UQ lawyers respond to Human Rights Act

1 Nov 2018

A number of human rights experts at The University of Queensland Law School have welcomed the Queensland Government’s Human Rights legislation tabled in Parliament yesterday.

Other academics have expressed concerns about the impact it will have on the functioning of Queensland's democratic system. 

Supporters say the reform will bring dignity, respect and fairness to the lives of many, and will complement existing human rights measures.

Critics argue that it will shift power away from Parliament and towards the courts, undermining the capacity of the people of Queensland to govern themselves democratically through Parliament.

Hear what UQ Law experts have to say

Professor Tamara Walsh

The Human Rights Act will improve people’s access to justice and provide an important check on our laws to make sure they operate fairly. When faced with legal problems, people often view the law as something that is against them rather than something that is there to protect them. 

It is important that our law and legal processes are supportive of people who are struggling through no fault of their own, often as a result of disability, low income or homelessness.

A Human Rights Act can balance out some of the negative impacts the law can have on people’s lives.

In relation to the new education right, there is plenty of goodwill in schools, from principals and teachers, but without a Human Rights Act, children in Queensland still would not have a right to an inclusive, appropriate education. This means that parents, teachers and principals cannot insist on the supports they need for children with special needs to receive the best start we can give them through our education system.

Read Professor Walsh's article 'Children with special needs and the right to education'

Dr Paul HarpurDr Paul Harpur

The way the right to education is phrased matches the new disability human rights paradigm which disability rights advocates have been pushing for – ability equality. 

Associate Professor Peter Billings

Associate Professor Peter BillingsThe new law will require a review of practice by many Queensland Government departments and agencies. This Bill aims to embed a human rights decision-making framework within all bureaucratic processes. It will reform the way decision makers view their responsibilities and has the potential to improve the way our society treats its vulnerable citizens.’  

However, a Human Rights Act cannot promote and protect human rights effectively unless it is accompanied by strong political leadership, a systematic education and ongoing training program for public officials and judiciary, and accessible complaint handling. We look forward to further detail on the way complaints will be handled and reported.

Professor Simon Bronitt (Deputy Dean)

Professor Simon BronittDecision makers will need to consider existing structures and policy and ask themselves what needs to change to implement human rights principles in this environment? Many scholars within the Law School are committed to working with our partners to help them understand this new law.  We will work with policy makers and government throughout 2019 to help agencies with the complex job of answering that question by hosting domain specific seminars and workshops on human rights implementation across the services landscape from prisons to schools, policing, housing, mental health and many others.

Bridget Burton

Bridget BurtonThe Human Rights Act provides clarity about the basic rights we all share and which most people rightly assume they already have. It will be necessary to ensure that services such as community legal centres are properly resourced to help people access these rights, especially given the lack of any compensation options to provide redress.

I am looking forward to working with students, academic colleagues and partner agencies throughout 2019 to help people understand and share information about human rights. It's important now to support the implementation so the ideals set out in the Human Rights Bill first become law, and then become daily reality.

Read Ms Burton's article 'The indignity of a right you cannot enforce'. 

Professor Heather DouglasProfessor Heather Douglas

This Bill is part of a welcome trend in law reform in Queensland at the moment that respects autonomy and dignity. In particular for those who have been charged with offences, particularly the inclusion of a right to a fair trial and other safeguards.

Dr Rebecca Ananian-Welsh

Dr Rebecca Ananian-WelshThe introduction of a Human Rights Act is an important, positive step in improving accountability and positive decision-making across all levels of government. It has an important symbolic role too, finally recognising the fundamental rights we all deserve. This particular form of Human Rights Act is tailored to the Australian system of government. It maintains the traditional roles of Parliament and the courts, but gives human rights a much clearer, more appropriate place in that system. A Human Rights Act certainly won't solve all our problems, but it will help ensure that our most basic rights are taken into account in government decision-making and service delivery, just as they should be.

Professor Anthony CassimatisProfessor Anthony Cassimatis

A Human Rights Act will enhance Australia’s compliance with its international human rights obligations including in the areas of health and education. Human rights protections for privacy are also increasingly important as mass surveillance technologies continue to be developed.

Ms Rebecca Wallis

Ms Rebecca WallisSafeguarding and promoting human rights in a carceral environment is enormously important and very challenging to achieve in practice. A Human Rights Act provides an important legislative framework in this context. It helps to ensure that human rights considerations are clearly articulated and prioritised as a key component of operational policy, practice, and procedure. Of course, to be truly effective, legislation like this requires strong commitment and leadership among all relevant stakeholders in order to develop and sustain a robust ‘rights-minded’ institutional culture. This is not easy to achieve quickly, but the introduction of this Bill is an important first step in that journey. 

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