Human Rights Day – Time for NSW to act on human rights

Law Society of NSW

The Law Society of NSW has renewed its call for a Human Rights Act to be discussed, drafted and legislated, preferably in the next term of the State Government.

President of the Law Society of NSW Joanne van der Plaat has released a working paper, Thought Leadership 2022: Human rights legislation for NSW, which she says represents an opportunity for all sides of politics in NSW to rethink their approaches to enshrining these rights in legislation.

“Australia played a key role in developing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10th December 1948. However, important rights like freedom of expression and assembly, are not spelt out in our Constitution, but rather implied and subject to interpretation by the High Court,” Ms van der Plaat said.

“Australia stands almost alone among liberal democratic nations in not having passed a statute to entrench these rights into national law. Only Victoria, Queensland and the A.C.T. have introduced human rights acts.

“This working paper encapsulates discussions hosted by the Law Society and featuring contributions from of some of Australia’s foremost thinkers on human rights. The Law Society has long advocated for a standalone Human Rights Act for NSW as it will assist in fostering social cohesion and provide more fairness and justice to the community.”

This Thought Leadership series reflected one of Ms van der Plaat’s priorities during her term as President of the Law Society; to advocate for human rights. Session panellists included, constitutional scholars Professor George Williams AO and Professor Rosalind Dixon along with Queensland Human Rights Commissioner Scott McDougall and former NSW Premier Bob Carr.

“These and other eminent speakers at these sessions have given us an invaluable insight into the benefits of human rights legislation to NSW. We recognise that successive State governments have consigned a Human Rights Act to the too-hard basket,” Ms van der Plaat said.

“The response by government to the COVID-19 pandemic provided a sharp focus on the fragility of structures supporting human rights in Australia and NSW. As Professor Williams told us, the lack of human rights legislation meant that government decisions on curfews and closed borders could not be properly tested in our courts.

“The Law Society urges political leaders across the spectrum to finally tackle this important project. With broad and inclusive consultation, the government and the governed can work together to develop an Act that will inform better decision-making in the public sector and ultimately lead to a fairer and more compassionate society.”

The enactment of human rights legislation in NSW forms part of the Law Society’s Election Platform, launched last month and includes a call to conduct a comprehensive review of the Anti-Discrimination Act.

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