Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Human rights protection begins at home

By David Flint - posted Saturday, 30 September 2000

Paul Keating once claimed that our Constitution was imposed on us by the British Foreign Office.

In fact, the Constitution was drafted in Australia, by Australians and approved by the Australian people. When we asked the British to give it legal effect, the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, overrode Colonial Office advice to do so without any change.

Above all, he wanted the Privy Council to be the final court of appeal for all the empire. A compromise was reached, but Chamberlain was strongly criticised by his British colleagues for requiring even this change.


Appeals to the Privy Council were gradually reduced, and finally abolished in 1986. Yet a parallel process for reviewing Australian laws and government practice, as well as the hearing of individuals' complaints, has surreptitiously sprung up without the consent of the Australian people.

This is the panoply of committees set up under various United Nations treaties. Unlike the situation in the United States, treaties can be signed and ratified without parliamentary approval, although a process for parliamentary scrutiny is now in place.

Nevertheless, it has been possible for a treaty to be entered into without even the knowledge of Parliament, the government party or most members of Cabinet!

The most glaring example was when Australians saw, on television, the signing of the hitherto secret Keating-Soeharto Defence Pact.

The result of all this is that Australia has entered into many more treaties than even the United States, the global superpower.

UN human rights treaties were originally attempts to agree on internationally accepted standards, those already in existence in the world's leading democracies. These, of course, include Australia, a founder member and one who has done more to fight tyranny than most.


More recently, some have gone further, and include, at times, the agendas of particular lobbies which are unable to have them accepted domestically through the democratic process. In other words, if the people will not accept your agenda, get it in through the back door.

As broad statements of principle, these treaties are normally acceptable as targets for those people who have the misfortune to live under less democratic and more authoritarian governments. If they are now to be treated by the committees as if they were surrogate bills of rights targeted principally at democratic States, then they suffer from exactly the same weaknesses as domestic bills of rights.

Bills of rights are unnecessary in countries such as Australia where rights are very well protected. Or they are no more than window-dressing in those countries where they are in practice denied, sometimes spectacularly so. Containing general statements, they lack precision for their application.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

This article was first published in The Australian Financial Review on 12 September 2000.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

David Flint is a former chairman of the Australian Press Council and the Australian Broadcasting Authority, is author of The Twilight of the Elites, and Malice in Media Land, published by Freedom Publishing. His latest monograph is Her Majesty at 80: Impeccable Service in an Indispensable Office, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Sydney, 2006

Other articles by this Author

All articles by David Flint
Related Links
Australian Broadcasting Authority
United Nations
University of Sydney
Photo of David Flint
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy