Former High Court justice Michael Kirby has called on the Government to follow through on its inquiry and implement a human rights act.
The recently completed Human Rights Consultation drew over 35,000 submissons, 85 percent of which endorsed the adoption of human rights legislation. The idea has many vocal critics, concerned that such an act would place too much power in the judiciary’s hands, or could undermine our very system of Parliament, or that the idea is unnecessary altogether.
“Sadly, Australians cannot claim that their parliamentary system works so perfectly that it does not occasionally need the stimulus of reminders that the law sometimes treats people, usually minorities, unjustly and unequally,” Kirby countered in a speech at Perth’s Murdoch University, before outlining the plights of Australia’s Aborigines, women and the gay and lesbian population.
“Criminal laws and much unequal treatment have marked the lives of gay citizens in Australia. I knew this because I have felt the pain of discrimination most of my life,” he told the crowd.
“Some of these integral laws have only recently been corrected…So why did they exist for so long?
“Previous governments did not treat the reforms seriously. Had a human rights law proclaimed citizens equal, it might have quickened the pace of reform. It might have stimulated Parliament to see the priority and injustice that others felt.
“In these and other instances, Australia’s laws have sometimes reflected the values of past generations. If we count every citizen as precious in Australia’s democracy, we need effective means to stimulate the correction of injustice and inequality where it is identified in the law. Otherwise the forces of inertia and indifference overwhelm the calls for action. This is what a human rights law can do.”

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