Time for SA to have a Human Rights Charter

A Greens’ Bill introduced to Parliament this week would protect the human rights of all South Australians, enshrining principles of dignity, equality, respect and freedom in legislation.

Currently, Australia is the only democratic country in the world where people do not enjoy the protections of a Charter or Bill of Human Rights. This new law would see South Australia join Victoria, Queensland and the ACT as jurisdictions who are going it alone in the absence of any national approach.

“No matter who we are or where we are, our lives are better when we all treat each other with fairness and respect, and when we can enjoy our rights and freedoms,” Greens MLC Mark Parnell said.

“The sad reality, however, is that the rights of individual people and communities aren’t always respected. That’s why it’s important we put these basic rights into law, to help level the playing field.”

The Charter protects rights in three main ways:

  • Public authorities, including government agencies and police, must act in a manner that is consistent with human rights and take these into account when making decisions
  • Human rights must be considered when Parliament makes new laws
  • Courts and tribunals must interpret and apply all laws compatibly with human rights

Examples of the protections include:

  • Freedom from forced work
  • Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief
  • Freedom of expression
  • Protection of families and children
  • Right to education
  • Equality before the law
  • Protection from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
  • Protection of privacy and reputation

Mark Parnell pointed to instances where people have relied on similar interstate legislation to access justice:

“The Victorian charter has been particularly effective in supporting the rights vulnerable individuals. Instances include a 40-year-old man with a disability living in an aged care home who was able to assert his right to live in more suitable accommodation, a 96-year-old woman who was granted extra time to find a new residence following an eviction notice, and advocacy for children in custody who had been transferred to adult facilities.

“Ideally, we would have a national approach, but this isn’t happening, and in the meantime, State and Territory-based legislation is the best way to enshrine these rights in law,” he concluded.