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Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Page: 3525


Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (9:24 PM) —in reply—I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate on the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Bill 2010 and also the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2010. All contributions, and I have listened for the last hour and a bit, have been very thoughtful and I would commend them highly to anyone interested in this area. Essentially, the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Bill 2010 together with the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2010 implement the key legislative measures in the Australian human rights framework announced by the government on 21 April 2010. I note a number of speakers have thanked the consultative committee, which I will also commend.

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 bills will establish a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, introduce a requirement for statements of compatibility on human rights to be presented to parliament for all bills and legislative instruments subject to disallowance, amend the Legislative Instruments Act 2003 to integrate statements of compatibility into existing procedures for tabling legislative instruments, and amend the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act to include the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission as an ex officio member of the Administrative Review Council. Statements of compatibility on human rights for all new laws will establish a dialogue between the executive and the parliament and inform parliamentary debate on human rights issues considered by the executive and, as the speaker before me indicated, the issue of balance in that consideration.

Additionally, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights will contribute to debate on human rights issues by examining and reporting to parliament on human rights compatibility with new and existing laws and in that sense that parliamentary committee process—mirroring much of the work that is undertaken by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties—will promote greater participatory democracy by enabling Australian citizens to have a direct say on how their rights might be affected by particular legislation. The amendments will also ensure an appropriate human rights perspective is integrated in the views of the Administrative Review Council by including the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission as an ex officio member of the council.

The two bills comprise a package of reforms aimed at ensuring appropriate recognition of human rights issues in legislative and policy developments. The measures 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 bills have been referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for inquiry and report. The government looks forward to the committee’s report on the bills, which is due in December 2010.

I think it is fair to say that during the course of the debate the opposition indicated broad support for the concept of the bills and essentially their potential concerns on which they reserve their position are in respect of what has been described as the breadth of definition of human rights, that breadth of definition being a reference in the legislation to the seven fundamental international human rights instruments. I point out to the House that that first stage of identification of human rights according by reference to those seven fundamental human rights instruments, which I suppose are collectively recognised as the core international human rights instruments, was as recommended by the Brennan committee. It was certainly envisaged that, in working through these issues and obtaining grounding and experience in referring to those fundamental principles, the parliament itself may in the future choose to prescribe or list more precisely those fundamental human rights that the parliament determines to be appropriate. It may well be that an early role of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights might well be to examine those instruments to obtain the views of the Australian people, to obtain the views of the parliament and to actually go through those instruments and list an Australian-specific point of reference to those human rights considerations that the Parliament of Australia regards as being specific and fundamental to Australia. This was envisaged as a two-stage step by the Brennan committee, and I refer that to members. It may well be that this could be the first stage of the process to that Australian-specific path. The government is committed to positive and practical changes to promote and protect human rights and I commend the bills to the House.


The SPEAKER —The question is that the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Bill 2010 be now read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.