Five Juris Doctor students have made a robust case for improved human rights protections in Australia.
The students, Brigette Rose, Frank Aloe, Helen Metzger, Luke Fowler and Veronica Snip worked under the supervision of staff at the RMIT Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ) to create a report for the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
The conclusion of the report was that the nation would benefit from a federal human rights charter.
At the report’s launch in May, AHRC president Gillian Triggs noted that Australia is the only common law country in the world that doesn’t have a charter of human rights.
Aside from meeting international standards, a charter would enshrine human rights into governmental legislation and decision-making. This would possibly reduce the infringement of such rights, and subsequent related litigation.
The students assessed the impact of this hypothetical charter on five areas – anti-association, migration, national security, disability discrimination and paperless arrests – before reaching this conclusion.
Their final report identified three key impacts of a federal human rights charter:
- Increased transparency: the parliament must be clear when it intends to pass laws which may infringe the rights of individuals.
- Increased debate: through the consideration of compatibility with human rights.
- Increased consideration of alternative means of achieving a particular purpose by parliament and the courts.
Veronica Snip said: “These findings demonstrate that a charter would not wrest power from the parliament and place it into the hands of the courts.”
“Instead it would open new lines of communication between the parliament, the courts and the community about human rights.”
CIJ director, Adjunct Professor Rob Hulls, spoke about the outcomes of the students’ work.
“Australia is one of the only western democracies without consistent human rights protections, a reality which I think is bizarrely at odds with the quintessentially Australian characteristic of ‘a fair go’,” he said.
“This report makes it quite clear that Australia would be better off with a national human rights instrument.
“The fact is that many Australians take human rights for granted. The view that the students and I take is that human rights are very ordinary but very important things that when respected and promoted can make an extraordinary difference. They belong to everybody.
“After looking at high court and government decisions over the last ten years, the students came to the view that those decisions could have been made differently, could have been fairer and could have been better if there had been a national human rights charter in place.”
Hulls described the project as a perfect example of the way in which the Centre for Innovative Justice conducts its work.
“Our mission in undertaking this project was to engage students in the possibilities of reform, to push them to consider new questions and new trajectories and in doing so we didn’t want to hole ourselves up in an ivory tower, we engaged with advocates, mentors, practitioners, and we believe that this was a wonderful exercise for our law students to engage with national debate.
“Where to from here? I hope that this work will promote a national discussion in relation to a federal human rights charter; the need for such a charter and what form that might take.”