The unborn child has no rights or protection under a draft human rights bill before the WA parliament. Brian Peachey reports.
Western Australian Attorney-General Jim McGinty has launched a bid to have the state parliament pass a bill of rights. He tabled a draft of the bill in WA’s lower house, the Legislative Assembly, on May 3, 2007. At the same time he set up a four-member committee to consult West Australians on how a WA human rights act should operate and what rights it should protect.
Former federal government minister Fred Chaney – who will receive $1,350 a day working three days a week for the committee – will chair the group which includes WA Council of Social Service executive director Lisa Baker, former Perth Anglican Archbishop Peter Carnley and Kulunga Research Network manager Colleen Hayward.
Mr Chaney has declared: “Our task is to consult widely about how human rights might be better protected in Western Australia. The committee will also seek views on what should happen if a person’s human rights are breached and then what wider changes might be needed once those rights enter law. We will invite thoughts and ideas on what else government and the community can do to encourage a culture of respect for human rights.”
The decision of WA Cabinet to propose a human rights act, submit a draft bill and appoint the above committee to canvas the views of people and report to parliament is a matter of serious concern. There are far-reaching moral, legal and political issues that should be carefully examined.
Since 1975 there have been several attempts to enact an Australian human rights act. All have failed.
Whatever the theoretical benefits of a human rights act, in practice it works to undermine law-enforcement agencies, create “rights” where they would not otherwise exist, and give judges enormous discretion in an area of law already adequately covered by both statute and common law.
Recently, the Victorian Labor Government passed a human rights act, and WA is proposing similar legislation.
While we do not know what the WA committee will suggest, one can guess that groups such as the secular humanists, homosexuals, aboriginal activists, the euthanasia lobby and others will be making demands. Already there are calls for things that are impossible to define, such as the right to affordable housing. The courts could be overloaded with frivolous cases, and lawyers would have a windfall.
WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan has warned that criminals could use a human rights act, such as the one proposed, to evade the powerful laws aimed at fighting crime and breaking up organised gangs (Western Australian, June 1, 2007).
Already, in the draft bill, the Government has put a clause which is a matter of grave concern.
Part 2, Division 1, states in clause 5: “Only natural persons have human rights.” To which we are entitled to ask: who or what is a natural person? And who or what is an unnatural person?
This may be answered in clause 7: “Every person has, after he or she is born, (a) the right to life; and (b) the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of life.” (Emphasis added).
This is intended to rule out any human rights for the unborn child – even the right to be protected from a murderous felon.
This is bound to reopen debate on the despicable legislation that deprived unborn children of any human rights, including cases in which a pregnant woman suffers injury.
The intention to deprive the unborn child of rights is contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Australia is a party.
The ICCPR states, in Part 111 Article 6(1): “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”
The ICCPR also recognises, in Article 6(5), that the pregnant woman does indeed carry within her womb another human being who is entitled, by virtue of the child’s immaturity, to special protection.
WA Premier Alan Carpenter’s Cabinet cannot argue that the unborn child in not a living human being. Scientists such as geneticists agree that it has all the genes that it will ever have, and all expectant mothers in the third trimester will vouch that it is alive and kicking.
The draft WA human rights bill, clause 8, declares: “A person must not (c) be subjected to medical or scientific experimentation unless he or she has given full, free and informed consent to it.”
This is proposed at the same time that Cabinet has agreed to the introduction of the Human Reproductive Technology Amendment Bill 2007, which makes it legal to experiment on, and kill, human embryos.
– Brian Peachey was state secretary of the Democratic Labor Party in Western Australia from 1957 to 1964, and is author of The Burkes of Western Australia.