As the Australia 2020 Summit date approaches, there has been growing criticism of the liberal agendas of those selected to take part, especially on the issue of a bill of rights.
Some of Australia’s sharpest legal minds have been invited to the 2020 summit, to be held at Parliament House on 19 and 20 April, to discuss the future shape of the nation. Topics on the agenda include governance, Indigenous culture, foreign affairs, the economy and productivity. The republican debate and anti-terrorism laws are tipped to take centre stage.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has claimed that the summit will not be a “talkfest”. If this is truly the case, he probably shouldn’t have invited so many lawyers, joked Julian Burnside QC, who will be participating in the panel session on governance.
“I was going to say if it’s not going to be a talkfest, then I suppose we’ll have to communicate in sign language,” he said. “I guess what [Rudd] means is that it’s not a whole bunch of people grandstanding, and I share that view.”
Several lawyers attending the summit are long-time supporters of the introduction of a bill of rights, including Burnside, Victorian barrister Susan Brennan SC, Brisbane barrister and former attorney-general of Queensland Matt Foley and Minter Ellison lawyer Phoebe Knowles (see news review p20).
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissioner (HREOC) Graeme Innes will also advocate a charter of rights, the first time HREOC has taken such a strong stance on the issue.
Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland has adamantly ruled out the possibility of a constitutional bill of rights, but the Labor Government has committed itself to “consult over a non-binding charter of rights”.
Only last week, the controversy surrounding the issue grew following accusations of left-wing bias and the withdrawal of two former High Court justices— former chief justice Anthony Mason, and Mary Gaudron. A third former High Court judge, former governor-general Sir William Deane, remains on the summit panel.
No one knows quite what to expect at the summit. According to one participant, it is likely that on the first day the groups of 100 will be split into smaller groups and will produce ideas which will then be presented to the group of 100. The following day, the group of 100 will present their ideas to the group of 1,000.
Burnside, president of Liberty Victoria, predicted that the summit will necessarily address the “predictable topics” such as the bill of rights and the republic, but hopes that political grandstanding will not stand in the way of innovative thinking at the summit.
“I would really like to see it as a place as all sorts of innovative ideas are possible and will be received in a constructive manner because if we’re redesigning our future, let’s try and think up things that haven’t been tried in the past, or haven’t been dealt with seriously in the past,” he said.
“Things like the debate on the republic, national bill of rights and so on; you really don’t have to be a genius to come up with those ideas. In a way I rather hope that those ideas don’t dominate the discussion because it is self-evident that they are ideas out there to be considered.”