It has been years since our parliamentarians made an effort to try and implement a form of Human Rights framework that could have reflected the values and attitudes of every South Australian. The time has come again to speak about a guaranteed Human Rights framework to ensure that the most vulnerable individuals in our community are protected, and everyone is treated fairly, with dignity, equality and respect.
Many of us do not realise that a vast majority of our rights are not protected in law. When human rights are not protected in law, they are constantly in danger of being eroded and ignored in the lawmaking process. So how do we change this? Introducing Human Rights legislation will help make sure that our rights are always respected, no matter who we are, where we live, or what we do. Human Rights legislation would also help clarify our rights and freedoms and provide an easier pathway to seek justice when an individual’s rights have been violated.
Let us look at the bigger picture. A Human Rights Act, subject to its specific form, can protect all South Australians. It can set out a framework for the executive branch to follow when implementing laws; it can give the courts a clear set of criteria when interpreting laws and help build a culture in the South Australian public sector that respects and promotes human rights.
The legal rights and obligations that flow from rights protection will depend on what model of Human Rights legislation is adopted. For example, some models warrant that the government will have to take into account how the proposed laws or policies would impact on an individual’s human rights and freedoms. Public authorities can be required to take into account human rights principles in decision-making processes and policy making. The courts will have the power to review the incompatibility of state laws with the Human Rights legislation. Lastly, individuals whose human rights have been violated under the Human Rights Act may be able to access appropriate legal remedies. South Australia can learn from other jurisdictions when it comes to the design of human rights legislation to get the right fit for this state.
In the long run, Human Rights legislation will be able to assist in creating a human rights culture in South Australia. Regardless of the model adopted, or whether a person engages in litigation, all South Australians from every walk of life could potentially utilise the Human Rights legislation to improve their lives, especially the disadvantaged, marginalised and vulnerable members in our community. Human Rights legislation could also encourage a more vigorous conversation about rights issues, promote governmental accountability and help strengthen consensus amongst South Australians.
In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a variety of impacts on the lives and human rights of South Australians. To name a few, we have had limited freedom of movement within the state, heightened racism towards people from Asian descent and an immense change in obtaining justice and access to facilities. Since we do not have a Charter of Human Rights like Victoria, nor a Human Rights Act like QLD and ACT, we can say that there has been limited accountability for our Government’s responses to this pandemic. I will highlight that, unlike some State Governments in Australia, the South Australian government is not bound to consider potential human rights impacts when creating and implementing a response to this pandemic, nor bound to consider any human rights principles when making new laws. So, are we alright with this? I hope not.
One might ask, what sort of rights should be included in the prospective South Australian Human Rights Act? I argue that it should reflect the values and attitudes of every South Australian. However, it should also include rights that are contained in the international treaties that Australia has promised to abide by, as well as guaranteed protection for economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.
To conclude, the time has come for us to act and speak about entrenching our rights and freedoms in South Australia as enshrining our human rights in law could help build a fair, just and equitable society for everyone. It is no longer feasible for our government to ignore the rapid changes of attitudes towards having a more robust Human Rights protection for all South Australians. Therefore, immediate action is necessary to achieve a culture of respect for human rights and a much better understanding of one’s own rights and the rights of others.
Contributor Bio: Jayson has degrees in Health and Medical Science and Law. Following an exchange a the University of Calgary Jayson worked in Refugee, Immigration, Civil Dispute and Family Law, whilst volunteering for Justice for Refugee SA. The legal issues he is most passionate about are; Human Rights, International Trade and Investment, and Cybersecurity.