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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 271


Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (9:45 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Bill 2010, together with the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2010, implements legislative elements of Australia’s Human Rights Framework, which was released on 21 April this year.

The changes in the framework are aimed at enhancing understanding of and respect for human rights in Australia and ensuring appropriate recognition of human rights issues in legislative and policy development.

The bill contains two important measures that are designed to improve parliamentary scrutiny of new laws for consistency with Australia’s human rights obligations and to encourage early and ongoing consideration of human rights issues in policy and legislative development.

The government believes that Australia can, and should, live up to its obligations under these important treaties, not simply because this is the right thing to do but because the principles that are contained in those documents provide a protection against unwarranted, unjustified or arbitrary interference in the fundamental rights enjoyed by all individuals irrespective of their colour, background or social status.

Essentially the implementation of these two measures—that is, statements of compatibility on human rights and the establishment of a new Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights—establishes a dialogue between the executive, the parliament and ultimately the citizens they represent.

First, the requirement of statements of compatibility on human rights will establish a dialogue between the executive and the parliament whereby members and senators will be able to consider the impact of proposed legislation on the citizens they represent.

And in turn, the new parliamentary committee will establish a dialogue between the parliament and its citizens whereby the members of the committee can canvass the views of the public, including affected groups, as to how they will be affected by proposed legislation.

In that sense, these measures incrementally advance the concept of participatory democracy by providing additional means for citizens to have input into the legislative process.

In terms of how these measures will operate in practice, it is appropriate to provide a brief overview.

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights

The first of these measures, as I mentioned, is to establish a new Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The reference point for the committee will be the rights and freedoms recognised or declared by the seven core United Nations human rights treaties as they apply to Australia. The treaties are:

  • The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
  • The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child, and
  • The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The committee will examine and report to parliament on compatibility of bills and legislative instruments with Australia’s human rights obligations under these seven core human rights treaties.

It will also be able to examine existing legislation and conduct broad inquiries into matters relating to human rights as referred to it by the Attorney-General.

Statements of compatibility

The bill also introduces a requirement for statements assessing compatibility with human rights to accompany all new bills and disallowable legislative instruments.

When parliament comes to consider bills and legislative instruments, statements of compatibility will alert parliament to the relevant human rights considerations and will assist in informing parliamentary debate.

Where appropriate, statements may justify restrictions or limitations on rights where such restrictions are in the interests of other individuals or society more generally as permitted by the human rights treaties.

A statement of compatibility and a report of the joint committee on human rights will not be binding on a court or tribunal.

However, as with other explanatory material, courts may refer to a statement of compatibility or a report of the committee to assist in ascertaining the meaning of provisions in a statute where the meaning is unclear or ambiguous.

Conclusion

The measures in this bill will deliver improved policies and laws in the future by encouraging early and ongoing consideration of human rights issues in the policy and law-making process and informing parliamentary debate on human rights issues.

The bill contributes to enhancing community confidence that our laws reflect our human rights obligations, and I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Chester) adjourned.