If a government is required to consider human rights while making decisions, a transparent dialogue with the people is created – the people can see their government cares about their rights.
When MP Peter Wellington supported the Labor Party to form government in February, they agreed to look at the issue of a Human Rights Act for Queensland.
Since then thousands of Queenslanders have demonstrated that they want action by petitioning the Premier.
The campaign for a Human Rights Act for Queensland is pushing for legislative protective of human rights. This type of legislation exists in Victoria, the ACT, the UK and New Zealand.
A Human Rights Act does two things – it improves how government operates and it provides people with recourse when their rights are violated. The human rights legislation that exists in Victoria and the ACT protects the rule of law by putting constraints on the exercise of power. This constraint is simply to require each arm of government to consider human rights in their decision-making process.
So, for example, a Member of Parliament who introduces a Bill into Parliament must prepare a statement of whether the bill is compatible with human rights. Bills must also be scrutinised by a parliamentary committee who must report to Parliament as to whether the bill is compatible with human rights. Parliament is able to pass laws that are not compatible with human rights. However, if they do so they must explain the exceptional circumstances that justify their actions.
A Human Rights Act is an ordinary piece of legislation – it is not a US Bill of Rights that would mean that judges can interfere with the parliament's law-making powers and it won't mean that Queenslanders have the right to bear arms.
Human rights legislation has changed things for people in Victoria and the ACT. Former Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls says it has:
- Meant better accessibility on public transport;
- Given older same-sex couples access to superannuation benefits;
- Meant that the right to a fair hearing has been better enforced;
- Saved single mothers, elderly people and people with disability from eviction; and
- Meant something as simple as a man living with disability in shared supported accommodation was finally allowed access to his own mail and a woman in residential care had her right to privacy when showering better protected.
In response to the campaign, the Attorney-General, Yvette D’Ath, has announced the Government will refer the matter of a Human Rights Act for Queensland to a Parliamentary Inquiry.She said “this is an important conversation to be having and its certainly the right time to be having it.”
To ensure the momentum for an Act continues, the Human Rights Act for Queensland group want the inquiry set up immediately so that it will run in the first half of next year.
Sign up for more information and updates on the Human Rights Act for Queensland website.