Don't mess with our federal system, says law professor 

Professor James Allan will be a guest speaker at the Charles Darwin Symposium on 10 May

Australia is well-served by its federal system and its Constitution, says law Professor James Allan.

‘I don’t like the idea of the High Court or the Federal Government chipping away at it,’ he says.

Professor Allan’s views are certain to upset the advocates for a Bill of Rights, who want new provisions for its enactment written into either state laws or the Federal Constitution.

But this Canadian-born legal academic and constitutional expert who is now Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, is unapologetic about his stand on federalism and human rights.

He describes himself as a ‘Bill of Rights sceptic’ happy with the system of government that Australia has adopted. ‘Having experienced a fair number of options on offer, my view is that Australia has one of the best systems,’ he wrote in an opinion piece last year.

‘The Australian Constitution is an excellent one, better than the alternatives in Canada, the US and Britain,’ he said.

Professor Allan takes issue with commentators who have renewed calls for a Bill of Rights that would ‘supposedly protect us from intrusive laws’ as the Federal Government responds to the terrorism threat.

He is especially critical of the new human rights legislation in Victoria called the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act.

The Act gives judges the power to evaluate any other legislation in the light of the human rights principles that it enshrines.

He argues that the Act hands too much power to judges to interpret all other laws in a ‘bill of rights friendly manner’ that can mean almost anything, depending on the judge’s interpretation.

‘Interpretation becomes a sort of Alice in Wonderland exercise,’ he says. ‘In other words, the judge can treat all other legislation in any way they want.’

Professor Allan’s muscular attacks on statutory bills of rights around the world have earned him a reputation for plain-speaking mixed with a colourful turn of phrase.

He is expected to bring this robust form of argument to the Charles Darwin Symposium on May 10, where his views will be challenged by speakers such as Professor George Williams, who has a similarly formidable reputation as an advocate of a Bill of Rights.

Professor Allan has practiced law in Canada and England, and taught law in New Zealand, Hong Kong and Canada.

The public is invited to attend the Charles Darwin Symposium in the Mal Nairn lecture theatre on May 10.