Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s comments in the media yesterday — about keeping Muslims out of Australia using border protection measures  — is the perfect example of why we need a Human Rights Act for Australia.

Bailed up by an elderly woman at a shopping centre, Abbott experienced this exchange:

Old woman with a shopping trolley: I want to be in a country that’s not going to be run by Muslims.

Tony Abbott: I understand what you’re saying ma’am, and as I said the important thing is to make the borders secure and that way people will be happier that the right people are coming to our country.

An Act enshrining those rights that Australians hold dear, would help protect our democracy from such personal bias.

Australians need an impenetrable, statutory provision with constitutional certainty that they know beyond any doubt will protect and defend them against any attack on their civil rights. Without such a document, government leaders can decide to ban entry because of their own religious bias, but with a Human Rights Act, personal prejudice can be challenged.

In recent times, both sides of politics have been guilty of using the religious message, blatantly or subliminally, to win votes, just as the “tough-on-crime” political tactic used fear to win votes.

As a result we are seeing civil rights being eroded across the country with the introduction of legislation curbing the right to free association, mandatory sentencing of youth in Western Australia and race-based laws such as the intervention.

These new laws, that are creeping in, should be of real concern to all Australians who value their quality of life. They are paternalistic and infringe on basic human rights.

The argument being forwarded against the need for a Human Rights Act, was that this would give the judiciary more power. The only power that the statutory model, being considered, would give would be the right to ask questions of the government when making decisions. Laws that appear to be inconsistent with such an Act would also be highlighted and then go back to parliament for reconsideration.

Let’s not any of us being naïve here. Politics is not always about true suffrage and representation. Politicians often use their power inappropriately and there are those elected by a minority that hold the government to ransom because of their parliamentary balance of power.

We are the only democratic country in the world that doesn’t have such a legal instrument to help protect our fundamental beliefs about what is right and fair.

Isn’t it time we got rid of this loophole that continues to trip up the rights of all Australians and to ensure decision making is free of prejudice?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey