The landmark Tasmanian Dams case celebrated its 30th anniversary in Canberra last week. This case was thought to be a triumph for human rights. International human rights can now fully be implemented in Australia, they said. Australia will soon have a bill of rights, they said. So, 30 years on, has the Tasmanian Dams case really fulfilled its promise of improving Australia’s human rights protections?
The Tasmanian Dams case was a turning point for this country. The High Court of Australia held that the Federal Government had full authority to implement any international treaty that it signed on any subject matter. This was a powerful decision. It meant that Australia could fully implement international human rights treaties with no impediments from the States.
Having signed several human rights treaties, Australia has the power to establish a Bill of Rights either in legislation or within our Constitution. 30 years on from the Tasmanian Dams case, Australia has neither. We are one of the only advanced democracies in the world that do not protect fundamental human rights explicitly in our national Constitution.