Food industry on watch as Govt Announces Review of Future Laws for Human Rights

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 4th January 2012

Human rights will be bought into sharper focus as the  Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 comes into effect from today. Under this new law, all new Federal laws  are to be checked to see they do not infringe human rights obligations.

The new Federal legislation could have broad implications for the food and beverages industry and other industries, despite the fact that many of Australia’s food compliance laws are operative at State level rather than at the Federal level. Nonetheless, laws affecting imports and exports or intellectual property are mostly governed by Federal laws. Moreover,under the Australian Constitution, a Federal law may override a State law where there is inconsistency. For example,  Federal laws  have sometimes been introduced specifically to override a State law – and there are precedents for this being done relying on the power of the Australian government enforcing rights under treaties to which Australia is a signatory.

Under the new Act, new bills and disallowable legislative instruments will be required to be accompanied by a ‘Statement of compatibility with human rights’. Statements will assess compatibility against the seven main United Nations human rights treaties to which Australia is a party.

The Act also establishes a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights-the first Commonwealth Parliamentary Committee dedicated solely to human rights scrutiny-which will be established by a resolution of appointment in the Autumn 2012 Parliamentary sittings.

Under the new legislation, the definition of ‘human rights’ includes the rights and freedoms in the seven core United Nations treaties to which Australia is a party:

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The spokesperson for Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon also indicated today that the new requirements and whether these treaties provide the most appropriate definition for the development of rights-compatible legislation and policy in Australia, will be the subject of a future broader review by a Committee established under the legislation.

There is also potential for the proposed Committee to facilitate public dialogue about human rights through a range of mechanisms. Like other Committees, the new Committee will be able to look to a range of sources to inform itself when examining legislation and carrying out inquiries.