Does Australia need a charter of human rights?

Event status:

Image of hands behind prison bars In part as a consequence of her experience as President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, the renowned international lawyer and author most recently of Speaking Up, is a passionate advocate for an Australian Human Rights Charter. Professor Greg Craven, the Vice-Chancellor and President of the Australian Catholic University, disagrees equally passionately. Their debate will be moderated by La Trobe's, Dr Madelaine Chiam and introduced by La Trobe's Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Dewar.

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Tuesday 13 August 2019 06:15 pm until Tuesday 13 August 2019 08:30 pm (Add to calendar)
University Events
Presented by:
Ideas & Society Program, Professor Gillian Triggs, Professor Greg Craven AO and Dr Madelaine Chiam
Type of Event:
Public Lecture
$25 General / $15 Alumni & Staff/ $10 Students

In the past years many Australian citizens have become alarmed about the steady erosion of human rights in their country. In recent years, the High Court has found that the indefinite detention of asylum seekers is lawful, a judgment that appears in breach of one of our most fundamental and ancient protections—no imprisonment without trial. In recent weeks, an equally fundamental idea, the protection of freedom of expression, has been called into question with Federal Police raids of two of Australia’s most significant media organisations—News Corp and the ABC. We have also gradually become accustomed to federal governments that routinely express indifference even contempt to criticism from United Nations committees charged with upholding international human rights treaties to which Australia is a signatory. How far can such laws, actions and attitudes be explained because Australia’s Constitution has no equivalent to the United States’ Bill of Rights or no Charter of Human Rights equivalent to the European Convention of Human Rights?

Professor Gillian Triggs won greatest respect and made powerful enemies as the President of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission. In her recent book, Speaking Up, she puts the case for an Australian Charter of Human Rights, not constitutionally entrenched but legislated by the federal parliament. “As every year goes by””, she argues, “we are increasingly out of step with comparable legal systems in Britain, Europe, Canada, the United States and, especially that of our cousins, the New Zealanders…It is the most vulnerable in society—the homeless, the mentally ill, those in administrative detention without trial, Indigenous Australians, families—who shoulder the burden of Australia’s declining respect for human rights.” The constitutional lawyer, Professor Greg Craven, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, is a longstanding critic of bills or charters of human rights that he argues privilege appointed judges over elected governments. He has pointed out that judges’ expertise is the law and not public policy and that as judges are not responsible to the citizenry they cannot therefore, unlike parliamentarians, be held to account. Will a Charter of Human Rights create a litigious legal culture like that of the United States and inevitably pit the executive and judicial branches of government against each other to the detriment of both?

The question of whether or not Australia needs a Human Rights Charter has been with us for decades and will not die away. This seminal debate will be introduced by La Trobe University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Dewar, and moderated La Trobe University’s legal scholar, Dr Madelaine Chiam.

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Speaker Bios:

Gillian Triggs Professor Emerita Gillian Triggs was the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission from 2012 -2017.

She is currently Chair of Justice Connect, President of the Asian Development Bank Tribunal and a Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne. She was recently appointed Chair of the United Nations Independent Expert Panel on Abuse of Office and Harassment in UNAIDS.

Gillian was Dean of the Faculty of Law and Challis Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney from 2007-12 and Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law from 2005-07.

Gillian graduated in Law from the University of Melbourne in 1968 and has combined an academic career with international commercial legal practice advising the Australian and other governments on legal and trade disputes.

Gillian is the author of many books and papers on international law, the most recent, “Speaking Up”, was published by MUP in October 2018.

Greg Craven smiling looking at the cameraProfessor Greg Craven is the Vice-Chancellor and President of Australian Catholic University (ACU), a position he has held since 2008.

Professor Craven is recognised as one of Australia’s leading constitutional scholars and a champion of higher education policy. Under his leadership the University has embedded a culture of performance and service excellence, continuing a legacy of Catholic intellectual tradition, faith and reason.

Prior to joining ACU, Professor Craven was Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Curtin University, and prior to that Provost and Dean of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia. This followed an extensive academic and legal career where he held leadership, research and teaching positions at the University of Melbourne, Monash University, Curtin University and the Victorian Parliament.

He has served on a range of public bodies and has fostered strong relationships within the Catholic community, ensuring the University plays a significant role on the global Catholic higher education stage. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law, Consultor to the Holy See’s Congregation of Catholic Education, member of the National Catholic Education Commission and the National School Resourcing Board, member of the Club of Ambassadors for the Pontifical Foundation Gravissimum Educationis, the Board of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, Chair of the Advisory Board in the Policy Unit of Uphold and Recognise, and a member of the Teacher Education Expert Standing Committee.  He is also a member of the Expert Panel for Performance-Based Funding for the Commonwealth Grant Scheme and the Committee for the Transformation of Catholic Higher Education IFCU.

The Vice-Chancellor’s contributions to higher education, law, policy and the Church have seen him awarded as an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia and appointed by Pope Francis as a Consultor to the Holy See’s Congregation for Catholic Education and as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Gregory the Great.

Madelaine Chiam in her office smilingDr Madelaine Chiam is a Lecturer at the La Trobe Law School and a founding member of the La Trobe International Legal Studies Research Group. Her research examines the relationships between the global and the local, the language and the histories of international law. She has a particular interest in the role of international law in Australian life. Madelaine’s work is published in journals including the London Review of International Law, the Griffith Law Review, the Sydney Law Review and the Public Law Review. Her monograph, International Law in Public Debate, will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2020.

Venue Accessibility

Wheelchair access is available - please enter via the North Entrance at 180 St Kilda Road. The NGV is also equipped with a hearing loop inside the Auditorium.


The Clemenger Auditorium, National Gallery of Victoria

180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, VIC, 3000



28th Jan 2020 3:10pm

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