Launch of the Human Rights Act Campaign in WA


On Tuesday, 18 April 2006, New Matilda‘s Western Australian campaign for a national Bill of Rights was launched in Perth, at an event hosted by the Institute of Advanced Studies of the University of Western Australia.

Leading Perth businesswoman and philanthropist Janet Holmes á Court hosted the event which featured speeches from retired Chief Justice of the WA Supreme Court (now Professor), David Malcolm, former State Premier and current Federal Member for Fremantle, Dr Carmen Lawrence, Associate Professor Spencer Zifcak of La Trobe University, and New Matilda‘s Policy Coordinator, Nicholas Carney.

The event was well attended by a crowd of more than 250 people, including at least four State members of the Western Australian Parliament.

Speaking first, Spencer Zifcak outlined the scope and intent of New Matilda‘s Draft Australian Human Rights Act pointing out, that our agenda is hardly revolutionary, reflecting no more than what are already ‘deeply held and enduring Australian values.’

Carmen Lawrence argued that since most Australians already agree that basic human rights are worthy of respect and recognition, then the debate is really about little more than the mechanics of protecting those rights.

David Malcolm’s view was that, given Australia’s unfortunate status as the only Western country without a national Human Rights Act or constitutional Bill of Rights, either we must be unique in having existing procedures that are good enough, or our system is deficient. Now that he was no longer constrained by his previous position as Chief Justice, Professor Malcolm declared himself ‘absolutely determined to argue the case for a Bill of Rights in Australia.’

Nicholas Carney described New Matilda‘s campaign so far, and suggested how individuals could become involved.

Although the Perth launch concentrated on the Federal scene, public interest in improved human rights protection is also focused on State jurisdictions. The Western Australian Attorney-General, Jim McGinty is known to be interested in enacting a WA Human Rights Act along the lines of the United Kingdom and Australian Capital Territory Acts that is, as an ordinary statute, limited to protecting only those rights set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This kind of legislation would require that each new Bill in Parliament be accompanied by a statement indicating whether the proposed law is consistent with the human rights protected by the ICCPR. The Attorney-General’s personal view is mirrored by the Western Australian Labor Party’s official platform, as amended at the November 2005 State Conference, which expresses support for the enactment of State human rights legislation modeled on the UK Human Rights Act.

It is just as important to think beyond the technical legal debate around the proposed Bill of Rights, and go to the heart of the matter. Government is big and getting bigger and, as a number of speakers at the Perth launch highlighted, some of the established conventions for restraining the possible misuse of power by government are failing or in decay. The doctrine of ministerial accountability, for example, has been undermined to the point of near complete ineffectiveness by the Howard Government.

Australians are proud of and committed to egalitarianism, that precious notion that everyone within the community should have equality of opportunity the ethos of a ‘fair go.’ Human rights legislation is not intended to give more power to government or the courts, but to look after people to protect the individual from unwarranted intrusion by government agencies which think they know best. State and national human rights legislation will do no more than give overdue expression to these cherished Australian ideals.

The Perth launch concluded this part of New Matilda‘s campaign. Since October 2005, we have had State launches in Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart and Perth. We will now refine the Draft Bill in preparation for a final launch to be held in Melbourne in August 2006.

For more information as it develops, stay tuned to both the New Matilda web site and the web site dedicated to our Human Rights Act Campaign:


Moira Rayner is one of Australia’s most significant activists in all areas of human rights including those of children, Indigenous peoples, women and equal opportunity in general. She has been a regular contributor to New Matilda since the early days in 2004.

Moira is facing serious legal charges in WA. In response, ‘Friends of Moira’ is being launched in Melbourne on 30 April 30th. The group’s aim is to give Moira practical and personal support and to raise funds to ensure she has a fair trial. New Matilda is contributing to the launch by offering five complimentary subscriptions.

More information about FoM and the launch can be obtained by emailing or by visiting

New Matilda

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.