The Prime Minister’s proposal to take a religious discrimination Act to the next Federal election yet again raises the question why Australia is the only western democracy in the Westminster tradition that does not have a Bill of Rights.

ACCL President Terry O’Gorman said that the Federal Government should introduce a Charter of Rights rather than fiddling around the edges with standalone pieces of legislation to protect individual rights.

“Australia is the only country of the main western democracies not to have a national law protecting human rights across the board”, Mr O’Gorman said.

“The UK from where Australia derives its legal tradition has had a Charter of Rights for decades and the sky has not fallen in. So has Canada and New Zealand which has a similar legal structure to Australia as well as the US which has an entrenched Bill of Rights”, Mr O’Gorman said.

Mr O’Gorman said Australia has a hodge-podge of legislation particularly at Federal level providing for equality rights in the areas of race, age, disability and sex.

“Yet we have no Federal Charter of Rights (only a Charter of Rights in Victoria and the ACT and one under consideration in Queensland at a State level) protecting such fundamental rights as freedom of speech”, Mr O’Gorman said.

Mr O’Gorman said that while we have a ‘five eyes’ national security sharing of information arrangement with Canada, the UK, New Zealand and the US, and while that is clearly an important and vital arrangement to protect Australia’s national security interests, we do not have a protective national Human Rights Charter to guard against national security excesses such as exist with our ‘five eyes’ partners.

“We cooperate with the US, Canada, UK and New Zealand on national security matters, as we should, but we show no interest whatsoever in copying the human rights legislation of those countries with whom we have a national security partnership”, Mr O’Gorman said.

Mr O’Gorman said that protecting an Australian’s right to practise their religion, whatever faith they are, is fundamentally important.

“It is equally fundamentally important to protect a whole range of political rights which only a national Charter of Rights can achieve”, Mr O’Gorman said.


Mr O’Gorman can be contacted during business hours on 07 3034 0000