Published Friday April 13th in The Justinian:
Nick Bonyhady reports on what has happened to the proposed charter of human rights for bananabenders... A Labor government promise that is slow to materialise... Contention around what model to adopt... The next election will have arrived before the new law has properly taken effect.
THE Queensland Labor government seems to be slowrolling its planned human rights legislation, with no Bill presented to the parliament a year-and-a-half after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk first unveiled the plan at the Labor conference in October 2016. Aimee McVeigh, a solicitor who has been leading the campaign for a Queensland human rights charter, recently told The Australian:
"I don't know what the holdup is, but the government has continued to reassure us,including since the election, that it will happen."
Labor took the proposal to the election in 2017, which it won decisively. That removed the need for the government to have elaborate consultations to get crossbenchers onboard.
On two occasions in February this year, attorney general Yvette D'Ath reiterated that the Queensland government was moving ahead with establishing a Human Rights Act, but did not provide a timeline.
As of April, a spokeswoman for D'Ath said that a timetable for the legislation was "still to be determined".
To hurry the legislation along, former Labor Victorian attorney general Rob Hulls, under whom Victoria's human rights legislation was enacted, has gone into bat, meeting with several Queensland Labor figures.
The implementation of human rights legislation in the ACT and Victoria suggests that at least an 18-months time-frame is needed after the passage of the Bill to get departments and agencies compliant and ready to implement the legislation.
Time is ticking away with the next Queensland state election to be held on October 31, 2020, and rights activists are concerned that there will not be sufficient clear air to get the Act bedded down before the next polling day.
The Queensland Bill is set to be modelled on the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. However, unlike the Victorian legislation, the Queensland law was touted as allowing individuals to complain directly about human rights violations, rather than having to tack human rights claims onto existing causes of action.
A Queensland parliamentary committee had previously recommended adopting a weaker form of human rights protection, by which the government would merely have to consider human rights when enacting legislation - i.e. the insipid Commonwealth model.
Existing Australian human rights laws in other states enumerate a set of basic rights, which inform statutory interpretation and provide a grounds for appeal against improper government decisions.
Demand for a Queensland law gathered pace in 2013, after the Newman government took advantage of its majority in the single chamber of the parliament to pass several pieces of legislation that sacrificed basic freedoms on the altar of law and order.
When the government's anti-bikie legislation was passed in October 2013, Australian Human Rights Commission president, Gillian Triggs said:
"We have concerns that the very manner in which the Bills were passed rushed through without any form of public consultation carries with it serious human rights ramifications, as does the fact that they target people on the basis of who they associate with, rather than for something they have done."
For some, the Newman government's legislation was an echo of the Bjelke-Petersen era. The infamous premier once dismissed the whole concept of human rights with a curt: "What's the ordinary man in the street got to do with it?"
Advocates were delighted when Queensland Labor agreed to the idea of legislated protection for rights.
Hugh de Kretser, executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, said:
"It's great to see the Queensland government making good on its commitment to better protect human rights in law. At a time when many rights in Australia are being steadily chipped away, it's welcome to see a government draw a line in the sand and move to guarantee some of our fundamental rights in legislation."
Over $30,000 has been raised in a crowdfunding campaign to assist in keeping pressure on the Palaszczuk government to deliver the promised legislation.
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