HRLA rejects proposed Human Rights Act

A proposal to legislate a Human Rights Act for Australia is “significantly flawed” and should be rejected, according to the Human Rights Law Alliance. It has made a submission to the inquiry into Australia’s existing Human Rights Framework and proposed Human Rights Act being conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.

HRLA will be appearing at a public hearing for the inquiry this week in Canberra to expand further on its submission.

The HRLA has called for stronger human rights protections in Australian law as a matter of priority as well as for the current process to enact the Human Rights Act to cease:

The AHRC model should be scrapped altogether. It cannot be described as upholding human rights when it undermines so significantly key rights which are intended for Australians under international law.

An assessment should first be made of those rights in the ICCPR which are not adequately protected in Australian law. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of opinion and expression, and the missing prohibited ground of religion in discrimination legislation are the most obvious candidates. Shortcomings should be remedied by legislation, meeting the enactment requirements of the ICCPR.

Christian Schools Australia (CSA), the largest association of Christian schools in Australia, is similarly critical of the proposed model:

The Human Rights Framework has failed to ensure a proper education in relation to human rights, resulting in a lopsided and unbalanced human rights environment.

This skewed understanding of human rights, prioritising non-discrimination above other equally important rights, has resulted in a diminution of protections for religious freedom and other fundamental freedoms.

The failure to provide adequate national protections against religious discrimination is a blight on Australia’s record of commitment to human rights and compliance with our treaty obligations.

CSA is also calling for legislation to protect religious freedom at a federal level:

The greatest single step that could be taken to address Australia’s commitments under our international treaty obligations is to pass robust religious freedom legislation at a federal level that enshrines the protections of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, without modification, into Australian domestic law.

The Australian Association of Christian Schools has similarly criticised the Framework, which since 2010 has required every bill to be accompanied by a statement that it is compatible with Australia’s human rights obligations:

AACS believes both the Human Rights Framework and Action Plan have been ineffective in monitoring and implementing Australia’s obligations for protecting the human right of freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” the AACS submission said.

“State, territory and federal governments have been moving towards removing or restricting the ability of religious schools to choose their staff without threat of legal action.

You can read the HRLA submission (Submission 14) here , along with other submissions to the inquiry, including one from the Australian Christian Lobby (Submission 143).