20/12/2007 - 15:47

McGinty says human rights charter a national issue

20/12/2007 - 15:47

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Western Australian attorney general Jim McGinty has poured cold water on a proposal to introduce a state-based charter for human rights, saying human rights protection was "an objective best pursued at a national level".

Western Australian attorney general Jim McGinty has poured cold water on a proposal to introduce a state-based charter for human rights, saying human rights protection was "an objective best pursued at a national level".

The comments came as a government-funded Consultative Committee, chaired by former federal minister Fred Chaney, handed a report to the state government indicating strong support among Western Australians for a WA Human Rights Act.

Of the 401 people surveyed during extensive public consultation, 89 per cent believed WA should have a law to protect human rights, with many believing their rights, or the rights of others, were not being given sufficient respect and needed greater protection.

Mr McGinty said the report by the committee would help inform any debate at the national level.

"Ideally human rights should be shared by all Australians and not be subject to change when you cross State borders," he said today.

"The WA State Government welcomes the recent comments from new Federal Attorney General Robert McClelland that he intends to consult the community about the introduction of a national charter.

"It seems sensible that further consideration of a State-based charter await the outcome of Mr McClelland's federal consultation."

Consultative Committee chairman Fred Chaney said there was clear majority support for a WA Human Rights Act - both from submissions the committee received and the findings of an independently run public opinion poll commissioned in August.

The committee held more than 40 public hearings and received nearly 400 submissions from the public, community organisations and government agencies.

The committee found that human rights legislation should maintain parliamentary sovereignty with democratically elected politicians retaining the responsibility for determining how rights should be balanced and when rights should be limited for the common good of the community.

Other common themes from the consultation concerned encouraging a human rights culture in government departments and agencies, discouraging litigation as a way to resolve human rights issues, emphasis being placed on conciliation to settle disputes, and the protection of civil and political rights as well as social, economic and cultural rights.

Mr McGinty said any successful charter of human rights would need to be simple, relatively straightforward in implementation and not lead to an overly litigious society.

The consultation committee's report had, however, raised major issues that would need careful consideration, he said.

"For example, the recommendations that recognition and implementation of economic, social and cultural rights be included in the proposed act could lead to unintended consequences," he said.

"Also, the committee's proposal to vest certain human rights functions with the Equal Opportunity Commissioner requires further thought."

Mr McGinty congratulated the committee which produced the report on its exhaustive public consultation on the issue.

Joining Dr Chaney on the committee were WA Council of Social Service, Lisa Baker; former Anglican Primate the Most Reverend Dr Peter Carnley; and child health researcher Associate Professor Colleen Hayward.


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