There is a compelling case for Queensland to have a Human Rights Act according Griffith Law School Dean Professor Pene Mathew.
“In this age of terror we have seen many encroachments on traditional civil liberties,’’ Professor Mathew said.
“There is also a law and order campaign around border control and we have seen people detained arbitrarily as a matter of international law, but legally under domestic Australian law.
“While politicians naturally do seek to protect citizens from harm, there is a tendency to overreach and use moral panics for electoral gain, while rights are trampled upon.”
Professor Mathew warned that democracy is not necessarily going to be a magic bullet, as majorities get caught up in fear campaigns.
“And as there is no upper house in Queensland, one of the traditional checks and balances in Australian parliamentary systems is missing.
“There are jurisdictions where these rights are enshrined in law and even the constitution – South Africa for example, has a Constitutional Bill of Rights. Victoria and the ACT both have legislative bills of rights.”
In these two Australian jurisdictions, new legislation must be systematically vetted against internationally recognised human rights. Courts also have the power to determine whether legislation is consistent with human rights. Unlike a constitutional Bill of Rights, parliament, not the courts, has the final say. There is a dialogue between the judiciary and parliament.
“But human rights are broader than civil and political rights, and include economic, social and cultural rights.”
In the ACT, a limited right to education has been introduced into the Human Rights Act.
“Queensland should include economic, social and cultural rights in a Human Rights Act,” she said.
Crucial to the success of such an act is the process of putting theory into practice and creating a culture of human rights protection.
“We need lawyers to champion the bill of rights to learn about human rights jurisprudence from around the globe and use it in the courts.
“We need judicial training programs that incorporate human rights. We need human rights commissions that are well resourced to run good campaigns around human rights for the general public.”
Professor Mathew was a panel speaker at a Human Rights Forum in Brisbane last week. The panel was co-sponsored by Caxton Legal Service and the new Law Futures Centre at Griffith University.
A Human Rights Act for Queensland. A Human Rights Act sets out in law the rights that all individuals have. These rights include civil and political rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of association and a fair trial, as well as socio-economic rights like the right to work and adequate housing. These are all rights that the Commonwealth government has agreed upon through international treaties. However, without implementing legislation, these treaties remain statements of intent, with limited impact within Australia.