It’s time for a Human Rights Act for Australia. We have waited too long

by John Menadue

It really is time for our national parliament to legislate for an Australian Human Rights Act. Image: iStock
Our record in protecting our human rights is being seriously eroded in many areas -the right to silence, the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment and freedom from arbitrary detention.
In the name of counter-terrorism both the government and the opposition have traded our freedoms away. Instead of carefully weighing freedoms and security, the balance has swung dramatically against our freedoms. The Law Council of Australia and many others have expressed concerned about the erosion of our legal rights across a wide front.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has called for Australia to introduce comprehensive legislation to protect human rights in accordance with Australia’s obligations as a party to no less than seven international human rights treaties. We have consistently refused to implement this recommendation.
There is a long history of concern and support for a national Human Rights Act as far back as Federation. More recently with Susan Ryan, Spencer Zifcak and others, we launched in 2005 a committee and a campaign in the Sydney Town Hall for a Human Rights Act for All Australians. See link to ‘Human Rights Act for Australia Campaign – a model statute’.
After widespread consultation across Australia, we drafted ‘A Human Rights Bill 2009‘.
The Rudd government appointed Frank Brennan to report on a Human Rights Act for Australia. Regrettably, the Rudd Government was persuaded by opponents that our rights were best protected by politicians rather than judges. Seriously!
It’s time to pick up again the work that Susan Ryan, Spencer Zifcak and many others commenced 17 years ago for a Human Rights Act for Australia that protects all treaty based rights and freedoms including some economic and social rights such as the right to housing for all citizens. Securing freedom of religion is desirable but does nothing to address our more serious human rights violations.
It really is time for our national parliament to legislate for an Australian Human Rights Act. A model statute is available for consideration.