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ACL opposition to Australian Bill of Rights


The Australian Christian Lobby group (ACL) has launched a campaign against a Bill of Rights for Australia on the pretext that such a charter would undermine existing freedoms people now take for granted.

"A bill or charter of rights can … be a Trojan horse for minority agendas which have failed to make the grade with voters," said Jim Wallace, managing director of ACL. "With a bill or charter of rights there is no redress at the ballot box for those who don’t like it."

The ACL is made up of mainly Pentecostal, Charismatic and fundamentalist Christian groups and its opponents say it has a politically right-leaning agenda.

Its views back those of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, who told the Brisbane Institute on 29 April that a Bill of Rights represented an "unacceptable transfer of responsibility from the parliament to the courts". Pell said politicians were accountable to the people through the ballot box, and he was against leaving unelected lawyers to administer rights.

"Rights are best protected by the common law and by parliament, when the people are equally aware of their responsibilities … Democratic law-making is imperfect but preferable to rule by the courts," the cardinal said.

The issue of a Bill of Rights for Australia has been on and off the political agenda since 1973, when the first attempt to introduce legislation lapsed due to political instability.

Since then, there have been four attempts to introduce legislation into the Australian parliament but it has never had the support of the government of the day.

Still, with the election of the centre-left government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, there is speculation that a Bill of Rights will be introduced.

It is official policy for the governing Labor Party, and the issue was once again raised at a special government summit of 1000 intellectual, business and community leaders called to bring new ideas to the fore in Australian political life.

While some Christian groups have urged Canberra to drop any human rights bill, the Uniting Church in Australia, the country’s third largest denomination, has backed the proposal. The church called for the government to introduce a bill to implement Australia’s commitment to human rights as outlined in the United Nation’s Declaration of Universal Rights. The church added that any bill should hold public institutions and officials accountable for implementing human rights, and also take account of Indigenous Australians.

But Pell said the fact that Zimbabwe had a ‘Bill of Human Rights’ with a wide range of protections showed how ineffectual such legislation could be. "A courageous judge or court could undoubtedly make a difference by faithfully administering the law but Mugabe’s government has largely taken care of that danger," said Pell.

Ecumenical News International