Australia ‘needs a Bill of Rights’

Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs says the country needs a Bill of Rights.

Speaking at a public lecture at Curtin University, Prof Triggs said Australia was the only western democracy without a charter protecting human rights and this meant the rights of Aboriginal people, Torres Strait Islanders, the disabled, the elderly, the LGBTI community and asylum seekers were not protected.

“I think we have to re-open the discussion to create a legislated charter for human rights at the federal level,” Prof Triggs said.

“Australians have been sadly misled into believing that if we had a charter of rights at the federal level that would give our judges an unrestricted right to rule and be activist judges to create new law.”

Prof Triggs said it was “extremely disappointing” Australia had not embraced the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by enshrining it within Australian law. The country had failed to meet its international human rights obligations despite having signed several treaties, she said.

“The long term and indefinite detention of asylum seekers is in my view an egregious breach of international human rights law and the provision against arbitrary detention in particular,” she said.

“The continued detention of over 1,500 people, including 50 children on Manus and Nauru, provides stark reminder that Australia remains in a breach of the fundamental right not to be detained arbitrarily.”

She also said human rights were violated by data retention laws that allowed authorities to gather data without a warrant, while WA’s proposed anti-protest laws were an attack on both freedom of speech and association.

“Counter-terrorism laws introduced over the last two years, we’ve seen many new provisions introduced that appear to be disproportionate to the needs of national security,” she said.

Prof Triggs was criticised fin 2014 for the timing of the commission’s National Enquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, with federal politician Bronwyn Bishop accusing Prof Triggs of politicising the issue and calling for her regisnation.