Get the Bill Of Rights for Queensland brochure
Queenslanders are stepping up and getting active for a bill of rights. Now it's time to get out there and talk to politicians about why a bill of rights should be a priority for all politicians in the state.
Many supporters have said they want to find out more and to hear why a bill of rights for all of us, for Queensland, makes sense.
You can download a printable brochure with information on this here.
If you have problems downloading the brochure, we've copied across all the information from it below for your information.
In 2012 the Newman LNP government was elected with an unprecedented majority.
Over the next three years trampled on the rights of Queenslanders in ways no government ever had.
The Newman LNP government enacted legislation which was subject to High Court challenges.
Legislation was rushed through in late night parliamentary sittings. The reports of their own Parliamentary Committees were ignored.
The existing rights of Queenslanders were stripped away without warning. The three years of the Newman LNP government showed how a reckless government can abuse the parliamentary process to disadvantage of all Queenslanders.
In 2015 the Queensland community rejected the excesses of this government at the ballot box.
But the question for Queenslanders is how to avoid such abuses in the future?
Last year the Hon Peter Wellington, independent member for Nicklin and the current speaker of the Queensland Parliament said: “Recently I spoke about the need for a bill of rights to protect the rights and liberties of Queenslanders…Queensland has no upper house or house of review, and the current committee system is not able to properly provide the necessary checks and balances on the excesses of …government…I believe it is time for an act of parliament that enshrines the rights and liberties we value as important.”
Why now and why Queensland?
Currently there is no system in Queensland requires governments to consider, justify and report on the human rights implications of harsh laws that they may introduce.
In Australia the separation of powers doctrine results in a system of checks and balances where legislative, judicial and administrative power is limited and the potential for an autocratic government is avoided. An Upper House of parliament is one mechanism that usually functions to limit the power of the Executive, including through the ability to block government legislation. Because there is no Upper House in Queensland parliament can be dominated by the governing party. This can lead to concerns about the independence of decision-making.
A Human Rights Act could add to the system of checks and balances in Queensland by requiring governments to consider the human rights implications of their laws, strengthening the committee system, requiring public authorities to act consistently with human rights and requiring courts and tribunals to interpret legislation in a manner that is consistent with human rights – unless the legislator has clearly stated their intention to interfere with the human rights of Queenslander. This means that government action is limited by the human rights of citizens.
A Human Rights Act would improve the relationship between the government and Queenslanders as a result of consultation, transparent decision-making and increased accountability.
A Human Rights Act would not prevent the government from passing laws that engage the rights of Queenslanders. However, it could provide that all proposed laws that are introduced to parliament are accompanied by a statement that explains how the law will interfere with human rights, that there is sufficient opportunity for public consultation through the committee system, that after the consultation process a human rights report is produced and that this procedure can only be avoided in circumstances of public emergency.
What is a Human Rights Act?
A Human Rights Act (also called a bill of rights or a charter of rights) is a law that sets out the basic rights of citizens.
In the USA, South Africa and Germany a bill of rights is included in their constitution.
In the UK, Canada, New Zealand and in the ACT and Victoria the bill of rights is contained in an ordinary piece of legislation.
The Human Rights Act that that is discussed in this booklet is an ordinary piece of legislation. While a bill included a constitution is a more powerful way of protecting human rights, this type of amendment to the Constitution of Queensland would require a referendum.
By protecting the rights of citizens a Human Rights Act restrains the use of power.
For example this could:
- require that all new laws that are introduced to parliament are accompanied by a statement that explains how the law is consistent or inconsistent with human rights standards,
- require that a parliamentary committee consider the law and provide a report about whether the law is consistent with human rights standards,
- require government agencies to act in compliance with human rights and give consideration to those rights when making decisions,
- require courts and tribunals to interpret laws in a way that is consistent with human rights or issue a declaration that the law is not consistent with human rights standards,
- enable people who are victims of contraventions of human rights standards to challenge the actions of government in court or through a complaint to an independent body and ask that the decision be reviewed and/or compensation paid.
Human Rights in the ACT & Victoria
The ACT’s Human Rights Act 2004 protects some civil and political rights (recognition and equality before the law, right to life, protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, protection of the family and children, privacy and reputation, freedom of movement, freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, peaceful assembly and freedom of association, freedom of expression, taking part in public life, right to liberty and security of person, humane treatment when deprived of liberty, the rights of children in the criminal process, fair trial, rights in criminal proceedings, compensation for wrongful conviction, the right not to be tried or punished more than once, rights in relation to retrospective criminal laws, freedom from forced work, rights of minorities) and an economic, social and cultural right (right to education).
The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 protects civil and political rights (recognition and equality before the law, right to life, protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, freedom from forced work, freedom of movement, privacy and reputation, freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and freedom of association, protection of families and children, taking part in public life, property rights, right to liberty and security of person, humane treatment when deprived of liberty, rights of children in the criminal process, fair hearing, rights in criminal proceedings, right not to be tried or punished more than once, rights in relation to retrospective criminal laws) and some cultural rights including the collective right of Aboriginal peoples to enjoy their identity and culture, to maintain and use their language, to maintain their kinship ties and to maintain their distinctive spiritual, material and economic relationship with land and waters and other resources that they have a connection to under traditional laws and customs.
