By Siddarth Sethi
In April 2010, the Australian government released its Human Rights Framework, a formal response to the recommendations proposed by the National Human Rights Consultation chaired by Father Frank Brennan AO. The Framework adopted many of the recommendations put forth by the Brennan Committee’s Report, including increasing efforts to educate Australians about their rights, and about the nature of rights protection in Australia generally. However, the Australian government rejected the Committee’s primary recommendation to adopt a statutory bill of rights, or Human Rights Act, modeled on existing state and territory legislation already operating in the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria. Due to the lack of federal legislation, the judicial statutory interpretation principles, particularly the principle of legality, remain the primary mechanisms of rights protection in Australia. 
Recent High Court decisions including that of Plaintiff S10/2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (‘Plaintiff S10’) suggest that the power of these mechanisms to prevent the government from rescinding fundamental common law rights has waned. Additionally, the changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 proposed by the Abbott government have highlighted concerns surrounding the balance of federal rights protection mechanisms and the maintenance of satisfactory checks on legislative power. Given the current political climate, whether the current principle of legality provides adequate rights protection or whether something more, such as the statutory bill of rights suggested by the Brennan Committee, is needed has become increasingly more important.