Today's decision by the Federal Government to scrap plans for a national Human Rights Act has been met with disappointment by key law bodies and human rights advocates.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland made the announcement today, stating that instead of an Act, the Government would work towards implementing a Human Rights Framework to better protect the fundamental rights of Australians.
Law Council of Australia (LCA) president Glenn Ferguson expressed disappointment with the Government's decision, which he says was taken despite research and recommendations which pointed to the necessity of an Act.
"The National Consultation Report identified significant gaps in Australia's rights protection system and made over 30 recommendations for reform," said Ferguson.
"While any measures designed to address this gap in protection are positive, the Government's decision to steer clear of implementing a Human Rights Act means we will continue to lack a comprehensive legal framework to protect the basic rights of all Australians."
While debate as to the merits of a Human Rights Act has produced many voices for and against, the LCA has long argued that a national Human Rights Act is the most effective way to ensure the rights of all Australians are adequately protected.
"While many Australians enjoy a high standard of living and the security that comes from living in a stable democracy, there are others who regularly experience fear, hunger, homelessness, powerlessness and discrimination," said Ferguson.
"For these people, lack of adequate human rights protection affects their ability to be free from arbitrary detention, to be treated equally before the law and to be treated with dignity and respect in the community."
The Human Rights Law Resource Centre (HRLRC), which has been a vocal advocate for the implementation on an Act, also criticised the Government's decision.
"A Human Rights Act deferred is human rights denied," said executive director Philip Lynch.
"The Government's deferral of a Human Rights Act until at least 2014 - when the Framework will be reviewed - is a denial of the many benefits which demonstrably accompany such an Act."
Lynch argued there was ample evidence from Victoria and the ACT - which have their own Human Rights Acts - to show that a national Act would not only make the Government more accountable, but improve public services, address poverty, and enshrine fundamental and unifying values.
"The homeless, the elderly, people with mental illness and children with disability ... must wait at least another four years before their human rights are adequately protected and promoted at the national level," he said.
While Lynch agrees with the Attorney-General in his statement that the "enhancement of human rights should be done in a way that unites us", Lynch believes that a national Act would not - as argued by the Act's opponents - be divisive.
"As demonstrated by the Apology," said Lynch, "political leadership and vision can unite people, even on controversial issues. That is particularly the case when what is being proposed is good, evidence-based policy that resonates deeply with our Australian commitment to respect, tolerance, fairness, freedom and the rule of law."
The Law insitute of Victoria (LIV) said the Government has "missed a golden opportunity" by not following the lead of Victoria.
"We have had a Human Rights Charter operating in Victoria since 2007 and the sky hasn't fallen in," said LIV president Steven Stevens.
"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 ... There is no doubt that an Australian Human Rights Act would have made a genuine positive difference."
According to the Government, the proposed Human Rights Framework will include measures to protect and promote human rights both domestically and internationally.
This will include an investment of $2 million over four years for the development and delivery of education and engagement programs to promote greater understanding of human rights, the development of a National Action Plan on Human Rights - to be lodged with the United Nations - outlining future action for the protection and promotion of human rights, and the creation of an annual NGO Human Rights Forum.
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