Although the human rights contained in ACT and Victorian the Human Rights Acts are related to international human rights treaties, the wording and meaning of the rights is not necessarily the same. This is because it is common for human rights to be adapted from international treaties to match the aspirations of the relevant country or state. It is also clear that there are examples of rights in some bills of rights that do not derive from international human rights treaties. For example, the US Constitutions protects the right of Americans to keep and use guns. This is not a human right that would be protected under a Human Rights Act in Queensland.
How does a Human Rights Act
constrain the use of power?
The way that a Human Rights Act constrains political power is to make governments consider the human rights implications of laws, policies and their actions.
A Human Rights Act does not however stop governments from interfering with citizen’s rights.
According to international human rights law, while some human rights are absolute (such as the prohibition against torture), most can be limited. Some rights can be limited where there is a legitimate objective and it can be demonstrated that the engagement with those rights is necessary and proportionate. Other rights can be limited by restrictions that are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
International human rights law also makes it clear that the government’s obligation in relation to civil and political rights is to immediately take the necessary steps to adopt such measures to give effect to the rights recognised in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Conversely, the government’s obligation in relation to economic, social and cultural rights to take steps, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to progressively achieving the rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Human Rights Acts can prescribe the circumstances in which government’s are able to limit citizens’ enjoyment of their human rights. For example, the ACT the Human Rights Act says that human rights may be subject to reasonable limits set by laws that can be justified in a free and democratic society. The Act sets out that what is reasonable is determined according to the nature of the right affected, the importance of the purpose of the limitation, the nature and extent of the limitation, the relationship between the limitation and its purpose and any less restrictive means reasonably available to achieve the purpose the limitation seeks to achieve.
How we got here
A number of organisations and individuals wrote to the Premier and the Attorney-General encouraging the Queensland Government ‘to consider conducting a community consultation about the introduction of a charter of rights in Queensland.’
The Queensland Labor Party has neither supported nor opposed the adoption of a Bill Rights/Charter of Rights but stated that it is ‘a matter for the parliamentary party to consider following the election’. However, prior to the state election the position of the Queensland Labor Party was that it opposed further public consultation on the matter.
Since the state election and pursuant to the Letters of Exchange re Government on Confidence Motions (Letters of Exchange) between Hon Peter Wellington MP and Premier Palaszcuk dated 5 February 2015, the Queensland Labor Party has committed to seeking advice from the Department of Justice and Attorney-General which will be published to allow for ‘public discussion’ on the matter.
The process for initiating broad community engagement on the issue of a Queensland Bill of Rights/Charter of Rights does not require individuals to finalise their views on the possible legislation and models which might be finally considered, adopted and implemented by the Queensland Parliament. The signatory organisations listed below (Annexure A) support the adoption of Bill of Rights/Charter of Rights in Queensland and seek a six month broad public consultation process to be concluded by the end of 2015 with a view to having a bill for before the Legislative Assembly by early 2016.
As we outlined in our correspondence to the Premier of 25 March 2015, we support:
‘A comprehensive community consultation process led by a suitably prominent and expert person or persons of standing in the community, [that] will give Queenslanders the opportunity to provide their views about how their rights should be protected. We believe that this process should be completed this year.’
Queensland Labor and rights
The Queensland Labor Party’s pre-election commitment on the adoption of a Qld Bill of Rights/ Charter of Rights was stated as follows: Questions: ‘7. Do you support the establishment of the consultation in Queensland along the lines of the Brennan National Consultation on Human Rights to determine rights and civil liberties and in particular whether Queensland needs a Human Rights Act? 8. Do you support the introduction in Queensland of a Human Rights Act similar to that presently the law in the Australian Capital Territory?’
ALP response to both questions: ‘The question of whether Queensland adopts a Bill of Rights is a vexed question. There are strong views on either side of the argument from both sides of the political spectrum. Many Constitutional lawyers and academics come down on the side of adoption of such a bill, and many come down on the opposition side. The Federal government undertook the Brennan National Consultation on Human Rights, and the results of that consultation have been published, widely considered and discussed on a national, state and local level. The Labor Opposition is not convinced that at this stage any further consultation is required. During the last parliamentary term, the Labor Opposition did not consider the question of the adoption or otherwise of a Bill of Rights in Queensland. It is a matter for the parliamentary party to consider following the election.’
The ALP position after the state election as articulated in the Letters of Exchange: “Rights of Queenslanders During the 54th Parliament, Labor did not consider the question of the possible adoption of a Bill of Rights in Queensland. This was a matter for the Labor MPs to consider during the 55th Parliament. Labor will seek advice from the Department of Justice and Attorney-General regarding the issues relating to a possible Bill of Rights in Queensland. This advice will be published to allow public discussion on the matter.”