The Australian Arabic Council firmly supports the introduction of a federal Human Rights Act as a formal mechanism through which the rights of all Australians can be safeguarded in our legal framework. While Australia has confirmed its position on many international conventions related to the protection of individual rights, a domestic Act would enhance the Australian commitment the protection and promotion of the rights of all Australians.
The challenges of human rights discourse are well established. Over the years, organizations and individuals here and overseas have struggled, and often failed, to confirm a universal definition of what constitutes a human right. Differences in political agenda, religion, ethnicity, nationality and gender have all contributed to these obstacles. These challenges cannot be ignored as without question human rights is a divisive and highly emotive field. However, the challenges not with standing, this process is important as it draws on-going attention to the basic right of people of all backgrounds to live together in harmony with their differences respected. In this sense, the journey of the human rights debate is as important as the destination. In comparison to many throughout the international community, Australians are privileged in our prosperity, peace and the rule of law in our society.
In addition to our basic rights, we are part of a peaceful society which affords us the rare chance to live in an environment that is free of systemic violence. With this right comes responsibility, namely the obligation to act as a world leader in the creation and promotion of multicultural social structures which afford individual and communal justice, equality and dignity. Considering this, Australia has a responsibility to be at the forefront of the ongoing international challenge to create societies in which all people, regardless of background, religion or gender can prosper. Australia maintains an impressive raft of anti-discrimination legislation which offers formal legal protection to all Australians, especially those from minority groups.
A Human Rights Act will further entrench the key element of respect at the core of the Australia legal and social system. In a democratic system, laws should be an enshrined and immutable statement of the will of the community. In the area of individual rights, this should reflect the broad-based Australian commitment to equality and justice. These principles should be enshrined at the federal level as an integral part of the Australian commitment to all citizens.
The Australian Arabic Council was established to provide a voice on questions relevant to Australian community. Human rights are important to all Australians, but they are especially important for those Australians who have first-hand experience of life in communities marked by the absence of such protections.
For Australians who have experienced endemic conflict, the suppression of participatory governance and the absence of a legal system aimed at protecting and promoting the rights of all people, the human rights debate is a highly personal one. The promotion and encouragement of a process which aims to enhance the Australian experience through recognition of our shared humanity is at the core of the Council’s ethos and a domestic human rights act would be an important and timely step in this direction.
AAC Submission on Human Rights 9 June 2009