It's time to write in our human rights

Michael Pearce SC

THE Committee held its annual planning day on Sunday 22 February 2009. The planning day is an opportunity for the Committee to think strategically about the year ahead, to reflect on goals and policies and plan without the distractions of the normal monthly meeting agenda.

As foreshadowed in my last column, much of the time was given over to internal organisational matters and I hope over the course of the year to be making certain announcements arising from our deliberations.

The main policy focus at the planning day was the National Human Rights Consultation. Our campaign for a national charter of rights is being spearheaded by Vice-President Prof Spencer Zifcak. Consistently with our focus on the human rights consultation, we adopted as our theme for the year ‘Write in Human Rights’.

By this theme we hope to encourage our members and other supporters to participate in the National Human Rights Consultation by making a written submission. You can go to the website and make a written submission there, which we will forward on your behalf.

The experience of the Victorian consultation in 2005, which resulted in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, was that written submissions were very influential. So I encourage all members to take the time to put in a written submission. They must be received by 15 June 2009.

It is evident that opponents of effective human rights protection are organising to try to block a national charter and we must try to counter that.

As part of the consultation, a number of public meetings will be held in Victoria. Details are given on the following page of this newsletter and I urge all members to make an effort to attend and put their views to the consultation panel. It is evident that opponents of effective human rights protection are organising to try to block a national charter and we must try to counter that.

The campaign to block a national charter kicked an own goal recently with the Herald Sun report that Victoria Police held legal advice that they could not participate in a national campaign against bikie gangs because it might breach the rights of gang members under the Victorian Charter.

The Police were forced to admit that they held no such advice and the Victorian Government was quick to point out that nothing in the Charter prevented effective policing against bikie gangs. The Government is to be congratulated for its refusal to be panicked into joining the national bidding war for the toughest anti-bikie laws.

No such plaudits go to the Herald Sun for its beat-up or for its continued anti-Charter campaign. While the Herald Sun is perfectly entitled to oppose a charter of rights, both at the State and federal levels, that stance is difficult to reconcile with its reliance on rights contained in the Victorian Charter in court and tribunal hearings.

For example, in January this year it applied to VCAT to release the name of a taxi driver who had killed his wife, arguing that the suppression of his name was contrary to the right to freedom of expression in section 15 of the Victorian Charter — see XFJ v Director of Public Transport [2009] VCAT 96.

Now come on, you people at the Herald Sun! If the Charter is such a bad thing, what are you doing relying on it in court?