28 February 2013
(Debate, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I support the Interpretation Amendment (International Human Rights Obligations) Bill 2012, which will increase protection of basic human rights in line with Australia's obligations under international human rights treaties. I understand courts already apply the law consistently with human rights obligations, but because there is no legislative framework for this it is done on an ad hoc basis.
The bill would direct courts to apply human rights obligations with reference to the rights, covenants and conventions to which Australia is a party. I refer to these treaties which are as follows. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment requires states to prevent torture on their soil, and forbids them to transport people to places where they will be tortured. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women requires states to enshrine gender equality in law and eliminate prejudices and customs based on the idea of the inferiority or superiority of one sex or on stereotyped roles for men and women.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires parties to promote, protect, and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to act in the best interests of the child. It includes protecting children from abuse or exploitation and forbids capital punishment for children. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights commits parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights and rights to due process and a fair trial. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights commits its parties to work toward the granting of economic, social, and cultural rights to individuals, including labour rights and the right to health, the right to education, and the right to an adequate standard of living. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination commits its members to eliminate racial discrimination and promote understanding among all races.
The treaties in the bill are a good place to start. I believe all members would agree that their aims and principles are supported by this Parliament and the people of New South Wales. The role of the Parliament is to protect and promote the wider community's values, including the fundamental rights we believe all citizens should have. I support a charter of human rights for New South Wales based on the rights identified by the community through consultation. A charter would require all bills introduced in Parliament to be assessed for their compatibility with these rights, and where incompatibilities are found members of Parliament would be able to make an informed decision about whether they are justified. Laws can impact on human rights and as a representative of a diverse inner-city electorate I want to ensure all my constituents are treated fairly under the law.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities particularly are subject to discrimination that is condoned in State and Federal antidiscrimination laws. Someone can be fired for being gay if that person is a gardener at a Catholic school, and gay students at religious schools can be expelled purely for their sexuality. I share widespread community support for the elimination of the archaic and unfair exemptions in antidiscrimination legislation. While we are not a country or a State where there are overt impingements on human rights, complacency is dangerous. Rights are eroded slowly and we should determine which are fundamental. We have seen the loss of basic rights like freedom of association and a threat to remove the right to silence in the name of fighting crime. The bill before the House is a good step in the right direction to improving human rights in New South Wales, and I commend the bill to the House.