Human Rights Act: Private Member’s Bill plan

In this parliamentary climate nobody expects to see a Coalition Government introduce a Human Rights Bill. Nor apparently is the Labor Opposition planning national legislation embodying Australia’s human rights obligations arising out of the international rights conventions that Australia has signed. The Centre for Policy Development‘s readers have expressed outrage and frustration that current government policy, especially in relation to asylum seekers and citizens in trouble, are in breach of those conventions. These abhorrent policies although completely outside the rights conventions, are legal.

To fill this legislative void, and to provide readers with an effective way of acting against these policies, the Centre for Policy Development is developing a Private member’s Bill for Human Rights Act for Australia. This Bill will embody all our international human rights obligations, and provide legislative protection to the rights of everyone in Australia.

In the absence of parliamentary leadership, citizens can advance the legislative agenda. My confidence in this approach reflects the success we had in the 1980s while Labor was in opposition. Through a controversial Private Member’s Bill we set off the legislative plan that finally produced the historic Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

In 1981, the Fraser Government, though signatory to the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, had taken no steps to legislate these protections. To move us forward, in 1981, I introduced an extensive Private Member’s Bill that did that job.

The parliamentary consideration of the bill flushed out opponents but also attracted crucial support. Labor committed to introduce a government bill when it gained office, and it did just that. The debate was educational for the community and the parliament. It allowed us to develop defences against widespread and unreasonable criticisms. Yet the debate surrounding the Bill raised the profile of the extent and range of discrimination directed against Australian women, and its damaging consequences not only for women themselves but for our society and economy.

Last year women’s organisations around Australia celebrated twenty years of protection for women through the Sex Discrimination Act. The law has been improved and amended over the years and continues to provide a well-used and robust defence against sex discrimination. Indeed, the recently announced changes to allow women to serve in combat roles can be traced back to the social and institutional changes brought about by this legislation.

At the Centre for Policy Development, we are planning a parallel campaign for a Human Rights Act for Australia, starting with a Private Member’s Bill. The Bill will shortly be released on the Centre for Policy Development website and in the community for your consideration and comment. We will then petition the parliament for its introduction, and seek sponsors for the bill from all political parties.

We plan to pursue this law until it is passed by the national parliament. There is no good reason why this route to effective Australian human rights machinery will not, ultimately, succeed. When it does, it will represent a victory for Australian citizens who made it clear to their legislators that now, more than ever before, Australians need the protections of such a law.

For a fuller account of the strategy and history of the Sex Discrimination Act, click here .

This campaign will only be successful if it gains grassroots support in the community. If you are interested in assisting the Human Rights Act for Australia campaign as a volunteer, please email Nicholas Carney at A few hours a week would be of great assistance to the campaign.

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