Written on the 1 March 2016 by Paris Faint


GEORGE Williams (pictured centre) has dedicated years of research to the question: "Does Australia have a human rights problem?"

At a recent twilight conference event hosted by the Transnational, International and Comparative Law and Policy Network at Bond University, the esteemed constitutional lawyer and University of NSW professor delivered some sobering answers.

According to Williams, Australia is arguably the least adept western democracy in the world when it comes to legally safeguarding human rights.

To illustrate the point, Williams addressed a number of national and state provisions currently working to diminish basic human freedom throughout the country such as those contained within immigration, anti-terror and anti-bikie legislation.

Admitting a need for scrutiny of all current laws which seek to remove human rights, Williams believes Queensland-based lawyers have a special part to play in bringing about change, particularly with a state parliamentary inquiry into a rights act looming.

"Queenslanders are more vulnerable to having their rights removed than any other community in Australia because there's no upper house, and of course laws enacted in this jurisdiction demonstrate that very clearly," says Williams.

"If people want to make a difference, Queensland is the place to do it and, as professional custodians of the rule of law, I think lawyers have an especially important role in safeguarding those democratic freedoms."

If lawyers and professionals continue to join the public in applying pressure to the state, Williams believes Queensland may see a charter of rights as early as this year, adding to the number of successful interstate models.

"A parliamentary inquiry is due to report in the middle of the year and, if the government is minded to act in Queensland, a charter of rights could be done this year or early next year, particularly considering the country already has good models in Victoria and the ACT," he says.

Executive dean of Bond Faculty of Law Professor Nick James (pictured right) introduced Williams' presentation on the night, and is optimistic that the country can adopt a healthier disposition on human rights provided discussion and research remain alive. 

"Sometimes it's easy to be quite despairing about the direction that Australia seems to be headed in," says James.

"However I've met and engaged with so many intelligent and well-educated people who are very concerned with some of the country's recent laws, and they become passionate about using their legal qualifications to do something about it."

Williams was made an officer of the order of Australia in 2011, recognised particularly for his work in anti-terrorism, constitutional law and human rights as both an academic and commentator.

Author: Paris Faint





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