Queensland Human Rights Act is no threat

Queensland Human Rights Act is no threat

Bill O'Chee says he is filled with fear over a possible Human Rights Act for Queensland.

Aimee McVeigh in the Brisbane Times tells O'Chee to relax.

The rights of people living in the ACT and Victoria have not been undermined by the human rights legislation that exists in those jurisdictions.

Their experience has been of improved delivery of public services and tangible benefits to individuals. Rob Hulls, former Victorian attorney-general, says that the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 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.
O'Chee is worried about how conflicts between individual rights would be resolved.
Let's remember that human rights legislation typically regulates the relationship between the government and the people rather than between individuals.

It is also clear that our justice system and society are well practised in balancing individual freedoms and the public interest – think bans on smoking in public spaces.

A Human Rights Act would contain a list of rights to be protected (while making it clear that existing rights continue to apply) and provide for limiting rights where it is justifiable. For example, the Victorian Charter provides for rights to be limited where it can be justified by a legitimate purpose and where the limitation is the least restrictive way of achieving that purpose.

Members of the public seem less apprehensive about a Human Rights Act than O'Chee.

Submissions to the current Human Rights Inquiry closed last week.

The community campaign for a Human Rights Act for Queensland has provided hundreds of submissions from the public to the inquiry. Over 95 per cent of these submissions support the introduction of a Human Rights Act in Queensland.

The submissions reveal that many of the people who support a Human Rights Act believe that a single piece of legislation that provides a statement of rights to be protected would simplify and improve the way that human rights are protected in Queensland.

People think that legislation is not currently properly scrutinised in Queensland. In part this is because we lack an upper house. The introduction of a Human Rights Act is supported because it would improve our system of checks and balances and provide protection from future governments seeking to unjustifiably limit our rights.

Rather than being something to fear, a well-drafted Human Rights Act would be a good thing for Queensland. It has the potential to improve the way that government does business and to provide people with a clear and accessible remedy when their rights are unjustifiably limited.

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