Can the Territory do without a Bill of Rights? 

Professor George Williams is interviewed by media at the recent Charles Darwin Symposium

Attendees at the recent Charles Darwin Symposium were told, in the absence of adequate human rights protection – such as that provided by a Bill of Rights – it was feasible that the human rights violations experienced by those in the Stolen Generation could happen again.

Professor George Williams, a proponent for Bill of Rights, told attendees their basic human rights, such as freedom of speech and the right to vote were threatened under the current provisions – and noted that the Northern Territory was in a unique position to consider the implementation of a Statutory Bill of Rights as part of any possible move towards statehood.

‘Many people say Australia is one of the only Western nations not to have a national Bill of Rights, but in fact Australia is the only Western nation not to have a national Bill of Rights,’ said Professor Williams.

‘When told this most people I speak to are surprised, they believed, as in the United States of America, their fundamental human rights – the right to free speech and freedom of religion, to name a few – are protected,‘ he said.

‘This is not the case,’ he told attendees. ‘There is no national bill of rights and the current provisions fall short of adequately protecting Australians, particularly those in minority groups and those unable to garner political power, such as Indigenous and migrant Australians, children and the mentally ill.’

Professor Williams told attendees Territorians were more exposed to legislative violations of their human rights than those living in states, as many of the aspects in the national constitution referring to the rights of Australians extended only to those living in states.

‘If you take the right to vote in a federal referendum as an example, Territorians only receive half a vote per person, compared with the full vote of a person residing in a state,’ said Professor Williams.

‘A Statutory Bill of Rights, such as those in place in Victoria, New Zealand, the UK will ensure human rights are considered in the formation of legislation and this will ultimately lead to better laws,’ he said.

Visit the Symposium website for further information about the event.