WA Attorney General Jim McGinty is expected to announce a plan to introduce a Bill of Rights in WA tomorrow. A panel led by well known human rights advocate and all round good guy Fred Chaney will tour the state in order to gather opinion. It’s an interesting idea.
Apparently we’re the only Western country in the world without one Â or a national human rights act. In Australia, the ACT has had one in place for a few years and Victoria’s comes into effect in 2008.
So are our systems working as they are? Do we need a Commonwealth bill of rights? Plainly we don’t want one that gives us the right to bear arms – just look at how that’s worked or rather not worked in the US, but given we have a gap in longevity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous folk approaching 20 years, I think the answer could be yes.
But would a Bill of Rights lead to a reduction in that gap? And where does it leave our illegal immigrant policy? Does our anti-terrorism legislation need to be put through the filter of a human rights act? Â Our record book has been blotted in recent years. 
A bill of rights is consistant with Labor Party Policy and is unlikely to get through the Australian senate as it stands today. However if every state – all controlled by Labor at the moment – passed a human rights bill – wouldn’t that be enough? Would we have to pay more than lip service to disadvantaged groups?
And is the Bill of Rights the way to go anyway? Professor James Allan from the University of Queensland has this to say:
I think the case against bills of rights is a moral case. You either prefer these decisions to be made by your fellow citizens, secretaries, plumbers, than you prefer them to be made by committees of ex-lawyers who used to be commercial lawyers or barristers. And no matter how you dress it up, I think it’s hard to justify handing these decisions over to lawyers. 
In my opinion – despite this – I lean toward putting in place a Bill of Rights. I believe having a legislative watchdog over what our parliamentarians will at the very least force them to put human rights on the table, and I’m not confident that it is there at the moment.