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Human rights scrutiny in the Australian Parliament

Are new Commonwealth laws meeting Australia’s international human rights obligations?
Parliamentary scrutiny Legislation Parliament of Australia Human rights Australia

Australia does not have a Constitutional Bill of Rights, nor does it have a Charter of Human Rights or Human Rights Act at the national level. Due in large part to a strong attachment to the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty, Australia has decided that Parliament should be the body to assess whether new federal laws are compatible with Australia’s human rights obligations generally, rather than have the courts decide in individual cases. Other Western, liberal jurisdictions employ a combination of legal and political mechanisms to ensure that their people’s human rights are protected.

This report assesses Australia’s uncommon approach 10 years after the establishment of the relevant Parliamentary mechanism – a legislative scrutiny regime led by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. In particular, it addresses institutional obstacles to its effectiveness, and what these obstacles mean for the human rights compatibility of Australian federal laws passed in recent years.

The report concludes that there are indeed several significant obstacles to the scrutiny regime’s effectiveness – foremost among them the lack of a prominent human rights culture within the Australian Government. As such, despite an excellent catalogue of human rights analysis in the Joint Committee’s reports, there is still insufficient institutional impetus to make new federal laws more compliant with Australia’s human rights obligations.

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