Dan Rogers co-chaired with Kevin Cocks AM a debate last night regarding the introduction of a Human Rights Act in Queensland. Hosted by the Queensland Law Society, the event was attended by local lawyers and students.

After last year’s state election, consideration of a Human Rights Act was a key commitment given by Labor in return for Peter Wellington’s support in a hung parliament. Since that time, a broad and dynamic group of community organisations, social justice groups and individuals have been advocating for the introduction of legislative protection of human rights.

In September 2015, the Caxton Community Legal Centre hosted a forum at Parliament House. It was effectively a campaign launch by interested community groups. Ms Yvette D’Ath (Attorney-General) and Ms Jackie Trad (Deputy Premier) spoke alongside various community leaders including Mr Cocks.

At that event, the Attorney General committed to an inquiry and subsequently referred the issue of a Human Rights Act to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee. That committee is due to report to Parliament by July this year. It is expected that public hearings will occur in early May.

The issue of a Human Rights Act can be divisive. It is one where reasonable and intelligent minds can differ. They can differ on whether a statutory model is needed or whether the common law is sufficient to safeguard our rights.

Human rights mean different things to different individuals. For some, invoking such rights is a heartfelt and justified demand to rectify a form of injustice. For others, any reference to human rights is but a slogan to be treated with a degree of cynicism.

Many in the community regard human rights lawyers as the Amal Clooney type. They have a sexy image of someone jet-setting around the globe wearing Prada and arguing cases before international courts and tribunals. The reality is somewhat different and many lawyers also fail to recognise it.

All lawyers are human rights lawyers. We protect the rights and interests of our clients on a daily basis whether it’s the right to property, to fair trial or to safety and security in a domestic violence proceeding. Lawyers working in the community legal sector are exposed to human rights issues even more frequently. This reform could affect the practice of all lawyers significantly.

Generally speaking, it is common ground that the protection of rights is a good thing. However, the mechanism by which this is achieved is debatable. Legislative protection of human rights exists in Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. There are also constitutional or entrenched models in the United States and Canada, although Queensland is not considering an entrenched model.

The idea of a Human Rights Act is, therefore, not a new concept. There is a body of literature and careful analysis to inform us as to its successes and failings. It is hoped that the Government’s inquiry will carefully consider this material and provide a clear and positive direction for the protection of human rights in Queensland.