UQ lawyers respond to Human Rights Act

1 Nov 2018

A number of human rights experts at The University of Queensland Law School have welcomed the Queensland Government’s Human Rights legislation tabled in Parliament yesterday.

Others have expressed concerns about the impact that it will have on the functioning of Queensland’s democratic system.

Supporters say the reform will bring dignity, respect and fairness to the lives of many, and will complement existing human rights measures.

Critics argue that it will shift power away from Parliament and towards the courts, undermining the capacity of the people of Queensland to govern themselves democratically through Parliament.

The legislation includes nation-leading reforms in the right to education and health care, and the right to make a complaint.

Human rights lawyer and UQ researcher Professor Tamara Walsh said the Human Rights Act would improve access to justice and provide an important check on laws to ensure they operate fairly.

“When faced with legal problems, people often view the law as something that is against them rather than something that is there to protect them,” Professor Walsh said.

“It is important that our law and legal processes are supportive of people who are struggling through no fault of their own, often as a result of disability, low income or homelessness.

“A human rights act can balance out some of the negative impacts the law can have on people’s lives.”

The Queensland Human Rights Act will include a new right to education.

Professor Walsh said there was a lot of goodwill in schools, from principals and teachers, but without a human rights act, children in Queensland still would not have a right to an inclusive, appropriate education.

“This means that parents, teachers and principals could not insist on the supports they need for children with special needs to receive the best start we can give them through our education system,” she said.

The new law would require a review of practice by many Queensland Government departments and agencies.

Government decision-making expert Associate Professor Peter Billings said the Act aimed to embed a human rights decision-making framework within all bureaucratic processes. 

“It will reform the way decision makers view their responsibilities and has the potential to improve the way our society treats its vulnerable citizens,” Dr Billings said.

“However, a Human Rights Act cannot promote and protect human rights effectively unless it is accompanied by strong political leadership, a systematic education and ongoing training program for public officials and judiciary, and accessible complaint handling.”

Professor Anthony Cassimatis, who gave evidence to the Parliamentary committee that recommended a human rights act in Queensland, said that the Act would enhance Queensland’s compliance with international human rights obligations including in health and education. 

“Human rights protections for privacy are also increasingly important as mass surveillance technologies continue to be developed,” Professor Cassimatis said.

The Law School will work with policy makers and government next year to help agencies implement the Act, by hosting seminars and workshops in human rights implementation.

Media: media@law.uq.edu.au or +61 7 3443 1321.