Media Release: Wednesday, 6 May, 2009

The fact that the Australian Human Rights Commission can get around the constitutional role of the courts by injecting itself into the processes for a charter of rights is hardly likely to evoke confidence, and doesn’t address the central question of whether a charter is the best or even a necessary safeguard of human rights, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) said today.

ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace said that the Australian public had already comprehensively knocked back via referendum proposals to enshrine various rights in the constitution and they should not have a charter of rights foisted on them without their agreement through another referendum.

“In September 1988 the majority of Australians (69.2 per cent) resoundingly rejected proposed legislation to place in the constitution several civil rights such as the right to trial by jury, freedom of religion, and rights regarding the compulsory acquisition of property,” Mr Wallace said.

“The AHRC has continued to push this barrow, but there has been nothing to show that public opinion has changed since then. The current National Consultation on Human Rights is showing itself to be far from representative and it certainly shouldn’t be judged as an accurate gauge of community opinion. Only another referendum could do this.”

Mr Wallace said that this is not a question of whether human rights should be protected or not – of course they should be. It is a matter of how best to do it.

“The real issue is what is the best way to protect human rights and there is a great deal to recommend the time-honoured method in Australia of doing this through specific tailored legislation relevant to the right in question,” he said.

“Charter proponents seem to forget that Australia is one of the freest countries in the world and our nation has shown itself to be very sensitive to what we see as violations of human rights – without having had a federal bill or charter of rights.

“Whether or not the constitutional impediments can be overcome, the Federal Government should not go ahead with such a momentous change unless it clearly knows the will of the people. This can only be achieved through a referendum.”

Media Contact: Glynis Quinlan