Here is Gillian Triggs describing Australia’s human rights regime:
Australia has taken an individual path to protect fundamental freedoms through national laws, the common law and cultural conventions. Australia has relied on its judges to apply principles that have been developed at common law over many centuries, on a case-by-case basis, since the Magna Carta in 1215. Through this time-honoured process, the high court has affirmed the principle of “legality” and strongly supported fundamental freedoms against executive power.
That sounds good in theory – but then she demonstrates what has gone wrong:
Parliament has given specific legislative effect to some only of Australia’s international treaty obligations – in the Racial Discrimination Act, Sex Discrimination Act, and Disability Discrimination Act – and has enacted additional laws on age, children and Indigenous Australians.
Consistent with this preference for administrative rather than legislative protection for human rights, the Commonwealth established the Australian Human Rights Commission in 1986. It is testimony to the strength of Australia’s democracy that, despite the Commission’s function to hold government to account on human rights protections, it has been supported on a bipartisan basis by all federal governments for nearly 30 years.
With this evolution, Australia’s unique approach to human rights has produced a significant gap in legal protections for some rights, such as the right to freedom of speech or freedom from arbitrary detention, while comprehensively preserving the right protection against certain forms of discrimination.
Reread that last sentence – that is precisely the criticism that organisations such such as the IPA (and now Senator George Brandis) has long leveled against the Australian Human Rights Commission. Australia’s ‘unique approach’ to human rights does not actually protect human rights as they apply to individuals but rather they apply to groups. In short, our ‘unique approach’ to human rights has produced a form of apartheid – different people have different rights depending on what group they can be said to belong to and how government privileges that group.
Contrast that approach with what Tim Wilson describes:
First, human rights as universal individual birthrights; second, human rights are designed to stop the abuse of government power over the individual.
It’s out of this tradition that Australia’s common law rights evolved.
Similarly, it’s only with this history that Australians can understand the social contract that gives government legitimacy is coupled with human rights to put a brake on its excesses.
This difference between Tim Wilson’s conception of human rights and Gillian Triggs’ conception of human rights can be seen by the shenanigans of the former ALP government and the current Queensland government:
Last year, the Queensland parliament passed laws that have criminalised free association for bikies.
The last federal parliament considered introducing a state-sanctioned media regulator that would limit free speech because politicians didn’t like what newspapers were saying about them.
The last federal parliament also considered laws that could restrict expressing political views in the workplace.
What the government giveth the government can, and does, take away.
Human rights are a constraint on government power, not an expression of that power. That is what Triggs does not, and cannot, understand and why her entire organisation should be abolished. Not reformed. Not stacked. Abolished.