SPURRED ON by the Australian Capital Territory’s move to adopt a Bill of Rights, the Law Society of New South Wales is calling on the Law Council of Australia to take up a position on a Bill of Rights for Australia as the federal election approaches.
Following the lead of Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand, all of which have adopted their own Bill of Rights, the Australian Capital Territory will codify the civil and political rights of its citizens from 1 July this year.
Given the “impetus” of the ACT’s Human Rights Act 2004 on the local front, president of the NSW Law Society, Gordon Salier, said the time was right to be discussing a national Bill of Rights.
“While it is encouraging to see this legislation, it would be preferable to have one single national approach to enshrining our rights rather than a state-by-state piecemeal system,” Salier said.
Countries with legal systems similar to our own have a codified rights framework, Salier noted, including the United Kingdom and Canada, so “the real question is why Australia does not have a Bill of Rights”.
The need for a national Bill has also been strengthened by international events, Salier suggested. “Internationally, the climate of uncertainty caused by terrorist threats has seen the strengthening of security powers and the commensurate curtailing of individual rights.”
A Bill of Rights, Salier said, would ensure Australia’s democratic rights are not lost amidst these international events. “We have to be cautious that the very democratic rights we are hoping to protect are not relinquished in the process.”
While acknowledging that ensuring national security was the obligation of government, the Law Society said that security legislation will almost always infringe on individual and community rights.
“There is a need to balance national security interests with the need to uphold and protect human rights,” Salier said.