It’s everyone’s conduct mandate

The new ACT human rights amendments have one last surprise. While its conduct mandate covers the usual suspects – i.e. public authorities, such as Ministers, public servants, government entities and anyone who does a ‘public function’ on behalf of the Territory – and omits the other usual recalcitrants – courts (sigh) and the parliament itself – it also has a ground-breaking opt-in clause:

40D Other entities may choose to be subject to obligations of public authorities

(1) An entity that is not a public authority under section 40 may ask the Minister, in writing, to declare that the entity is subject to the obligations of a public authority under this part.

(2) On request under subsection (1), the Minister must make the declaration.

(3) The Minister may revoke the declaration only if the entity asks the Minister, in writing, to revoke it.

The purpose of this clause is to allow private entities to join the glorious human rights culture. You might wonder why they’d want to do so, especially as the ACT, like Victoria, churlishly excludes corporations from all the benefits of their human rights statutes. But consider this:

  • “Sign up with Optus, the only mobile service provider that’s obliged to respect your human rights”
  • “Kingsley’s Chicken: Every drumstick lovingly made in a way that’s compatible with human rights. If not, the ACT courts will give you a remedy!”
  • “The Canberra Times: Bringing you the capital’s news, compatibly with your human rights.”
  • “ANU Law School: Our teachers know their human rights law. Legally, they have to.”

Notice that ‘must’ in s. 40D? The Minister can’t say no to any such request, nor can she or he strip someone of their ‘conduct mandate’-bound status unless they ask for it.

And there’s more. Check out the definition of ‘entity’:

“entity” includes an unincorporated body and a person (including a person occupying a position). 

A person! Hmmmm:

  •  “Vote for Mal Meninga. The only back-bencher who’s obliged to respect your rights.”
  • “I promise to love, honour and obey you, and to respect your and everyone else’s human rights, or face the legal consequences”
  • “Your honour, will you let me off with community service if I bind myself to the Human Rights Act?”
  • “The entire fifth grade at Downer Primary School will pledge to act compatibly with human rights if we raise enough money for our new computer at the next school fete”

Maybe the Supreme Court and the Legislative Assembly could bind themselves too? Then the ACT will turn into Canada. Alas, there are probably legal problems with that. But not with all the other examples in this post. The Legislative Assembly really ought to rethink that ‘must’ in s40D.

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