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2010 Media Release: Human rights bills should strengthen protections for all Australians

Commission Commission – General

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Human rights bills should strengthen protections for all Australians

The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed the introduction into federal Parliament today of two bills improving parliamentary scrutiny of human rights.

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Catherine Branson QC, said the measures proposed in the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Bill and the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) (Consequential Provisions) Bill had the potential to more closely align Australia’s domestic systems of protection with our international human rights commitments. 

“The Bills will focus attention on progress in implementing and respecting our human rights obligations under all seven major human rights treaties,” Ms Branson said.

“We welcome the breadth of these reforms and look forward to working with the federal government and Parliament to ensure that the full potential of these new processes translates to better protection of human rights across the community.”

Ms Branson particularly welcomed the proposal for a new Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and emphasised the importance of bipartisanship to its success.

“Human rights are not political tools and should be considered in a bipartisan way,” she said.

“We believe a joint committee is one of the most effective mechanisms Parliament can use to achieve this.

“The new Joint Parliamentary Committee has the potential to open up a broader dialogue on human rights at the heart of our democracy, including through its ability to conduct inquiries into significant human rights matters referred to it by the Attorney-General. Over time, it will also help to ensure that government and the Parliament consider human rights issues upfront and as a necessary requirement for any new law, rather than in an ad hoc way after the event.

“The Commission is also pleased to see the requirement for all legislation to be accompanied by a statement of compatibility with Australia’s international human rights obligations,” Ms Branson said.

“We look forward to engaging with the parliamentary Committee and with government departments to ensure that meaningful and robust statements are developed.

“However, to be truly useful, these statements must assist policy and legislative development from the outset, rather than being treated as an administrative requirement that is simply added on at the end stage of preparing a Bill.”

Ms Branson said lessons from the Victorian and ACT experience with Parliamentary scrutiny systems highlighted the importance of training the public service and decision-makers on human rights to engage with these reforms.

“Such training is a key component of the Australian Human Rights Framework and the Australian Human Rights Commission stands ready to assist the Attorney-General’s Department in developing tools and in contributing to training across the public service to support these important reforms,” she said.

Ms Branson also welcomed her appointment, and appointments of future Presidents of the Australian Human Rights Commission, to the Administrative Review Council (ARC).

“The appointment of the head of Australia’s national human rights institution to the ARC will contribute to ensuring that human rights are built into the administrative law system as it develops,” she said.

“I am personally looking forward to working with the other members of the Council to ensure that consideration of human rights becomes an important element of public decision-making.”

Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 951 or 0419 258 597