The campaign for a Tasmanian Human Rights Act

Michelle Wisbey 2017, News and Media, Opinion Pieces and Public Commentary

The Social Action and Research Centre has a simple and powerful vision — we want a just Tasmania, where every person has the equal opportunity to fulfil their potential. That is why we support the implementation of a human rights act in this state. A human rights act would provide people with legally enforceable rights to access the building blocks of life, including health care, education and adequate food and housing, that allow them to reach their potential.

In this article, we invited Tasmanian lawyer and civil liberties campaigner Richard Griggs to write a guest blog explaining how a human rights act would help to protect these rights, and how you can get involved with the campaign. — Meg Webb, Manager SARC

Why Tasmania needs a Tasmanian Human Rights Act, and how you can help

By Richard Griggs, Civil Liberties Tasmania

In December last year a petition started which calls for a Tasmanian Human Rights Act to be implemented in the next term of State Parliament 2018–2022.

The petition can be signed here: www.tashumanrightsact.org

In the five months the petition has been running there are three recurring questions I’m asked:

  1. Why do we need a Tasmanian Human Rights Act?
  2. What is a Tasmanian Human Rights Act?
  3.  How will we get a Tasmanian Human Rights Act?

Why do we need a Tasmanian Human Rights Act?

Human rights are the basic building blocks of life which allow people to achieve their full potential. Whether it is the right to education, housing, adequate food or health care, each of these things are necessary to achieving your very best. These rights are also about ensuring everyone can live in dignity and security.

In simple terms, human rights are what really matter in life and what we should ask our elected leaders to focus their time and effort on.

In 2007 the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute found that rights protection in Tasmania is ‘partial, disconnected and inaccessible’ [1] and that the solution to this problem is legislation, i.e. a Tasmanian Human Rights Act.

If we were to have a Tasmanian Human Rights Act, the key differences would be:

  • At the individual level, Tasmanians would have legally enforceable rights
  • At the community level, the same basic guarantees would be available to all sections of society, regardless of where you live or what you earn
  • At the political level, changes to legislation or policy would have to be demonstrated to be compliant with human rights
  • At the organisational level, Tasmanian Government (and organisations providing services on its behalf) would be obliged to act in a way consistent with human rights

What is a Tasmanian Human Rights Act?

A Tasmanian Human Rights Act would list all the rights which Tasmanian’s enjoy, require State Parliament to only pass laws that are compatible with those rights and generally act in a human rights compliant manner. Also, the courts would be able to make binding orders when an individual’s rights are infringed.

For example, a family evicted from public housing due to their religion would have had their right to housing being unjustifiably taken from them by the actions of the government. In this case the court would be empowered to make an order requiring the family be rehoused.

In addition to the formal legal aspect of how the law would work, experience in Victoria and the ACT (the two Australian jurisdictions with Human Rights Acts) has shown that the real benefit of their laws has been that it focuses the mind of government on acting in a human rights compliant way so that problems are identified early and resolved before needing escalation to court. The ACT’s prison was built to a design and with operating rules that were human rights compliant and this is a very practical demonstration of the impact human rights legislation can have.

The Tasmanian Law Reform Institute recommended thirty one specific rights be included in the legislation. The full list of rights and a more detailed overview of the model proposed is available here: https://www.tashumanrightsact.org/about/

How will we get a Tasmanian Human Rights Act?

The petition is building momentum slowly but surely. At the time of writing we have 380 signatures but we need more. Please do sign today.

However the petition really is only the start of the campaign. We need our elected representatives in State Parliament (and candidates seeking election) to know that people in their electorate care about this issue.

To make sure the message gets through, we will be asking petitioners for their help during the campaign. Currently there are the following five ways you can help:

  1. Sign the petition and then share on social media
  2. Contact (by letter, e-mail or phone) the 6 politicians who represent you in State Parliament (5 Lower House & 1 Upper House). Ask for their commitment to implementing a Tasmanian Human Rights Act in the next term of parliament from 2018–2022
  3. Put your organisation/s forward as a ‘supportive organisation’. See the current list of supportive organisations here: www.tashumanrightsact.org/supportive-organisations and please contact the campaign to discuss
  4. Ask for your local group to be briefed on the campaign (Rotary, communal garden, swimming club, church group, school association — you name it, we will come) contact the campaign to arrange a speaker to attend
  5. Write a letter to your local paper explaining why you support the campaign:

– The Mercury — www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/letter-to-the-editor

– The Examiner — www.examiner.com.au/opinion/letters/send-a-letter-to-the-editor/

– The Advocate — www.theadvocate.com.au/opinion/letters/send-a-letter-to-the-editor/

Richard Griggs

Richard works in Hobart as a lawyer, volunteers as Tasmanian Director of Civil Liberties Australia and is the lead petitioner for a Tasmanian Human Rights Act. The petition can be signed by visiting www.tashumanrightsact.organd the campaign can be contacted by emailing richard.k.griggs@gmail.com

[1]http://www.utas.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/283728/Human_Rights_A4_Final_10_Oct_2007_revised.pdf