Getting Rights Right

Contrarty to popular belief, Australians do not enjoy much in the way of protection of what is loosely described as “human rights”, those human freedoms that many Australians presume they have but, in fact, they are exceptionally tenuous and fragile. Most of the rights Australians do have come from the English common law tradition, and they have changed and developed over the course of centuries – and will continue to do so given their nature.

In the last few months and years, there has been much talk in the public domain of an individual’s rights, largely in the context of their rights being denied to them or infringed by the ‘granting’ of someone else’s rights. The public debate and conversation around the recently concluded Marriage Law Postal Survey is but the latest iteration of that conversation, and it has been interesting to listen to the use of the language of rights on both sides of that larger conversation.

In the wash up of the Survey and the pending passing of legislation to give effect to the outcome of that public consultation there has been a call from some for statutory protection of rights from some who in the past have denied that Australians needed such protection in the past. It’s all very amusing in that context, but the question of annunciating and giving statutory protection the human rights of Australians is something that becomes even more pressing.

But what are these human rights that are in need of such protection?

Perhaps the best place to see a comprehensive list of a human beings rights, rights that are inalienable and dependent not on being granted but are innate to the human being, are the various United Nations treaties that deal with what is broadly described as the International Bill of Human Rights. Below, for the sake of clarity, I have included copies of the various components of that document, though there are certainly more human rights instruments that can be found by visiting the website of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It should be noted that the Commonwealth of Australia is a signatory to these treaties.