Former prime minister John Howard has weighed back into public debate this week, throwing punches at both state and Federal Labor and labelling the push towards an Australian bill of rights a "misguided path" for the nation.
Speaking at the annual Menzies lecture at the University of Western Australia on Thursday 27 August, Howard invoked the legacy of fellow lawyer and former Liberal party leader Robert Menzies.
"If Menzies were still with us, he would most assuredly be passionately opposed to a bill of rights for Australia," Howard said.
"It would have been against the instinct of every bone in his common law body. Moreover, it would impinge on his deep reverence for Parliament."
Referring to his personal objections, the former prime minster claimed that a bill of rights would reduce the rights of citizens and put power in the hands of unelected and unaccountable judges.
He also accused the Rudd Government of elitism and shirking responsibility on the issue.
"In the Australian context, the adoption of a charter or bill of rights would represent the final triumph of elitism in Australian politics," he said.
"I had always thought that a member of parliament was a decision-maker and not a buck-passer. I have always held to the classical view that the public elects members of parliament who pass laws, hopefully in the public interest, and those laws are in turn interpreted and enforced by the courts. That sentiment is at the heart of my objection to a bill of rights."
Howard labelled the Victorian State Government's statute a "poor man's bill of rights" and accused it of unfairly targeting the state's religious schools.
Touching on his own government's human rights record, Howard defended its decision to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act.
"Not only was the government's decision the right one, it was also right that the government, accountable to Parliament and elected by the people, should have the unfettered power to make that decision."
In his closing remarks, Howard quoted one of Australia's most prominent High Court judges, Sir Harry Gibbs. "The late Sir Harry Gibbs, a former chief justice of the High Court of Australia, crystallised the issue when he said: "If society is tolerant and rational it does not need a bill of rights. If it is not, no bill of rights will preserve it"."
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