The bill would replace the law that currently has legislative authority over the issue of homelessness, the Supported Accommodation Assistance Act 1994.
Since one of the main aims of the legislation is to define homelessness, the release of the draft has reignited the age-old debate of whether Australia, specifically for the population of people who face homelessness, should adopt a bill of rights.
A ‘bill of rights’ is something the specialist youth homelessness sector has always called for. The sector and its allies argue that legislating rights for the country’s most vulnerable would allow people who don’t have access to the full opportunities of society to legally advocate for their human rights- such as the right to housing, the right to health care and the right to reasonable bail and fines. While the proposedHomelessness Bill is not a bill of rights, it does plead the question of whether or not legislative rights would improve equity and access of services and supports for marginalised people.
Currently, Australians do not have any legal rights. Unlike the U.S. and U.K. it is a country that functions under a non-binding sentiment of human rights rather than legally binding, specific rights for individuals. Those who value this system and oppose adopting a bill of rights say that a bill of rights would just make things more complicated and that the legislation of individual rights in other countries “produces a quagmire of detail which is always up for debate and disagreement.” Thematically, they argue that a bill of rights wouldn’t improve equity but that it would rather simply move the interpretation of rights out of the publicly-elected governmental sphere and into the legislative branch where decisions are made by non-elected officials.
There is another group, however, who believes that everyday people, especially those suffering from marginalisation and discrimination, would be in a better position to argue for equal treatment and support if the government was bound by individual rights under law. Leading members of this group argue that Australian law should reflect and protect the rights that many Australians assume they have. This argument is underpinned by the notion that unless law protects these rights, they are not guaranteed.
Of course, the discussion had by these two camps is much broader than the context of this week’s Homelessness Bill. Yet it does raise discussion about what legislative rights young people who experience homelessness should have, if any at all, and possibly more importantly, why should they have these rights? How would legislative rights improve homeless young people’s ability to access the supports and services that they need? Would it make a difference in young people’s lives and Australia as a whole?
Since homeless youth are part of the generation of tomorrow and since they have their labouring years ahead of them when they experience homelessness, their ability to get support delivers a powerful consequence for their personal life outcomes, our economy and the country’s social landscape.
Yfoundations hopes readers will comment on this post with their interpretation and opinion of legislating rights for the homeless, especially youth.
To read the full draft Homelessness Bill 2012 and for instructions on how to make a submission to Parliament, click here.