The following is my report on the National Human Rights Consultation meeting I went to on Wednesday 8 April 2009.
First some background on the consultation and human rights. Quotes taken from the Human Rights Consultation web site and pamphlets handed out at the meeting. So what is this all about?
The National Human Rights Consultation provides an opportunity for you to share your views on human rights in Australia.
There is currently no Bill, Law or Charter of Human Rights in Australia so there is a committee in place to find out what Australians think are important rights and how they could be enshrined. In what may be a first for real democracy the committee is traveling around Australia getting as many people involved as possible. Additionally you can have your say online or through traditional mail, so far they have had over 10,000 submissions, from simple one sentence to multiple pages. This is a government backed scheme, but run by mostly non-government people.
Why are we having a National Human Rights Consultation?
Because we want you to share your views about human rights in Australia! It is time to take a look at the way Australia currently looks after human rights and consider a range of ways we can protect and promote human rights in the future. The National Human Rights Consultation will give everyone a chance to have their say about human rights.
We want to know which human rights you want to have protected, whether you think that our current system of human rights protection is good enough, and what you would like Australia’s human rights framework to look like in the future.
There are three key points the committee are looking at as follows:
Key Consultation Questions
- Which human rights and responsibilities should be protected and promoted?
- Are human rights sufficiently protected and promoted?
- How could Australia better protect and promote human rights?
You can share your views by making a written submission either online or by post. You can also attend a community roundtable discussion. See the Calendar of events and Share your views pages for more information.
So what happens at one of these consultation events?
We were handed a couple of pamphlets and an agenda, which basically covered, and expanded upon, the key points listed above, then seated in groups of up to eight. Following an introduction from the committee members, individuals were given the opportunity to explain their main reason for attending the consultation. Then it was explained to us how to answer key point one, each table then had to brainstorm and write down which human rights they would like protected and promoted. I, of course, got the following documented:
“The right to freedom of religion and freedom from religion”
I had to briefly explain the reasoning behind adding the ‘from’ religion section, but was very happy that the rest of the people at my table (none who had met any of us before) were all in agreement with this right. It would have been interesting to know how this would have gone down at the one table that had a couple of overtly religious people at (a Catholic priest and an Anglican minister). One of the women at the table I was at stated she was a christian but fully understood the need for freedom from religion as it doesn’t just protect non-believers but also all the different faiths from any one of them being promoted more than the others.
Following key point one a committee member explained what they wanted us to do for key point two, then it was back to the brainstorming and documenting. This was a little more difficult as none of us really knew if or what rights and liberties are protected (not many be all account), but at least we all agreed that some document should be in place and that it should be in an “accessible” language. Much discussion ensued on who should be obliged to protect these rights with several mentions of Businesses/Companies particularly with respect to what is called “Third Generation” rights.
Third generation rights are rights to protect future generations, such as rights promoting a healthy environment.
Next came key point three, from which the main point was raised that education was the key. Children, starting at primary school, should be taught any bill of rights and why they are in place. There was mention from one of the committee members of a course in ‘Civics’ taught in the UK for 4 -14 year olds, we all agreed a similar thing should be taught here. Ethics and diversity were added to our list, aditionally one of the table members recommended courses in Comparative Religion should be taught in schools from an early age, all the people at the table were in total agreement with that.
One of the common concerns was the difficulty in wording some of these rights and how they should be implemented, which I guess is one of the reasons they are holding these consultations.
At the end of answering key point three, a spokesperson from each group (there were about 30 groups) briefly outlined a major point or two that thier group came up with. Not surprisingly there was a lot of similar responses.
Overall I found it quite interesting, and heartening to see that so many people are keen to get involved. So why don’t you get involved? Check the Calendar of Events for when one of these consultation meetings are in your area and go along. If you are a GetUp member then register to attend via the GetUp website, this will assist GetUp in determining how many people are interested in a Bill of Rights. Additionally you can submit your suggestions from the GetUp site.
The flip chart papers we all wrote our responses on were collected by the committee who stated that they would review them all, so by the time they have been all around Australia they should have plenty of ideas for the Bill of Rights.
One of the things the committee did point out that, currently, the government is not intending to introduce a Bill of Rights per-se, so the results of these consultations will end up as being a Charter of Rights (which can be easily amended by legislation, so is not quite so binding).
So if you haven’t already, get involved. This may be one of the few chances you get to have a say in the process of democracy.