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Community groups call on the Queensland government to introduce a Human Rights Act

11-Jun-2016

Community groups call for human rights act in Queensland

The Queensland Government has almost finished a long-promised inquiry into whether the state needs a human rights act which would ensure law makers and judges abide by a charter. Labor agreed to the inquiry to clinch the support of a key independent, allowing Annastacia Palaszczuk to form government. The push from human rights advocates for the Act may not be enough because of opposition from some lawyers who like the way things work at the moment, reports Katherine Gregory.

TONY EASTLEY: The Queensland Government is almost finished a long-promised inquiry into whether the state needs a human rights act which would ensure law makers and judges abided by a charter.

Labor agreed to the inquiry to clinch the support of a key independent, allowing Anastacia Paluschuk to form government.

But as Katherine Gregory reports, the push from human rights advocates for the act may not be enough because of opposition from some lawyers who like things the way they are.

KATHERINE GREGORY: The simple act of getting on a bus, accessing basic government services and being treated as an equal by hospitality staff.

Nigel Webb, who has cerebral palsy, says these things are virtually impossible for disabled people across Australia to achieve.

NIGEL WEBB: Usually they're issues of decision-making and choice for people and sometimes it's around physical access issues.

One of the ways people with disabilities are regularly discriminated against is not having information presented to them in the way they understand. Even one of our largest organisations, Centrelink, continues to send people with vision impairment written material in the post.

KATHERINE GREGORY: Mr Webb is also the chairperson of the Queensland Disability Network and is behind a campaign to establish a human rights act in the state.

NIGEL WEBB: It empowers marginalised and vulnerable individuals and communities. So if somebody with a disability wants to make a complaint, about a particular service or response they've received, they have to have a clear and transparent process in place the person with a disability can actually access.

KATHERINE GREGORY: The Queensland Government this week held a public inquiry in Brisbane into whether the act is needed.

It heard from the legal sector and community organisations.

Shane Duffy is the chief executive of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service and says Indigenous people in Queensland, who make up the majority of people incarcerated, don't get fair legal treatment.

SHANE DUFFY: Because there's no clear framework for those protection of our rights when our rights are not given, the Government decision-making has been flawed, and as I said the incarceration rates are and child protection are two examples of that.

KATHERINE GREGORY: Mr Duffy says Aboriginal people are also racially profiled far too often by Queensland Police, but in Victoria, which has a human rights act, the culture has changed.

SHANE DUFFY: Where the police have started addressing discriminatory practices of racial profiling by developing human rights based policies standards and strategies when dealing with Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people.

KATHERINE GREGORY: The inquiry, which has also travelled to North Queensland, has political origins.

It was sparked by a demand from independent Peter Willington last Queensland election.

He gave his support to the Palaszczuk Government, clinching Labor's win, on the proviso it consider the act.

Bill Potts is the President of the Queensland Law Society and says he's impressed so far with how the Government has responded to the deal.

BILL POTTS: I've spoken to a number of the ministers and backbenchers and all of them have expressed considerable interest in at least having the debate and having the argument.

KATHERINE GREGORY: But Mr Potts says his organisation, on behalf of senior judges, is also presenting the negatives to having a human rights act.

BILL POTTS: The common law, that is system of government that we have by way of elections, by way of an independent court, and various tribunals, already have a substantive role in protecting human rights and those rights are not in fact made better by the signing of a charter.

KATHERINE GREGORY: Mr Potts also points out that the next government can abolish the act if it wants to.

Aimee McVeigh is the coordinator of the Queensland human rights act campaign and says the act is imperative.

Queensland is particularly vulnerable because there is no upper house.

AIMEE MCVEIGH: There is a concern about the level of scrutiny that occurs when legislation is developed, and so one thing that a human right act does is in the development of legislation it requires Parliament to actually report on whether this legislation is going to limit the human rights of Queenslanders.

KATHERINE GREGORY: The inquiry will report its findings to at the end of this month, but the decision will ultimately be up to the Government.

TONY EASTLEY: Katherine Gregory.

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