The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has backed the policy of the Greens to introduce a human rights Act in New South Wales.
ALA legal policy officer Patrick Coetsee presented his organisation's policy yesterday (10 March) on this issue after NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge launched his party's proposed Human Rights Act.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Coetsee said the Greens consulted with the ALA prior to the party unveiling its policy. Coetsee said that he didn't believe it was inappropriate for the ALA to endorse a political party's policy during an election campaign.
"The ALA supports a Bill of Rights for NSW, and the Greens are the only political party in NSW to actually propose this," he said. "They have taken the initiative to develop policy in this area, and the ALA supports this policy rather that any particular political party."
Coetsee noted that Victoria and the ACT have introduced a Bill of Rights, and this had helped to protect the rights of vulnerable and marginalised people, such as the disabled, in those two jurisdictions.
"Both the ACT and Victoria faced significant opposition in introducing legislation in this area, but since its introduction it has been very successful," Coetsee said. "There is always a level of nervousness when discussing a Bill of Rights, with people thinking of the American experience, but the model adopted by Victoria and the ACT has ensured that the rights of its citizens are protected by law."
The ACT became the first Australian state or territory to have a Bill of Rights when its Human Rights Act became operational in July 2004. Victoria followed suit in July 2007 with its Charter of Rights and Responsibilities.
Shoebridge said that the Greens proposed Bill of Rights in NSW was drafted after extensive consultation with community and legal groups, gay and lesbian groups, civil rights organisations, Aboriginal groups and members of the public.
The ALA has set itself the target of ensuring every Australian state and territory has its own protective human rights instrument by 2015.