For Christ's sake, think

VICTORIANS have nothing to fear from our Charter of Rights, despite what the Australian Christian Lobby would have you believe. They are wrong to oppose the expansion of the charter.

The charter was introduced by the previous Labor Government four years ago and is now under review by the Baillieu Government.

It sets out a series of rights, which include such things as the right to vote; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association; the right to liberty and security; the right to freedom of movement; the right to a fair trial; the right not to be held in slavery; the right to privacy; and the right of individuals belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities to enjoy their own culture.

Well, it all sounds fair enough to me.

The charter has been in place for four years now and I haven't witnessed any sudden collapse of society.

In fact, those who work daily with our most disadvantaged people, like the Victorian Council of Social Service and community lawyers, say it has helped protect marginalised groups.

In any case, it's important to note that the rights enshrined in the charter are not absolute, and must be subject to the laws of Victoria and Australia.

For instance, the rights of Muslims to "enjoy their own culture" wouldn't include the right to polygamy because it is incompatible with Australian law that says you can only be married to one person at once.

And that's why Christian doctors who don't believe in abortion are still required to refer patients to a doctor who doesn't object to abortion - because regardless of what they believe, abortion is legal in this country.

So don't believe the scaremongering going on in light of the review, which seeks to broaden the charter to include protection of economic, social, cultural, children's and women's rights.

I want to know precisely why the Australian Christian Lobby has mounted an attack on the charter. Just what are they afraid of?

Let's look at what the Lobby website said on June 7. First, there is concern over what it sees as the transfer of decision-making power from elected parliamentarians to appointed judges.

But this is debatable because the charter doesn't change the right of MPs to make laws. Politicians still set the policy agenda, and it's up to judges to put laws into operation. The buck still stops with the politicians.

The Australian Christian Lobby also say a charter of rights will lead to "uncertainty" and "inconsistency". But, if anything, a charter makes laws more consistent, because there is a common framework for everyone.

But forget all that. What the Christian Lobby seems really worried about is the way in which "activists" (or what I would call everyday people like you and me) will use the charter to agitate for certain rights.

They may be concerned about its use to "agitate" for "damaging social reforms - a right to die, a right to abortion, a right to same-sex marriage, etc".

Oh, so now we see what is really going on. It seems the only people whose "rights" the Australian Christian Lobby endorses are those who agree with their narrow view of the world. And make sure you're not gay, terminally ill or pregnant.

A long-term gay couple who want to push for same-sex marriage is dismissed by the Christian Lobby as "activists". Or a terminally ill person who wants the right to end their own life on their own terms is someone who's just been "politicised".

Well, let me go proudly on the record as someone who would welcome euthanasia - as long as sensible medical safeguards are in place.

And I don't think many people are proud of the fact that they have had an abortion, but its legality is an important cornerstone of a civilised society. And I also believe in marriage equality and the right of gay couples to have their unions recognised as marriages.

These are rights we should be proud of, not scared of.

In any case, the Charter of Rights will not automatically confer specific rights on people. But it will give them a platform to agitate against what they see as unfair policies or laws. It will ultimately be up to lawmakers to decide if the rights they are seeking to assert are reasonable and fair.

So yes, a Charter of Rights does come with some checks and balances. This is only right.

Of course, granting rights to all via a charter may occasionally mean that some individuals get rights that you may not agree with. Take, for example, the case of a jailed welfare cheat, who used the charter to argue that she should have the right to continue IVF treatment she started before being locked up.

But that's the way it is with rights - sometimes individual cases are challenging, but it doesn't mean the right shouldn't even exist. It is therefore up to the judges and lawmakers to ensure its rights are not abused by undeserving individuals.

The charter has also been used to protect the right to a free trial of someone arrested for drug trafficking; as well as the right of a Muslim girl to wear a headscarf to school. And it's helped Victoria Police ensure humane conditions inside cells, and reduce deaths in custody.

At the end of the day, the charter does nothing more than say that your rights are as important as any one else's, whether you're old or young, rich or poor, man or woman, dentist or ditch-digger, Anglo-Aussie or new arrival.

This embraces everyone - including Muslim schoolgirls, people in jail and people on trial for drug offences.

Sounds like a pretty Christian message to me.