Support for the ACT’s Human Rights Act
The Human Rights Act was first debated in the ACT in 2004. The ACT Greens, at that time served in the Assembly by MLA Kerrie Tucker, supported the Bill. From then on, the Greens looked to a future for Canberra when we could start to realise not only civil and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights.
Meanwhile, the Canberra Liberals called the Human Rights Act a “very dangerous path of social engineering”. The Liberals referenced the 1215 AD Magna Carta as providing sufficient protections for citizens, and ran a scare campaign that it would take away from the fundamental right of honest citizens to be protected by the laws of our land.
Even Labor had its detractors. Then NSW Premier Bob Carr suggested the courts would be “swamped with thousands of bill-of-rights cases”. Other jurisdictions proved similarly reluctant.
In the intervening years, far from clogging up the courts, the Human Rights Act has been used judiciously and carefully to navigate sometimes competing priorities in such a way as to enhance a fairer and more just community.
Holding the balance of power, protecting human rights
In 2018 the ACT Greens mark ten years of holding the balance of power in the Assembly. Since then, and particularly since becoming Minister for Justice in 2016, I have sought to push this debate further along.
Practically, we have sought to embed human rights protections for all Canberrans, not just in law but in daily life. For example, in 2012, Greens MLA Amanda Bresnan greatly strengthened and expanded the ACT Government’s Official Visitor scheme which aims to detect and prevent systemic issues in government institutions. Official Visitors do this by visiting institutions, talking to officials and people in their care, inspecting records, reporting on the standard of facilities, resolving grievances, and reporting directly to the responsible Minister.
We have seen now 14 years of solid, robust and meaningful progress on human rights. While many of these elements are already protected in Australian by Commonwealth law, by engaging our local community and consistently striving to meet the highest human standards, we can consider ourselves to be the most progressive jurisdiction in the country: a badge the ACT Greens strive to maintain and wear with pride.
Human Rights for All
The Greens are committed to ensuring that all Canberrans are able to live with dignity, free from discrimination and are treated equally and fairly—particularly for the more vulnerable in our community. This includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, women, people with disability and mental illness, the young, the socially and economically disadvantaged and those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
That’s why we have:
- Supported legislation to see the ACT realise our Human Rights Act—setting out the rights of individuals and seeing the ACT become a ‘human rights jurisdiction’;
- Supported unprecedented legislation in October 2004 that saw the ACT become the first state or territory to legislate a ‘right to education’;
- Supported the introduction of key aspects of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People into our ACT Human Rights Act in 2014, formally recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ material and economic relationships with the land and waters of Canberra;
- Brought in nation leading laws making it illegal to vilify someone because of disability, religion, race, sexuality, gender identity, and HIV/AIDS status.
- Elected Shane Rattenbury as Australia’s first Greens Justice Minister (2016—present);
- Ensured no school in the ACT can discriminate on the basis of protected attributes like sexuality, gender identity, race, marital status, pregnancy or intersex status; discrimination and anti-vilification rights;
- Established human rights principles for the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC).