Student Journalist Ella Fisher investigated why human rights played such a minor role in last month’s election.
In the run up to the October 20 election, the Labor Party and the Greens announced policies on human rights. But the issue was still pushed to the side of debate.
Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury said that human rights didn’t play a significant role in the election because it isn’t a contentious issue.
“I think human rights wasn’t a big discussion in the ACT election because the ACT has made a lot of progress and I think the community is generally happy about that progress. So I don’t think it is a contentious issue, and in someway it is the contentious issues that tend to get highlighted during an election campaign.“
Alice Linacre, ACT and Southern NSW Branch President of Amnesty International said that because the Territory is the first Australian jurisdiction with a Human Rights Act there is a sense of complacency on the topic.
She said that in 2004 there was a sense of fear of the legal ramifications of the creation of the ACT Human Rights Act.
“People were quite nervous and there was a lot of fear that this would bring about huge claims in the courts and people would be litigating their human rights and it would create an American style litigious culture of ridiculous proportions. But now, years on, we have seen none of that happen and people are quite comfortable that these human rights now form part of the fabric of our culture. ”
But despite the fear of human rights subsiding in the ACT, political experts believe that the Legislative Assembly is still tiptoeing around the issue.
John Warhurst, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at ANU said that there was a focus on bread and butter issues in the election because politicians fear community response to the abstract concept of human rights.
“At certain times in particular governments are scared of their own population. It’s not so much that they are scared of the issue. They are scared that they will seem too abstract, or not bread and butter community type issues and I think the ACT election was an example. “
He said that this was led by the Liberal’s political campaign that targeted the hip-pocket nerve and directed political debate towards everyday concerns.
“The Liberals campaign of ‘triple your rates’ skewed the whole debate towards bread and butter issues than abstract issues like human rights.”
Dr Robin Tennant Wood, Associate Professor in Government at the University of Canberra said that governments skirt around the issue of human rights due to its link with international law.
“A human right is a very imprecise subject… Governments and oppositions are frightened of the whole concept of human rights because it taps us into an international convention.”
She said that at a national level, the government’s fear of human rights is caused by the populous.