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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 12468

Mr IRONS (11:13 AM) —I would first like to acknowledge the contributions made by the member for Flinders and the member for Fremantle. I know that the member for Fremantle has a long-term interest in human rights and has worked with the United Nations overseas. I applaud her contribution. I would also like to acknowledge the contributions made yesterday on this matter by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is remarkable. It was designed in 1948 by the then 58 member states of the United Nations. These states represented a diversity of cultures, political systems and ideas. However, they were able to produce a strong document which shared common goals and ideas. This achievement gives us great hope for the future. Globalisation has meant that issues that were once able to be settled within national borders are now inherently international in nature. Climate change and the global financial crisis are two such issues that have been important topics in this place this year.

As the shadow minister for the environment, the member for Flinders, who spoke before me, would remind us, one of the three pillars of the coalition’s approach to climate change is that any response must be part of a concerted international effort. Globalisation is often defined as the interaction of economies on a global scale. The domino effect the world witnessed after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the US proves that we are part of a delicate global community.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights shows that we can transcend international borders and find common ground. I am hopeful that in the coming years we can achieve this. The great libertarian philosophers of the 19th century, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, laid the foundation stones on which our modern liberal democracy was built. It was John Stuart Mill who in 1859 wrote:

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way.

It is this principle that individualism and individual freedom are fundamentally and absolutely important that has inspired generations of conservatives to stand in this place and fight for those rights not only with words but with actions.

It is also this philosophy of individualism and freedom that forms the foundations on which the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was built and exists today. In celebrating the 60th anniversary of the declaration on 10 December 2008, we must also remember that fundamental to the protection of human rights and freedoms is the eternal vigilance of all citizens. The biggest danger in codifying human rights is that, in doing so, we lose that sense of vigilance and find ourselves caught off-guard when our freedom is genuinely threatened.

There has been much discussion across the states and territories and in this place about legislating bills of rights and human rights acts. What we must always remember when considering these important pieces of legislation is that documents on their own do not protect our rights. These pieces of legislation are often controversial and must be considered case by case and bill by bill. The content of any human rights legislation is significant and important and must be heavily reviewed before any decision is made. It is easy to use hollow words to proclaim the importance of human rights and the protection of those rights, but it is another thing entirely to move beyond mere words to take the action needed to ensure that the inalienable rights of each individual are properly protected.

In rising today to speak on this motion, I would like to emphasise that the declaration in and of itself does not protect our rights; what protects our rights is the vigilance of citizens who believe in and live by the rights that are enshrined in the declaration. In particular, article 20(2) of the declaration states that:

No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

It is important that we as members of parliament remember this article. The mere codification of this right, although important, does not protect it.

The advocates for the codification of human rights are rarely those people who are oppressed or discriminated against. The advocates for the codification of human rights are too often those who would benefit the most from a more litigious society. Lord Robert Walker of the House of Lords, when speaking to the New South Wales Charter Group in August 2007, said:

… the promotion of freedom, equality and civility in human societies depends not only on the text of laws enacted by the legislature … but also on the way we have been brought up to behave towards each other, and the way we bring up our children to behave towards each other.

The protection of human rights is best maintained by a vigilant society in which every citizen is relentlessly conscious of the ability of others to infringe on their rights and is constantly aware of the need to defend their personal rights and freedoms.

In celebrating the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we must ask ourselves: what difference does the codification of human rights make on its own? An answer to this question can be found by comparing the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The United Kingdom parliament has supreme sovereignty, whereas the USSR was bound by a charter of rights. These included freedom of speech, under article 50, freedom of the press, also under article 50, freedom of assembly, under article 50 as well, and the right to religious belief and worship, under article 52. Yet it was in the United Kingdom, without a codified bill of rights or human rights act, where the rights of citizens were protected and are still protected today, while in the USSR, despite a codified bill of rights, important individual freedoms were abused and withheld.

This morning at the doors of parliament the media asked me what my thoughts were on a bill of rights. This issue has been discussed in Western Australia and nationally. My thoughts on a bill of rights are that, without having seen a definitive proposal, it is difficult to support or oppose something without knowing whether it is going to improve the lives of Australians and not take away some of the already existing inalienable rights in our Constitution. We need to ensure that any proposed bill of rights does not override any existing legislation and take away the rights that already exist and are the cornerstone of our society.

In concluding, I would like to say that I am a proud supporter of the principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But, more importantly, I am a supporter of upholding those very human and eternal values which the declaration upholds—not only in words but in action as well.