A community forum to discuss a bill of rights for Australia was held last Saturday at Leichhardt Town Hall. Three brilliant speakers addressed an old fashion meeting of over 300 people “ Julian Burnside QC, refugee rights advocate, Susan Ryan AO, former Commonwealth Minster and Chair of Human Rights Act for Australia campaign, and Rob Hulls, Attorney General of Victoria. The event was organised by the ALP Port Jackson FEC and chaired by Verity firth, Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney City Council.
Julian Burnside explained how his work on refugee cases had led him to change his mind on whether Australia needs a Bill of Rights. He urged people not to think that a US-style Bill of Rights is the only option and noted that there are a number of modern incarnations that Australia can draw on. He also explained why the commonly held view that the common law and the parliament are the best protectors of rights is false. He did this by demonstrating just how few limits are placed on the powers of parliament “ for example, there is nothing to stop the parliament from passing a law that kills blue eyed babies. Download
Susan Ryan explained how people can act to strengthen rights protection in Australia. She explained the origins of the Human Rights Act for Australia campaign and the aims. She also responded to a number of criticisms that the Prime Minister made against a Bill of Rights in his Australia Day address. Download
Rob Hulls, Attorney General of Victoria, described the process that had led to the Victorian Government committing to a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities. He discussed the consultation that had been chaired by Professor George Williams and the overwhelming support for strengthening the legislative protection of rights in Victoria. Download
Verity Firth discussed the concerns in the community for the most offensive aspects of the anti-terrorism legislation “ preventative detention, control orders, sedition. She explained that the community needed forums such as this one to discuss these issues and register its disappointment with our elected representatives for passing these laws and doing so in such a irresponsible manner. Download
At the end of the meeting two motions were unanimously carried calling for the enactment of state and federal protections of human rights.
The Human Rights Act for Australia Campaign encourages other groups to hold community forums such as this and would be prepared to help arrange speakers to participate.
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