EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Rudd to bankroll human rights activists
, May 15, 2010
The Rudd Government has rejected the establishment of a human rights act in Australia, in its official response to the 2009 report of the National Human Rights Consultation chaired by Father Frank Brennan.
Instead, the Rudd Government has proposed a large expansion of government spending on the human rights "industry", in both the government and non-government sectors.
The effect of this will be to provide more government funds for what are effectively political campaigns undertaken by both non-government organisations and the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The Rudd Government’s rejection of the proposal for a human rights act - which was the major recommendation of the Brennan-led consultation - was apparently the result of wide public opposition which the inquiry tried to ignore. During the course of the consultation, there were orchestrated submissions by agitprop bodies such as GetUp! and Amnesty International.
The consultation report mentioned as much. It said, "Of the 29,153 submissions in favour of a human rights act, 26,382 were campaign submissions", that is, submissions orchestrated by GetUp! and Amnesty International.
If one excludes the "campaign submissions", only 2,771 were in favour of a Human Rights Act, and 4,203 opposed it (on the committee’s calculations), a far cry from the overwhelming support which the committee maintained supported federal legislation.
The Rudd Government’s official response to the Brennan consultation was made at the National Press Club in Canberra by the federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland.
Mr McClelland’s response to the Brennan report was to release the Government’s own alternative approach. The Attorney-General barely mentioned the major recommendation of the Brennan inquiry when releasing his document.
Not surprisingly, leading human rights activists were quick to criticise the government’s response. Fr Frank Brennan commented that "the Rudd Government has baulked at the recommendation for a human rights act that would allow judges to assess Commonwealth laws, policies and practices for human rights compliance". (CathNews.com
, April 23, 2010).
The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Cathy Branson QC, said the AHRC was disappointed that the Government had decided not to implement "at this stage" the Brennan committee’s major recommendation for a human rights act.
"The Government has missed the opportunity to provide comprehensive human rights protection for everyone in Australia through adopting a national human rights act," she said.
The AHRC, which is bankrolled by the government, attempted to mobilise people to support this recommendation, and will clearly continue to do so into the future.$2 million allocated
The Federal Government’s Human Rights Framework will facilitate this process. The government will give $2 million over four years to non-government organisations "for the development and delivery of community education and engagement programs to promote a greater understanding of human rights", and bring together non-government organisations to consult with the Attorney General and the Foreign Minister on human rights issues.
It will also give an additional $6.6 million over the next four years to the Australian Human Rights Commission "to enable it to expand its community education role on human rights and to provide information and support for human rights education programs".
The Rudd Government will also spend $3.8 million on an education and training program for the Commonwealth public service to develop a "human rights toolkit and guidance materials for public sector policy development and implementation of government programs".
It will also introduce legislation to establish a dedicated parliamentary joint committee on human rights "to provide greater scrutiny of legislation for compliance with our international human rights obligations", and introduce legislation requiring each new bill introduced into parliament to be accompanied by a statement which outlines its compatibility with Australia’s human rights obligations.
These measures are completely unnecessary. Australia’s Constitution provides judicial review of government actions, and the government is already required to comply with anti-discrimination legislation in relation to its administrative actions through bodies such as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Taken together, the new measures will do nothing to enhance human rights in Australia which are already protected by many pieces of state and federal legislation, but provide a massive subsidy to government-bankrolled human rights activists. They are also a further waste of public money.
The federal Opposition has opposed the establishment of a federal human rights act, saying it is unnecessary.
The question now is whether it will oppose the wasteful funding of organisations, both government and non-government, which support a human rights act ... and one that would impose judicial and administrative controls over the operations of the parliament.Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.