Australian Human Rights Commission president Rosalind Croucher has argued for the federal human rights legislation to have a more robust legal architecture.
“We are like a doughnut — with a hole in the middle,” Croucher said in a speech at the Samuel Griffith Society.
Croucher mentioned her own past hesitancy for a Human Rights Act in Australia, referencing ongoing litigation in the US over the interpretation of its own constitution. Recently, a leaked draft decision, obtained by Politico, from the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade has led to high tensions.
The president gave three reasons why a Human Rights Act would be the right choice for Australia, naming the limits of the common law system, the current framing of rights as what a person cannot do, and the efficiency of the complaints handling process.
Croucher estimated 2-4% of all complaints end up in court, with 2,000 individuals pursuing the commission’s formal complaint handling process.
There are international human rights treaties Australia has ratified — Croucher mentioned specifically the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — but they are not enforceable by Australian law.
Croucher noted the language of human rights had been a topic of debate during the pandemic, referencing the protests by anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine groups. One such group burned the doors down at Old Parliament House as reported in The Mandarin.
“People are talking about rights,” Croucher said. “People are demanding their rights. Governments are defending their incursions on people’s freedoms in terms of rights.”
This increase of human rights language in Australia was framed as a positive, with Croucher suggesting it would evolve human rights discussion.
“The checks and balances that ordinarily exist are integral to our democracy. Australians have been, and continue to be, exposed to potentially unnecessary restrictions of their rights and freedoms, because of the lack of transparency and accountability.
“The decisions may be justified, but how can we know without appropriate democratic scrutiny and accountability?” the president asked.