Arguments For and Against a Charter of Human Rights

Some common arguments in favour of a Charter of Human Rights

It is commonly argued that a statutory Charter of Human Rights would expressly recognise rights not currently recognised by Australian law, and therefore also:

  • help promote a stronger culture of respect for human rights;
  • improve government policy-making and administrative decision-making from a human rights perspective;
  • bring Australia into line with every other liberal democracy;
  • better meet the obligations Australia has undertaken, under international law, to protect human rights standards such as those contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (for copies of the core international human rights treaties, see the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights); and
  • potentially allow Australian courts to play a broader role in protecting human rights under Australian law.

Some common arguments against a Charter of Human Rights

Some suggest that a Charter of Human Rights would be unnecessary, given the existing common law and statutory protections of rights in Australia. Opponents of a Charter of Human Rights also consider that a Charter of Human Rights could damage our current system of democratic government, for instance by

  • creating an undue focus on rights, as opposed to responsibilities, social justice or the public interest;
  • giving unelected judges too much power over important social issues;
  • undermining the responsibility, and accountability, of members of Parliament in respect of the protection of human rights; and
  • undermining national sovereignty in respect of human rights (by tying Australian law more closely to international human rights standards).

For further discussion on the arguments for and against a Charter of Human Rights, see Chapters 12 & 13 of the National Human Rights Consultation Report .