Human rights committee should be abolished, Liberal MPs say

Human rights committee should be abolished, Liberal MPs say

Rachel Baxendale — The Australian — 7 August 2018


Three Liberal members of the parliamentary joint committee on human rights are calling for its abolition, arguing it “elevates the rights of deadbeat dads and child sex offenders” while failing to consider the safety of the community, and is a bureaucratic waste of time.

A fourth Liberal member, chair and West Australian MP Ian Goodenough, stopped short of calling for its abolition, but backed concerns that the committee was unable to give proper consideration to genuine human rights issues because it was required to give cursory scrutiny to every piece of legislation before parliament.

NSW MP Julian Leeser led the charge for abolishing the committee, warning last month that Australia’s human rights institutions had been “hijacked” by political and legal activists.

Victorian Liberal MP Russell Broadbent, known for his opposition to hardline asylum-seeker policy and often viewed by his colleagues as a dissident moderate, has backed Mr Leeser’s call, as has Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson. The remaining Liberal member of the committee is former independent Lucy Gichuhi.

The committee was established by Kevin Rudd in 2011, as an alternative to a federal bill of rights. It is required to scrutinise all legislation for compatibility with international human rights treaties.

“Most Australians will be unaware of the existence of these treaties and fewer Australians will know about their content, but today they are the yardstick against which every federal bill or regulation is measured,” Mr Leeser said. He cited the committee’s opposition to the cashless welfare card trial, and to legislation preventing registered child sex offenders from travelling overseas, as evidence that its judgments “do not pass the pub test”.

“According to the committee’s report, the cashless welfare card trial ‘limits the rights of social security, the right of privacy and family and the right to equality and non-discrimination’,” Mr Leeser said. “What nonsense! There’s no mention of the right of a woman or child not to be bashed by a drunken husband, nor the right of children, rather than the pokies, to be fed. I don’t want to be part of a committee that elevates the rights of deadbeat dads and child-sex offenders and fails to consider the safety of the community.”

Mr Broadbent said the requirement to scrutinise all legislation wasted time and resources. “Its judgments conform to the international rights regime, but not to community standards,” he said.

Labor deputy chair of the committee, Graham Perrett, said he was disappointed by the Liberal calls for its abolition.

“I would suggest that if the Liberal Party is going to reject any notion of championing human rights, they should change their name to the non-liberal Party,” Mr Perrett said.

Mr Goodenough said the committee should not be “completely abolished”, but agreed reform was needed. “The way we focus our resources should be targeted better, rather than rubberstamping a mass of legislation,” he said.

Senator Paterson said Mr Leeser had “belled the cat on the parliament’s most dysfunctional and counter-productive committee”.

“I have been shocked at the lip service it pays to fundamental human rights like freedom of speech, and its obsession with so-called rights like the right to welfare,” Senator Paterson said.

“For the sake of actual human rights and the efficient functioning of the parliament, the sooner it is abolished the better.”

This article originally appeared in The Australian.

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