The case for a Charter of Rights in Australia

Dean's Lecture Series 2018

While historically a good international citizen, Australia has failed over recent years to protect fundamental freedoms or to comply with its international human rights  obligations. Australians no longer speak the language of human rights as we have become isolated from the human rights laws and jurisprudence of comparable nations; the courts struggle to find the legal tools to comply with the common law principle of legality; parliaments have failed in their traditional role of restraining the executive abuse of discretion;  the various forms of  media are swamped by false news, post truth and alternative facts.

In this regressive environment, we have been unable to agree upon indigenous recognition, the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders imprisoned are unprecedented; we continue to detain without charge or trial thousands of asylum seekers and refugees offshore; we hold indefinitely those unfit to stand trial; domestic violence, homelessness and elder abuse remain serious social problems.

Unlike every other democracy and common law country in the world, Australia has no Bill or Charter of Rights.  Australia now needs a federally legislated Charter of Rights, at minimum, the so-called dialogue model, to  provide a benchmark against which laws passed by Parliament and  government discretions can be tested for compliance with the common law and our human rights treaties.