Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell has responded to a proposed bill of rights by arguing that such rights are best protected by a democratically elected parliament instead of courts of law, the West Australian reports. The cardinal also expressed concern that if such a proposal is enacted, it could spark a “culture war” in Australia similar to the cultural, moral, and legal conflicts in the United States.
A recent Australia 2020 summit included among its proposals a charter or bill of rights.
Cardinal Pell suggested the proposal was motivated by distrust of majority rule.
“Rights are best protected by the common law and by parliament when the people are equally aware of their responsibilities,” he told an audience at the Brisbane Institute on Tuesday night. “Democratic law-making is imperfect, but preferable to rule by the courts.”
Cardinal Pell noted that a charter of human rights has been applied by the Canadian Supreme Court, which he said has progressively lowered standards of evidence.
“So, it is not only in areas of life, family, freedom of religion, discrimination and equality that a bill or charter of rights causes trouble,” he said.
The cardinal asserted that when judges abuse their powers to defend human rights, the majority of people respond negatively. He noted the irony that this type of reaction is exactly what the legislation is supposed to avert.
“We don’t have a culture war here in Australia in the way the United States does, but a bill or charter of rights could help provoke one,” Cardinal Pell said, according to the West Australian.
He also noted the ineffectiveness of a similar bill of rights in conflict-torn Zimbabwe.
The government of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has committed to an inquiry on the bill of rights proposal, but reportedly has ruled out any model that would undermine the authority of parliament.
Other opponents of the proposed bill of rights have said it would give too much power to the courts and increase frivolous lawsuits.