Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mr. Ackland and Mr. Croome on an Australian Bill of Rights


Mr. Richard Ackland has attacked what he regards as some of the straw men that have have cropped up in the re-ignited debate over having a Bill of Rights in Australia. He notes that

There are lite versions [of a bill of rights] already in existence in Australia - in Victoria and the ACT.

Nothing terrible has happened in those places. The judges have not usurped the power of Parliament, litigation has not exploded, confusion does not reign, the jails have not been emptied of criminals.

In Victoria, courts may find a provision in an act or regulation incompatible with a charter right. That's it. There is an obligation then on the relevant minister to prepare for Parliament a written response to the court's declaration. The responsibility rests with the politicians, who can repeal, amend or leave untouched the provision found to be incompatible.
The question is, then: if having a bill of rights won’t change anything then why are we bothering? I suppose I shouldn’t underestimate the liberals’ love of symbols, whether or not there’s any substance beneath them, as we were reminded at the time of the big apology of February this year. But there’s something that I find troubling about people clamouring for this kind of legislation while soothing the skeptics with assurances that it won’t actually do anything. Think of what a certain Mr. Rodney Croome had to say in The Weekend Australian on Saturday:

IN the early 1990s, Tasmania was the last Australian state and one of the few places in the Western world to punish homosexuality with a jail term, yet neither the state nor federal parliaments seemed able to act on this embarrassing human rights abuse.

Only after the offending Tasmanian laws were roundly condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee as a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were these laws overridden federally and then repealed locally.

In other words, it took a foreign tribunal judging a global charter of rights to do what Australia’s parliaments could not do.

This history exposes as a lie the case that parliaments alone can protect human rights.

It also shows that the debate is not about whether we should have an Australian charter of rights—the International Covenant is already our defacto

The debate is whether it’s sufficient for Australians to be judged by a tribunal we didn’t appoint under a covenant we didn’t design, or whether human rights violations should be judged by Australian judges according to standards set by Australians.

For me there’s no doubt; I’m for bringing human rights home.
Rodney Croome
South Hobart, Tas

(Fortunately the redoubtable Mr. Henk Verhoeven saved me the trouble of having to submit a comment at that blog by reminding readers that “No, Rodney Croome, Tasmania was NOT the last Australian state to punish homosexuality with a jail term! It was a homosexual act such as sodomy, not homosexuality, that could attract a jail term.”) When the Sodomites’ League is all for something one knows it’s the sort of thing that one wouldn’t want to touch with a barge pole.

Reginaldvs Cantvar
9.XII.2008 A.D.

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