Axver (axver) wrote,

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Victoria gets a Human Rights Charter, but not without nonsense from a pack of whingers

I am starting to become convinced that the political right wing is perfecting the art of stupidity, and I am disappointed that the Aussie right is importing some language from the US. Australia lacks anything resembling a bill of rights, but today, Victoria became the first state to introduce a human rights charter. You can read it here. Now, I thought that both sides of politics had managed to agree that human rights are a good idea. Sure, there are some people (mainly fringe academics with anti-West axes to grind such as idiots like Adamantia Pollis) who would disagree, and we've already seen the right (especially Bush and the neocons) happy to debate what rights are in fact rights and to deny them to people they don't like. But on the whole, especially in mainstream politics, I thought we'd managed to come to a bit of an agreement: human rights are important and should be protected. So I thought this human rights charter would be a nice, happy moment of cross-floor hand-holding and mutual support. Clearly the state Opposition and the right wing in general did not get the memo.

Apparently this Human Rights Charter is a bad thing! The state Opposition have tried to make their case sound reasonable; as reported in the ABC article linked above, it believes that the Charter will clog the courts and create an additional administrative burden. The administrative burden part may be true, as all government bodies now have to ensure their action is in compliance with the law, but I'd say that's worth it for something as fundamentally important as human rights. The former part, about the courts being clogged, is simply complete rot as there is no allowance for new legal action to be taken under the charter; there has to be an existing right to action. Furthermore, a spokesman claims that "Victoria's got a well established set of laws already that respect human rights". So? The recognition is implicit; this makes it clear and explicit. It does not create the confusion the Opposition claims; it offers clarity. You'd think the Opposition would be able to come to the table and agree on as positive a development as this. Perhaps they're supported by interests who would operate easier without an explicit Charter though - after all, it's the Liberal Party and it's no secret they represent big business.

What really irritated me, though, was an editorial in the Herald Sun (surprise surprise) by Peter Faris. Some poor sods are going to buy this. It's not his poisoning of the well ("so-called human rights") or red herrings ("right to life (but not for embryos)") that annoy me. It's his actual language. I feel like I am reading an article from the US, not from Australia. He puts forth some absolute drivel about "activist" judges and conceptualises the Charter as a tool granting judges some huge measure of power to legislate their own personal views. Somehow, I don't think a judicial decision that a piece of legislation is incompatible with the Human Rights Charter constitutes "activism". This sort of language has destroyed enough nuances and reasonable debates in the US already; we don't need it here. His argument is also rather inconsistent. He begins his article by saying that he believes the current laws already protect human rights, so the Charter's purpose is already being served - i.e. it unnecessarily duplicates what we already have. Then he goes on to claim that the charter is "revolutionary" and shifts power from the parliament to the courts. Which is it, Faris? You can't have it both ways. Either the Charter is unnecessary because the political and legal systems already do what it aims to do, or it is revolutionising said systems and their relationship to one another. After this, it seems the article just descends into distorted facts and "the taxpayer will suffer!" sensationalism that is not worth comment. Diane Sisely provides a more levelheaded commentary in The Age.

Personally? I don't think the Charter is perfect, or even ideal, but for completely different reasons. My criticisms are based on the language of the Charter and concerns that it does not go far enough; I expected these, not the above drivel, to be the main points of contention. Section 7(2) allows for limitations to be placed on human rights in exceptional circumstances - if you ask me, claiming that human rights can be limited in certain circumstances defeats the purpose entirely, as they are meant to be universally applicable. Section 31 adds on to this; it allows parliament to pass Acts that override the Charter as long as a statement of justification is made of the exceptional circumstances that, in the opinion of the member introducing a Bill, require such action. I don't like human right being placed at the whims of whatever the parliament feels is politically expedient. Elsewhere, 15(3) is of deep concern to me, as it places "special duties and restrictions" on fredom of speech. Now, I agree with people such as J. S. Mill who argue that freedom of speech requires safeguards against forms of speech that constitute direct incitement of violence, but I'm bothered that freedom of speech may be restricted for the protection of "public morality". As morality is so individually subjective, culturally dependent, and changeable over time, what exactly does "public morality" mean? Is this just bullshit to appease Fundies First voters? Because I sure as hell don't like it.

Nonetheless, this Charter is a fantastic step in the right direction. It has its flaws, but it's a positive sign and hopefully part of a process towards a federal equivalent. I'm proud to live in Victoria today. I just wish certain figures on the right wing would shut up and stop blathering nonsense.
Tags: australian politics, human rights, politics, right wing, victoria

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