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Monday, 16 September 2019
Page: 2924


Mr WILKIE (Clark) (10:04): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Australian Bill of Rights Bill 2019 would enshrine the fundamental rights of all Australians in Australian law. It's modelled closely on the Australian Bill of Rights Bill 2001, introduced by the then member for Calwell, and is very similar to the Australian Bill of Rights Bill 2017, which I introduced.

In essence, the bill would render invalid any Commonwealth, state or territory law that's inconsistent with the Bill of Rights to the extent of that inconsistency. It would also specify that Commonwealth, state and territory laws should be interpreted so as to be consistent with the bill of rights.

The bill allows for the Australian Human Rights Commission to inquire into any act or practice done by the Commonwealth or a state or territory government that may infringe on a right or freedom in the bill of rights. It also allows for people to make complaints to the commission if they believe that an act or practice infringes a right or freedom outlined in this bill.

The bill would also give effect to a number of international agreements to which Australia is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The importance of this bill is self-evident. We are the only democratic nation without any sort of bill or charter of rights. What domestic legislation we do have is scarce and far too narrow. Indeed, there are only five relevant acts in this country that attempt to protect human rights—the Human Rights Commission Act, which is really just about regulating the commission, the Racial Discrimination Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, the Age Discrimination act and the Disability Discrimination Act.

Yes, the government is intending to add to this flimsy framework by introducing a religious discrimination bill. But, perversely, such legislation would in fact further restrict human rights in this country, which begs the question: why introduce a piece of legislation that promotes special rights for particular groups of people rather than supporting a piece of legislation that will promote the rights of all Australians?

Moreover—and regrettably—the parliamentary processes with regard to human rights are also flimsy and weak. For instance, the committees of the House of Representatives are invariably beholden to the government because of the numbers, and Senate committees are generally ignored by the government because they are, more often than not, controlled by the opposition or by the crossbench. As a result, the international agreements and obligations Australia has committed to, which one would think would provide protection to Australians, are in fact routinely ignored.

In other words, the only effective way to protect the rights of all Australians is to establish a single, strong and reliable framework as described in my bill today.

This isn't a new concept in Australia, as evidenced by the ACT, Victoria and Queensland who have all taken positive steps by introducing human rights legislation. But, understandably, these state based frameworks simply aren't good enough on their own and we still need a consistent national approach that will enshrine the rights and freedoms of all Australians regardless of where they live. The bottom line is that we still need a national bill of rights that protects and promotes unalienable human rights such as the right to health care, the right to housing, the right to education and the right to equal treatment within society.

To those who ask 'Where's the proof that we are in need of a bill of rights in the first place?' I say you only need to look at what is happening in our country in recent times—in particular, the blatant disregard for an ignorance of international agreements to which Australia is a party. And nowhere is this clearer than when we look at the government's response to asylum seekers and refugees, the attacks on press freedom and the unprecedented difficulties in accessing fundamental services such as housing and health care. None of this should be happening in Australia, and it only does so because we don't have an overarching framework to protect our rights.

The appalling raids by the Australian Federal Police on the ABC and on journalists are a perfect example. Surely it is unthinkable that in a supposedly free and democratic country like Australia the government's police force is raiding media organisations and trying to suppress freedom of the press. That demonstrates why article 4 of this Bill of Rights is important to enshrine a right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

We also need a bill of rights because of the appalling way Indigenous people are treated in this country. I don't need to list all of the statistics about things like incarceration rates—we've heard them all before—but it is patently obvious that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aren't being afforded their basic human rights. Article 10 of this bill, though, would specifically enshrine the rights of Indigenous peoples—as well as many other sections of the bill that would help improve the lives of Indigenous Australians.

And what about the atrociously high rates of homelessness in this country? Nowhere is this more apparent than in my home state of Tasmania, where the housing waiting lists have soared and the state government seems to think doing nothing is the best policy. Article 23 of this bill would enshrine a right to an adequate standard of living, including clothing and housing.

In closing I would just like to say that when I first tabled this bill, in 2017, the response from the community was overwhelmingly positive. Some people couldn't believe we didn't already have a bill of rights. Others knew that it was about time to introduce one. But, despite all of that, neither the government nor the opposition supported the bill, in what was another striking example of their failure to represent the community. So today I urge both the Liberal and Labor parties to reconsider their stubborn opposition, and to wake up and to realise that we need to stop lagging behind the rest of the world and to stop allowing our rights and freedoms to be eroded.

In my remaining time, I invite the member for Mayo to add a few comments.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?