The terms of reference for the Human Rights Consultation headed by Frank Brennan are as follows:
Terms of Reference
The Australian Government is committed to the promotion of human rights—a commitment that is based on the belief in the fundamental equality of all persons.
The Government believes that the protection and promotion of human rights is a question of national importance for all Australians, and for this reason has appointed a Committee to undertake an Australia-wide community consultation for protecting and promoting human rights and corresponding responsibilities in Australia. The Government has given the Committee Terms of Reference to guide their work.
The Committee will ask the Australian community:
Which human rights (including corresponding responsibilities) should be protected and promoted?
Are these human rights currently sufficiently protected and promoted?
How could Australia better protect and promote human rights?
In conducting the consultation the Committee will:
consult broadly with the community, particularly those who live in rural and regional areas
undertake a range of awareness raising activities to enhance participation in the consultation by a wide cross section of Australia’s diverse community
seek out the diverse range of views held by the community about the protection and promotion of human rights
identify key issues raised by the community in relation to the protection and promotion of human rights, and
The Committee will report to the Australian Government by 31 July 2009 on the issues raised and the options identified for the Government to consider to enhance the protection and promotion of human rights. The Committee is to set out the advantages and disadvantages (including social and economic costs and benefits) and an assessment of the level of community support for each option it identifies.
The options identified should preserve the sovereignty of the Parliament and not include a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights.
I love the last bit of this, which rules out the obvious solution right from the start. The most obvious approach of a having constitutionally-entrenched Bill of Rights is not even to be one of the options in this exercise! The most we can hope for is some kind of weak charter that may make legislatures think again when contemplating actions that further abridge individual rights (before going ahead and abridging them anyway, at least whenever doing so has populist appeal).
Personally, I doubt that there is any prospect of getting a referendum through to produce constitutional change, so I concede that we do need to think hard about second-best solutions. That, however, is not a reason to rule it out constitutional change from the very beginning.
It gets the whole exercise off to a dismal start.