media release

April 21, 2010

Charter defeat paves way to better uphold human rights through democratic processes

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) today welcomed the Federal Government’s decision not to proceed with a proposed charter of rights which would have handed unelected judges unprecedented power in Australia over moral and social policy while doing little to actually benefit human rights.

ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace said that the Government’s decision shows that they have listened to the genuine and valid concerns of a wide cross section of the Christian community on this issue, as well as the concerns of former governors general, High Court judges, retired generals and prominent politicians on both sides of politics, among others.

“Christians care deeply about the need to uphold human rights, particularly the rights of the most vulnerable,” Mr Wallace said. “This issue was never about whether human rights should be protected, but how best to protect them.

“There has been a great deal of concern – borne out by Victorian and overseas experiences – that if an Australian Human Rights Act had been implemented it would have threatened some of the basic freedoms Australians take for granted. We strongly believe that this was not the way to go, and that the best way to protect human rights is through specific tailored legislation relevant to the right in question which is debated robustly in the democratic forum of parliament.”

Mr Wallace said that during the consultation period over the proposed charter of rights several issues were raised about possible human rights infringements that should be given greater attention by the Federal Government.

“Some issues, such as concerns over the rights of asylum seekers and Indigenous Australians have been very much in the public eye and – in the tradition of the Westminster system - the Government will be clearly held accountable at the ballot box for decisions made about how to address them,” Mr Wallace said.

“However it is important that attention is also paid to less high-profile human rights issues raised at the consultation, such as specific case-by-case concerns over how people with disabilities and the homeless are treated by Government and community services,” he said.

“We need to ensure that democratic oversight of human rights issues is working in the best way possible for everyone in the community, especially the vulnerable and disempowered. In this respect we strongly welcome the Government’s plan to provide greater parliamentary scrutiny of legislation in terms of human rights, as well as their plan to establish a national education campaign on human rights.

“While no system is perfect, Australia’s free press, parliamentary democracy, Common Law and independent judiciary have helped ensure Australia’s human rights record is the envy of people all over the world. Let’s now build on that record to ensure that vulnerable people aren’t falling through the cracks.”