rights Acts can help to protect the rights of people with disability, including their right to choice with respect to accommodation and support, their right not to be treated in a cruel, inhuman and degrading manner, and their right to liberty. In Victoria, a disability support worker who had been dismissed from employment after dragging a person with an intellectual disability across a carpeted hallway appealed his dismissal. The Supreme Court upheld the dismissal in part because the worker was found to have breached the right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Domestic violence: Human Rights Acts can help to protect the rights of women and children to freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, to liberty and security of person, to the highest attainable standard of health, to equality in marriage and family relations and to life. Human Rights Acts can give women who have experienced violence new tools when seeking protection of their rights, including access to adequate and appropriate services.
The way forward
The Queensland Government’s commitment to a parliamentary inquiry into a Human Rights Act in Queensland is an exciting step forward for Queensland. It is the first step in the walk towards a more humane, compassionate and progressive society.
What you can do:
- Getting the word out! Become a friend of the Rights for Queenslanders campaign, like our Facebook page and sign up for campaign updates (www.humanrights4qld.com.au), follow us on Twitter (https://twitter.com/hr4qld) and Instagram (https://instagram.com/explore/tags/humanrights4qld/)
- Writing to the Queensland Attorney-General expressing your support for her decision to refer the matter to an Inquiry (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Meeting with your local Member of Parliament and seeking their support
- Making a financial donation towards the cost of the campaign (www.humanrights4qld.com.au)
Dan Rogers is Director of Robertson O’Gorman Solicitors and Emma Phillips is Systems Advocate at Queensland Advocacy Incorporated.