The legislative component of the Federal Government’s response to the Human Rights Consultation, headed by Father Frank Brennan, was tabled in parliament this week by Attorney-General Robert McClelland (pictured).

The Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Bill 2010 (and a further consequential amendments bill) will increase the parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. The bill establishes a new Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, which will be responsible for examining legislation for human rights compliance, and will have the capacity to undertake inquiries.

The bill also creates the requirement that all new bills introduced into parliament must be accompanied by a statement of compatibility with Australia’s international human rights obligations. These obligations are outlined is seven core international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Additional parliamentary scrutiny of legislation for human rights compliance is part of the Government’s ‘Human Rights Framework’, which is the Government’s response to the Brennan inquiry report.

That report recommended the enactment of a Human Rights Act, which would have shifted some political power to the courts. The Government fortunately rejected that suggestion.

ACL welcomes the introduction of the parliamentary scrutiny bills, which ensures that the rights and interests of vulnerable Australians will properly be considered in the process of policy development and legislative change.

It also means that the final determination on how to balance competing, and often contentious, ‘rights’ remain in the hands of elected and accountable officials, not the courts.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has also welcomed the bills, saying they “had the potential to more closely align Australia’s domestic systems of protection with our international human rights commitments”. For a short media report about the changes, please click here.