Forum advocates a Bill of Rights

TWEED and Northern Rivers residents attending a special community forum yesterday called for a Bill of Rights and a special Senate committee to review whether laws take away our freedoms.

More than 120 people attended the National Human Rights Consultation Committee meeting at South Tweed Sports Club, with their ideas on how to improve or protect our freedoms to be used as part of a government review of human rights in Australia.

“Today has been a positive meeting with very vibrant discussion, and it was encouraging to see people with different points of view able to have their say with their opinions listened to in a respectful manner,” said committee chairperson Fr Frank Bennett AO.

After being divided into groups and given rolls of butcher's paper and marker pens, the group set out answering the three questions in the terms of reference for the review that is hoping to canvass the views of as many Australians as possible.

Those attending were asked which human rights and responsibilities are important to them; are these rights and responsibilities adequately protected; and how could rights and responsibilities be further protected in the future?

After writing their answers on the paper, in scenes similar to the 20/20 think-tank organised by the Rudd Government last year, the ideas were discussed in an open forum, with many people sharing their own experiences.

“Abuse of authority is one of the main problems with any democracy, and is a major issue with new pieces of legislation, like the terror laws that were put in place after the September 11 attacks,” said committee member and former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer.

“The issue for the communities we have spoken with is that these laws seem to be a knee-jerk reaction by government and that checks and balances should be put into place to make sure there is no abuse of these extraordinary powers, and that they are necessary.”

Yesterday's meeting supported the call of other community sessions for a Senate select committee to be put in place to review whether laws undermine our rights and freedoms.

But, for Tweed Heads resident Laurie Ganter, the select committee would not go far enough. “I agree with most people here that there needs to be an Australian Bill of Rights,” Mr Ganter said.

“Especially when you see head- lines like we have recently, calling asylum seekers illegal immigrants; it shows a lack of understanding of the International Convention on Human Rights which is supposed to be taught in schools.

“We give away our human rights when the government convinces us that there is something we should fear, like terrorism or illegal immigrants. There should be a human rights super ombuds- man who reports to a sub-committee of the High Court.”

View information about the human rights review at or by phoning 1800 086 134. May 15 is the deadline for submissions, and all community members are encouraged to have their say.

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