Web poll suggests community split over Bill of Rights 


Results of a web poll open to Charles Darwin University website visitors suggest that the community is split over support for a Bill of Rights and Statehood for the Northern Territory.

The poll, being conducted on CDU’s website (www.cdu.edu.au) in the lead-up to its Symposium this month, found 59 per cent of the 600 respondents so far were in favour of a Bill of Rights. Fifty five per cent of the respondents were in favour of the Territory gaining Statehood.

The public can have its say when Statehood and a Bill of Rights are discussed in detail in the first Charles Darwin Symposium for the year on May 10.

Constitutional, legal and social policy experts will debate the issues at the Mal Nairn auditorium on the Casuarina campus of CDU.

For the past month the website has invited visitors to vote Yes or No on the questions: 1) Should the Northern Territory become a State of Australia? 2) Do you believe the Northern Territory should have a Bill of Rights?

Symposium organiser and CDU law lecturer Ken Parish said it was interesting to note that support for Statehood was running at only 55 per cent.

‘A previous referendum on Statehood failed, so in that sense we should not be surprised,’ he said.

‘But the general view has always been that the failure was mostly due to the particular constitutional model and process adopted, and that Territorians were strongly in favour of the principle or idea of Statehood. This survey rather suggests otherwise.’

Only the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria have enacted legislation that effectively gives their citizens a Bill of Rights – the ACT’s Human Rights Act 2004 and the Victorian Government’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2007.

Some legal experts believe that State legislation on human rights is a weaker form of protection than a Bill of Rights written into the federal Constitution.

Other experts, however, argue that Australia’s current legislative framework provides adequate protection of human rights, and that no kind of Bill is needed. This is the view taken by Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, who says human rights are already protected through the rule of law and the strength of our democracy.

The controversial issue of whether a Bill of Rights is needed, and, if so, how it should be modelled, will be debated from several perspectives, including the international, Indigenous and Northern Territory angles.

Panel discussions on the issues will be followed by questions from the audience.

Register your attendance by logging onto the CDU website and following the Symposium link on the home page.