Human Rights Commission-er Dr Sev Ozdowski and Democrats senator Brian Greig have stressed the extreme importance of a Bill of Rights to the gay and lesbian community in the absence of sexuality anti- discrimination legislation.
In a conference speech delivered before approximately 200 people at the NSW Parliament House Theatrette last Friday, Ozdowski asserted that Australia was lagging behind other developed nations on the protection of civil rights -“ a situation that Ozdowski warned may result in the erosion of existing civil liberties.
In an interview with Sydney Star Observer yesterday, Ozdowski stressed the importance of a Bill of Rights to minority groups such as the gay and lesbian community.
A Bill of Rights is of extreme importance for the gay and lesbian community because the key purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect minorities because majorities usually also have legislative majority and the Bill would set out common standards of decency that a majority could not override, he said.
Greig, who delivered an impassioned speech at the Conference, went further, asserting that the current absence of anti-discrimination laws covering sexuality was the most scandalous gap in Australian politics and could only be remedied by the introduction of a Bill of Rights protecting the civil liberties of individual citizens or by including sexuality in anti-discrimination laws.
It is essential that sexuality is included in these matters and we need to have that debate in Australia, Greig told the Star.
But perhaps the benefit of a Charter or a Bill of Rights over sexuality discrimination legislation is that it is much harder to wind [a Charter or Bill] back. It provides that the courts can preside over the parliament in terms of preventing breaches of rights, whereas that is not necessarily the case with sexuality discrimination legislation.
The Bill of Rights Confer-ence highlighted the stark split of opinion in the political landscape over the Bill of Rights issue.
Attorney-general Daryl Wil-liams reasserted the government’s staunch opposition to a Bill of Rights, arguing that such a move would leave Australians worse off.
Williams said at the conference that a Bill of Rights would shift responsibility for the protection of civil rights and freedoms from the government to the courts.
Betting on the judiciary delivering certain outcomes is a mug’s game, Williams said.
While Ozdowki told the Star that he agreed with Williams, claiming that the judiciary is not the most equipped part of the system of government to deliver to us what our civil liberties are, Greig was less convinced.
There is some truth in [Williams’s] argument. How-ever, I think Australians are increasingly worried about the actions of their government, Greig said.
[But the] hypocrisy in that [point] as it relates to the gay and lesbian community is that the government is saying rights and freedoms are best determined by the parliament -“ and that protecting rights is what they’re doing. I would say, no, they’re not. Again, just look at sexuality discrimination. This is an area where the government has been heartless and cruel.
In another speech to the Conference, professor of Law and Indigenous Studies at the University of Technology, Larissa Behrendt, also argued against the government’s assertions that the current system allows for adequate rights protection.
I am now not prepared to accept an argument that I should remain reliant upon the benevolence of the government for the protection of my rights because, quite frankly, they often take second place to the rights of all other Australians, Behrendt said.
When the framers left the power to make laws about rights to the legislature, they did not do so thinking that the law makers would act in the best interests of minorities.
Ozdowski said the Bill of Rights debate was presently at a healthy stage and pointed to a public consultation process by the ACT government over the issue that could see an endemic Bill of Rights introduced to the Territory.
They are looking at different models to see how it should be done, Ozdowski said, adding, All banks and other institutions have to have a charter for their customers -“ why shouldn’t our government have one as well?