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Motion: Charter of Human Rights

31 May 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:04): I move:

That this council—

1. Notes with concern that in May 2023 a bill was introduced into the House of Assembly and passed the third reading stage within 22 minutes without:

(a) public scrutiny of the bill;

(b) consultation with relevant stakeholders; and

(c) consideration for the impacts on human rights.

2. Recognises that a human rights charter can:

(a) articulate a set of common values and principles that define and preserve our modern democracy;

(b) address inequality and discrimination and lack of access to fundamental services;

(c) clearly define the expectations we have of each other and our state institutions; and

(d) improve the quality and effectiveness of government decision-making.

3. Acknowledges human rights legislation has been adopted in Queensland, Victoria and the ACT.

4. Urges the government to begin consultation on how human rights legislation could be implemented in South Australia.

The first part of this motion references the amendment bill that passed in 2023. Of course, the bill I am referring to is the Summary Offences (Obstruction of Public Places) Amendment Bill. I will not talk about the substance of the bill in detail—I spoke about it at length just last night—but members will know that that bill passed the House of Assembly with just 22 minutes of debate. It passed this chamber with considerably more attention last night, or in the early hours of this morning, after 14 hours of discussion.

There was a belligerent insistence by the two major parties that it needed to be rushed through, so we sat into the early hours of the morning in order to deal with the bill, one that seriously impacts on the civil liberties of South Australians, their capacity to organise, their capacity to protest, their capacity to gather in the public space. It is an outrageous attack on the civil liberties of South Australians, and it has been aided and abetted by the two major political parties in this place ganging up to curtail the right to peaceful protest in our democracy.

What does this mean? It means that we do not have sufficient safeguards in our state for human rights. There is a big problem with this legislation. We have talked about the failure of leadership from the government in terms of how they have handled this, the appalling internal politics of the Labor Party, the way in which they have flouted the views of their own members and the union movement, but one of the things they have not done is they did not turn their attention to the human rights implications of this law.

What a humans rights charter would do is provide a framework to prevent problems like this from happening again in the future. South Australia is renowned for its progressive ideals and its commitment to social justice. It is not news to any of us that South Australia was the first state in Australia and the second in the world to allow women to vote. We were the first part of the British Empire to legalise trade unions. We were the first state to make race discrimination illegal. These were all important reforms that enshrined human rights into legislation.

Human rights are a cornerstone of a just and fair society. They represent the fundamental values that underpin the dignity and the worth of every individual. They recognise our rights to life, liberty, security and freedom from discrimination. Human rights protect us all regardless of our age, gender, cultural background, religion, sexual orientation or social status. They are a compass that guides us towards an equal, just, and inclusive society.

While society has made significant progress in promoting human rights, we have no framework or instrument that can collectively guide us. Unlike Victoria, Queensland and the ACT, South Australia is yet to adopt a human rights framework. It is time for us to join them and make a clear commitment to protect the rights and freedoms of all South Australians.

This motion calls on the government to begin consultation on human rights legislation and how it could be implemented in our state. Consultation is the crucial first step towards developing a robust and effective human rights framework tailored to our unique circumstances. Through a comprehensive consultation process we can ensure that the voices of individuals, communities, civil society organisations and experts are heard. We must create an opportunity for dialogue, for understanding and consensus, and it is through that engagement that we can come up with a robust framework that reflects the human rights of South Australians and provides guidance to our democratic institutions.

This consultation would allow us to identify the specific rights and freedoms that require protection, and would shed light on the challenges faced by marginalised groups. By listening to the experience of vulnerable communities, we can address the systemic injustices that endure and develop provisions within human rights legislation that provide adequate safeguards. Undertaking consultation will enable us to learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions that have implemented human rights acts. We can draw upon their successes and learn from their challenges. By taking an evidence-based approach, we can refine our legislation to ensure its effectiveness and relevance to South Australian circumstances.

A human rights framework for South Australia will not only safeguard the rights of all individuals but will strengthen our democracy. It will provide a clear direction for government action, ensuring that policies and legislation align with our human rights obligations. Human rights legislation will act as a powerful tool for accountability, enabling individuals to challenge discriminatory practices and violations, and it will empower our courts to interpret laws in line with human rights principles.

By establishing a human rights framework, we can foster a culture of human rights throughout society. Such a framework would provide awareness and education, encouraging all South Australians to understand their rights and responsibilities. By cultivating a society that respects and upholds human rights, we can build stronger, more inclusive, communities and nurture a sense of belonging for everyone.

Over the last few weeks, we have seen lawmaking that was undertaken without sufficient public scrutiny, consultation with relevant stakeholders, or consideration for the impacts of human rights. Regardless of what one may think of the anti-protest laws that passed through this parliament last night, whatever people may think of the draconian approach being taken by the Labor and Liberal parties, that process was undertaken with a very poor approach to democracy and democratic practice. There was no consideration for due process. As has been remarked by many people, you could do a load of washing in 20 minutes—you do not normally pass a bill through the parliament.

There was no consideration given to the human rights implications of that legislation whatsoever—no consideration at all. Indeed, when those of us on the crossbench tried to bring that element to the consideration of the chamber last night, there was lots of yawning and rolling of eyes. This should actually be baked into our parliamentary processes. A human rights framework would have required the government to turn their minds to the wider implications of the bill before they rushed it through the parliament. It would have required them to think about the unintended consequences and how that would impact on the right to protest.

It was encouraging to note in this chamber yesterday, when I questioned the Attorney-General, the Hon. Kyam Maher, about the government's commitment to human rights, that he said in the chamber that he is open to the idea. He stated, and I quote from his response from Hansard:

Protecting human rights is an important thing the government should be concerned about.

Sorry, Mr President, something has just got my eyes going—a bit of hayfever or something or probably tiredness, I suspect.

The PRESIDENT: What would have brought that on, the Hon. Mr Simms?

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Since 1975, we have had federal racial discrimination laws. We have an equal opportunity act that applies in South Australia. In relation to legislation for human rights, we are open to receiving representations, but we do not have a policy to advance legislation on this matter at this time.

While it is promising to hear the government is open to receiving representations, we need more of a commitment to rigorous investigation of a human rights framework. This motion calls on the government to do that—to undertake the consultation to progress the idea. The experience of other jurisdictions is that implementation of a human rights act has not resulted in an avalanche of litigation, rather it has led to better policy development and improved decision-making. By embedding human rights considerations into the legislative process, we can strike a balance between protecting individual rights and the legitimate exercise of government authority.

It is not just the Greens that are pushing this. There are a range of civic and political organisations that made a call last year. I do not have the full list in front of me, but there was a full list of groups that have made this call and have come out urging the government to act on this. The time has come for South Australia to embark on a journey towards a human rights framework. Through consultation, we can create legislation that reflects our values, protects the vulnerable and upholds the rights and freedoms of all South Australians.

A human rights framework would prevent the kind of policymaking on the run, the legislating on the fly, that we have seen in this place in recent weeks, when you have thought bubbles from talkback radio being rushed through the parliament without appropriate consideration for the human rights implications. It has blown up in the face of the government in a very big way. It is a ticking time bomb for the Labor Party. It is going to continue to cause them political challenges in the days ahead because of their failure to consider the implications, what this reform means for human rights. Let us never go down this path again.