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Carr steadfast in opposition to human rights -

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Carr steadfast in opposition to human rights bill

The World Today - Wednesday, 10 December , 2008 12:18:00

ELEANOR HALL: The former premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, is an equally passionate opponent of
the notion of a bill of rights for Australia.

He spoke to me a short time ago from Hong Kong.

Mr Carr you've warned that a bill of rights for Australia is a trap that won't protect human
rights, why do you say that?

BOB CARR: Well, the United Stated has had a bill of rights since 1789 and it had that bill or
rights for 150 years before American blacks in the south could get a vote. The most eloquent bill
of rights in the world was of course in Stalin's 1936 constitution.

Freedom arises from the instinctive feel of a people, from freedom of the press, freedom of
association, not from a document. America's had a bill of rights lodged in its constitution and has
still had all the abuses of Guantanamo Bay.

ELEANOR HALL: But it may not work perfectly in every circumstance, but surely a bill of rights puts
some protection against fundamental injustices?

BOB CARR: Well, there's no evidence of that, and what is absolutely fascinating now is that on the
same day Australia's launched an inquiry into this subject, you've got a consensus emerging in the
United Kingdom that their bill of rights needs to be either repealed completely or comprehensively
re-written.

Why is that? It's because a statutory bill of rights in the United Kingdom has discredited the
whole concept of human rights.

A friend of mine who's a member of the Labour Party from Birmingham says that when his working
class constituency, youngsters causing havoc in the street, committing acts of vandalism for
example or intimidating older people, one of the passersby will say something like - "oh the police
won't do anything about it because it'll be an interference with their human rights".

I think it's extraordinary that on the very day we've had this consultation announced in Australia,
you've had a consensus in the United Kingdom that something has to be done about a charter, bill of
rights that has discredited the whole concept of human rights.

ELEANOR HALL: But do you agree with that? Do you agree that putting in place a bill of rights here
in Australia would discredit the concept of human rights?

BOB CARR: Well, it's happened in the United Kingdom, because of the way it's given extraordinary
powers, taken powers in extraordinary fashion from elected Parliaments, and put them in the hands
of non-elected judges - and that is the nub of the argument.

There's no version of a charter of rights or of a constitutional bill of rights that hasn't had the
effect of shifting power making from Parliaments to non-elected judges.

ELEANOR HALL: Now you speak of course as a former head of government, but proponents argue that
it's not about judges taking over political power, but about putting a human rights check on
governments. Is that such a bad thing?

BOB CARR: Well that's ridiculous, of course it's about judges having extra powers, you can't bring
down a statement with commitments to all sorts of vague concepts; freedom of the press, freedom of
speech, freedom of association, once it has such vague expressions set out in the form of a
charter, then of course it is going to be a matter of how that is going to be interpreted by
judges.

And in one step, you're transferring decision-making from an elected Parliament, to non-elected
judges. If we're going to be serious about it, and if we're going to ask Australians to revise the
way their government works, then make it a matter for a referendum.

ELEANOR HALL: But Australia is the only country in the democratic world that doesn't have a bill of
rights?

BOB CARR: I think that's a ridiculous argument. When in Canada a court can overrule a provincial
government because the provincial government creates incentives for doctors to serve in rural
areas, the court overrules that because it's an interference with freedom of travel.

Where in the United Kingdom a court says the police can't interfere with a group of gypsies or
travellers who pulled down the wall, the fence to private property and occupy the land because it's
an interference with freedom of movement, Australia's entitled to say with pride we don't have
these absurd distortions, we don't have these unintended consequences.

We're one of the freest countries in the world, our freedom stands comparison with any other nation
state in the world and it rests on common law principles, it rests on parliamentary democracy and
it rests on robust freedom of speech.

ELEANOR HALL: Bob Carr it's the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
today, would you have used similar arguments to oppose the adoption of the UN's Human Rights
Declaration back then?

BOB CARR: There's no analogy whatsoever, because it's not enforceable in domestic law. It
represents a standard or a benchmark that countries should try to reach, and Australia, based on
the common law, based on all those principles and conventions I've just referred to, easily exceeds
the benchmark.

In fact, if you compare our status and our standing, with that of the United States, which has got
a full constitutional bill of rights, Australia has got better outcomes. In the end, it's the
political character and culture of a country that determines how free it is, not a bill of rights
that is there to wrench decision-making away from elected people to non-elected judges.

ELEANOR HALL: Bob Carr thanks very much for joining us.

BOB CARR: Pleasure.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the former premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr; an opponent of a bill of
rights for Australia.