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Govt open to formal human rights protection -

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Govt open to formal human rights protection

The World Today - Wednesday, 10 December , 2008 12:10:00

ELEANOR HALL: But first the Attorney-General Robert McClelland, this morning launched a public
debate about whether Australia should have a bill of rights.

The Federal Government announced that the Jesuit priest, lawyer and human rights advocate, Father
Frank Brennan, will head a panel that will hold public consultations on whether more needs to be
done to protect fundamental freedoms in Australia.

The panel will report its findings by July next year. And the Attorney-General says the Government
wants all Australians to ask themselves which human rights and responsibilities are important to
them and how they want these things protected.

Robert McClelland spoke to Alexandra Kirk.

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Today marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
I think it's very appropriate that we look forward as to how we want to best recognise and protect
human rights in Australia and into the future.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you regard the protection of human rights wanting in Australia?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: There's a number of areas we could do better, I think the media is highlighted
and appropriately the extent of domestic violence in the community, violence against women and
children in particular. Obviously the rights of Indigenous Australians have a long way to go; the
rights of disable people have a long way to go.

Indeed I think there's a number of indicators that show that the rights of women, generally in
Australia, haven't progressed as much as I think fair-minded people would like.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Attorney, you say it's not just about whether Australia should or shouldn't have a
charter of rights, but just on that what is your view?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Yes, look, I'm being very careful not to express my view in many ways it's
irrelevant; I think it's probably unhelpful at this stage to air my views. The specific function of
the committee is to canvas the views of Australians and report that to government.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what about a charter versus a bill of rights?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: However described I suppose is something the committee will have a look at.
That's one option I might say, I mean other issues that they may well look at is issues of enhanced
scrutiny of bills, whether there should be some provision that requires courts to have regard to
fundamental human rights instruments when construing legislation or regulations.

These are matters whether we could do more to reform our anti-discrimination acts, these are other
areas that they may well explore.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: You appointed Father Frank Brennan to head your human rights consultations, he has
said in the past that he's a bill of rights sceptic; he favours a charter that is legislating to
protect human rights.

Is that basically how it will go you think?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: No, he's, he's indicated that he's a fence sitter on these views, and that was
aside from him as a man, and his experience in the area of human rights...

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Except that he's against an American-style constitutional bill of rights?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Yes and I must say that out the outset the Government has ruled that out, we've
specifically ruled out any consideration of an entrenched bill of rights. So that's one exclusion I
suppose.

But aside from that we think it's appropriate that he's a fence sitter on the issues of the
mechanics of protecting human rights and that's why we think he's ideally placed to chair the
committee.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Cynics might say that this is just another of more than a hundred reviews and
committees commissioned by Kevin Rudd in the past year. Do you expect much will come of it?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Yeah I do, I do think the fact that the community is being engaged is itself one
thing, but I think the fact that engagement is occurring will itself have an educative effect. Just
what are the fundamental values, what are the fundamental rights and freedoms that we respect and
value as a community and how should they be protected.

I think the dialogue in itself in other words will be a good thing, but obviously we're also
looking at recommendations as to possible outcomes.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: There have been plenty of people with plenty to say on the issue of human rights in
Australia, is it now up to whether ordinary Australians themselves have a strong view as to whether
anything comes of this?

ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Yep, it is, very much so. The first part is what rights and freedoms do you
think are fundamentally important to us. Secondly, are they protected, and if not how can we do it
better.

There is absolutely no doubt that the quality of the deliberations and recommendations will depend
in large part on the enthusiasm of reasonable Australians in providing their views.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, speaking to Alexandra Kirk.