NSW falling behind on human rights protection

A NSW review of parliamentary process has recommended improvements that will provide better scrutiny of human rights issues in the law-making process, but has missed the opportunity to recommend broader changes that would bring NSW in line with other Australian jurisdictions.

PIAC has welcomed parts of NSW Parliament’s inquiry into the operation of the Legislation Review Act 1987, but is particularly disappointed in its failure to support the introduction of a Charter of Human Rights. 

The Legislation Review Committee adopted some of the recommendations made by PIAC in our submission, to improve the parliamentary consideration of human rights when it debates legislation.

This includes:

  • ‘That the Houses give consideration to amending their respective Standing Orders to require the Member with carriage of a bill to address any matters identified by the Legislation Review Committee during debate on the bill’ (Recommendation 1), and
  • ‘That, for bills where the Houses determine to proceed without the five day adjournment period, the NSW Government implement a practice of outlining in the Second Reading Speech the bill’s impact on personal rights and liberties with reference to the rights and liberties determined by the Committee’ (Recommendation 3).

The Committee also recommended that consideration be given to establishing a new joint Committee to examine the human rights implications of subordinate legislation/regulations (Recommendation 4), something that PIAC also supports.

These are small steps towards better protection of human rights in our law-making but, disappointingly, the Committee has missed the chance to drive more ambitious reforms.

The Committee did not agree with the proposal, put forward by PIAC and others, that the Legislation Review Act should specifically refer to the core international human rights treaties to which Australia is a signatory to inform its work, something that is included in equivalent laws in other Australians jurisdictions.

Most disappointingly, however, the Committee did not support the introduction of a Charter of Human Rights in NSW. Charters already exist in Victoria and the ACT, while the Queensland Government recently introduced a bill for a Human Rights Act there.

While the Committee’s recommendations would achieve incremental improvement in the consideration of human rights in NSW, these rights will never be adequately protected until a Charter of Human Rights is finally implemented.

PIAC will continue to support the introduction of a Charter of Human Rights in NSW and Commonwealth law, and encourages people to sign up to the current national Charter of Rights campaign. 

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