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The Role of Committees in Rights Protection in Federal and State Parliaments in Australia

Author

Laura Grenfell and Sarah Moulds

This article offers a snapshot of how Australian parliamentary committees scrutinise Bills for their rights-compliance in circumstances where the political stakes are high and the rights impacts strong. It tests the assumption that parliamentary models of rights protection are inherently flawed when it comes to Bills directed at electorally unpopular groups such as bikies and terrorists by analysing how parliamentary committees have scrutinised rights-limiting anti-bikie Bills and counter-terrorism Bills. Through these case studies a more nuanced picture emerges, with evidence that, in the right circumstances, parliamentary scrutiny of ‘law and order’ can have a discernible rights-enhancing impact. The article argues that when parliamentary committees engage external stakeholders they can contribute to the development of an emerging culture of rights-scrutiny. While this emerging culture may not yet work to prevent serious intrusions into individual rights, at the federal level there are signs it may at least be capable of moderating these intrusions.

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