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Lawyers condemn move away from human rights laws

Lawyers condemn move away from human rights laws

Australian lawyers are voicing their concerns about the government's move yesterday to shy away from a National Human Rights Act for Australia.

AUSTRALIAN lawyers are voicing their concerns about the government’s move yesterday to shy away from a National Human Rights Act for Australia.

Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland yesterday launched a Human Rights Framework that outlines measures to protect human rights in Australia. But a notable omission to the new measures is the promise of a Human Rights Act, for which the legal profession has pushed for years.

McClelland announced yesterday the changes would have “broad effect” and would enhance an understanding of human rights. It includes an investment of $12 million in education initiatives, and the establishment of a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights to provide better scrutiny of legislation.

Lawyers say the framework does not go far enough.

The Government’s move comes after a comprehensive report, released in October and developed by the National Human Rights Committee, recommended the adoption of the laws.

The Law Council of Australia and the Law Institute of Victoria have both expressed support for an Act, and lawyers now say the Government has “missed a golden opportunity”.

Law Institute of Victoria president Steven Stevens said the government has missed an opportunity to show national leadership.

Victoria has had a human rights charter since 2007, he said, and “the sky hasn't fallen in”.

"On the contrary, the Victorian experience has shown that legislative protection of human rights leads to better government decisions and the rights of people being protected.”

"The courts, the government, the public service and welfare agencies operate under our Charter and it is playing an important role in protecting rights of all Victorians," he said.

Stevens said a Human Rights Act would have better protected marginalised and disadvantaged people, improved the quality and accountability of government policy and service delivery, and bolstered the government's Social Inclusion Agenda.

"There is no doubt that an Australian Human Rights Act would have made a genuine positive difference," Stevens said.

The LIV submission to the National Human Rights Consultation supports the establishment of a National Human Rights Act based on the Victorian Human Rights Charter but with further protections.

The legal body yesterday welcomed McClelland's announcement that the Government would streamline federal anti-discrimination legislation into one single comprehensive law.

The LIV also welcomed the establishment of a joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights to review new legislation for human rights compatibility and the decision to require Statements of Compatibility to be tabled with all new Bills, a provision Victoria already has.


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