Media Release: Embargoed until 6 pm, Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Contrary to providing for a fairer and more just society, the introduction of a bill or charter of rights would actually serve to undermine some existing freedoms Australians take for granted.

That’s the opinion of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), which tonight supported concerns about a charter of rights raised by Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, in an address to the Brisbane Institute.

“While such an initiative sounds virtuous, it would in reality serve to undermine democracy by, in effect, transferring the power to make laws away from a democratically elected Parliament to an unaccountable judiciary,” said ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace tonight. “Overseas experience shows this would occur despite assurances that a proposed Australian charter would not be allowed to undermine Parliament’s authority.

“As Cardinal Pell has rightly said, the push for a charter of rights is based on fictions such as courts being superior forums of principle where considerations such as power, ideology and compromise don’t come into play; as well as the concept that rights are ultimately about moral consensus rather than moral truth. Democratic lawmaking may be imperfect, but it is preferable to rule by the courts.”

Mr Wallace added that, even in recent weeks, some of the problems for Christian freedoms in having a bill or statute of rights have come to the fore. For example, the Victorian Government is currently reviewing exemptions to its Equal Opportunity Act to make sure they are compatible with its new charter of rights - putting at risk such important freedoms as allowing Christian schools and churches to only employ people who share the ethos of the schools or churches.

“It seems that freedoms Australians once took for granted can quickly come under threat once a bill or charter of rights is introduced,” Mr Wallace said. “A bill or charter of rights can also be a Trojan horse for minority agendas, which have failed to make the grade with voters. But with a bill or charter of rights there is no redress at the ballot box for those who don’t like it.”

Mr Wallace said that ACL strongly believes that every person has universal and innate rights and responsibilities by virtue of their humanity, and that these rights should be protected. “Australia should continue the use of specific tailored legislation to protect people’s rights. It is much more effective to define rights clearly and precisely in specific legislation relevant to the particular right in question, than enacting a bill or charter of rights which aims to guarantee general rights expressed in vague terms,” he said.

Media Contact: Glynis Quinlan