Cherish Life at Human Rights Bill hearing

TRANSCRIPT:

COMMITTEE CHAIR: I now welcome Teeshan Johnson from Cherish Life Queensland. Good afternoon. I invite you to make a brief opening statement, after which committee members may have some questions for you.

TEESHAN JOHNSON: Thanks Mr. Russo. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Human Rights Bill on behalf of Cherish Life Queensland.

I am truly humbled and honoured to represent many thousands of Queenslanders who agree on the human right to life from conception until natural death. Although, on the face of it, the Human Rights Bill seems amazing. Who wouldn't want rights for their family and friends enshrined in law?

However, upon a closer look, it has a fundamental flaw as it does not extend the right to life to unborn human beings. To this end, a more accurate description of the short title would be A Born Human Bill of Rights or Post-birth Human Bill of Rights, but even on application the born or post-birth human bill of rights would not be accurate as this bill does not extend any rights to babies born alive during failed abortion procedures. I note that in Queensland between the years of 2005 and 2015 there were 204 babies born alive during botched abortions. All of these babies, who were clearly human beings, were left to die alone in absolute agony, unloved, naked and probably terrified on a cold, hard surface.

The same fate would await little ones born alive during a failed abortion procedure if this bill were to pass because there is no protection for them under this proposed legislation. The fact that this bill does not provide any recognition or protection for unborn human beings or babies born alive during botched abortions is, quite frankly, a travesty. If this bill were passed in its current format it would further solidify the gross injustice of the Termination of Pregnancy Act: that the unborn have no legal rights in Queensland whatsoever.

The passing of that hideous and profoundly cruel and unjust legislation meant state sanctioned killing of the unborn up until birth was legalised in Queensland. This bill does not correct that injustice in any way. In fact, it kind of grounds it by having another layer of legislation.

Other grave concerns. Section 20 of the bill, so I've just covered obviously the right to life this doesn't extend to the unborn. But Section 20, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is not extended to medical staff in regards to termination of pregnancy. Under the Termination of Pregnancy Act medical staff with a conscientious objection to abortion are compelled to refer for abortion. This basically creates an abortion totalitarian regime where doctors' freedom of conscience or even their medical profession, they might not think an abortion is best for their patient, is actually overridden by this way of thinking that abortion is always best. This is hideously unjust.

Section 17: Freedom from cruelty or inhumane treatment. I want to point out that babies under the Termination of Pregnancy Bill can be aborted right up until birth but also there is no requirement to anaesthetise unborn babies at any gestational limit. There is a lot of scientific proof that babies from 16 weeks gestation experience pain or react to stimuli. They actually feel pain during abortion procedures yet there is no requirement to anaesthetise these unborn children. In effect, section 17 doesn't apply to the unborn because in effect the Termination of Pregnancy Bill has legislated for cruel and inhumane treatment of unborn human beings. This is completely unacceptable, from Cherish Life's position.

We know that the Human Rights Bill also says it would have a freedom of association or assembly. Once again, the Termination of Pregnancy Bill didn't extend that to people in the pro-life community who like to assemble and pray outside abortion clinics or offer counsel. So, once again, there are complete contradictions with what is written in this proposed legislation and what is in the Termination of Pregnancy Act. I understand that assembly in this context actually means the right to be part of an association. There's something called the 40 Days for Life where their association meets outside abortion clinics right around the world. So, their meeting point is actually outside abortion clinics to peacably pray and to possibly offer counsel. I will say that Cherish Life is a non-religious organisation, but we support their democratic right to actually meet outside abortion clinics and pray. They're glaring contradictions and they're a great disappointment to us. We are very aggrieved as a pro-life community.

There are some other concerns that I did list in my submission which I assume most of you have read. And I did want to actually use a quote from Martyn Iles, Australian Christian Lobby, who was just meant to present. And he actually talked about the undermining of power from duly elected MPs and moved to the judiciary, and I thought this was a very telling comment: "A bill of rights that shifts the power of parliament "to judges who are not accountable to the electorate "is extremely concerning. "It would erode the nature of Queensland democracy forever." I completely agree with that. We're very democratic, Cherish Life and we do not agree with the changing of power from the MPs to the judges. There's also, obviously we did a lot of research, if you've read our report.

One of the problems is that there is a lot of vague wording. Some people say in some areas there is an over-reach and in other areas there is an under-reach. We really feel enacting an overarching human rights act with vague wording is an abrogation of legislative duty to promulgate clear laws. There is a duty to actually let people know what the laws are, but it is really unclear because it's just a map of rights that no-one's quite sure how they're going to work where. There's a definite risk of cutting down freedom of speech, which I'm particularly concerned about as the head of Cherish Life, a pro-life organisation. We think it could be used to weaponize anti-discrimination laws against a thought or an ideology that is different to the current government. I do also point out that, when this was reviewed back in 2016 in the inquiry. Can you hear me if I sit back here? Alright, I'm hurting myself. An inquiry into a possible human rights--

COMMITTEE CHAIR: Microphone forward.

TEESHAN JOHNSON: Right, thank you, thank you.

The enquiry into a possible Human Rights Act for Queensland, they basically said they couldn't agree; they couldn't conclude whether it was good for Queensland. In the end, they kind of said, "It isn't. I don't think we should proceed," but there was no consensus made and now we are looking at this issue again. This was over many months, so this concerns me we're talking about this again. I don't quite know why we are. Anyhow, one thing that came out of there that I thought was absolutely brilliant was... Excuse me, the Honourable Richard Chesterman, the former Supreme Court judge observation, "A human rights act is too broad and too far reaching in its scope and effect." ā€œIt may address some of those problems, it may not, but it will have a more profound effect on society than is needed to address those problems." In other words, it could really do more harm than good and that's a very big concern.

I also noted cost in our report. I do want to note and I do want it on file that we are very distressed that successive Labour governments have shut down 40 maternity units in regional and rural areas, yet you've legalised abortion to birth and that could mean all abortions will be performed at public hospitals. There's currently about 10,000 surgical abortions a year. If we say the average cost of a termination is about $500, that's $5 million you have already kind of shifted to the taxpayer and now we're going to look at more costing for this, which has a significant cost attached. I note that professor of law James Allan in this inquiry said, "Bills of rights cost significant amounts of money that could best be spent elsewhere and it delivers little, save to lawyers, judges, criminals, and some articulate, well-educated members of the professional class.ā€ To me, that sounds kind of opposed to the Labour ideology of trying to help the underdog. I am concerned.

I do want it noted that I think the human rights bill in its current form is anti-life, anti-democracy, anti-freedom of thought and anti-freedom of speech. I think it would stand to primarily serve as a tool for implementing an ideological, legal framework aligned with the left faction of the Labour Party, who are the dominant faction in this government. It would be jobs for the boys, or more likely jobs for the girls in the current government. And whilst the bill will further solidify the lie in the current Queensland legislation that the unborn aren't actually human beings and therefore have no rights, it should not proceed and should definitely not be enacted in Queensland. Thank you.

COMMITTEE CHAIR: Mel?

COMMITTEE MEMBER MELISSA MCMAHON: Thank you very much. I'm just going to go to the comment that you made, and it's in your submission as well, about the concerns you have about the bill transferring decision-making power to the judiciary. I'm not sure whether you've been listening along to, without any disrespect, the cavalcade of lawyers that we've had before us today. The question has been put to a number of them about their opinions on the balance between the individual, the state and the judiciary. I think by and large almost all of them have not raised any particular concern about a weighting towards the judiciary over the elected officials. I was just wondering where the legal opinion that you have about decision-making being transferred to the judiciary comes from.

Teeshan: A number of academics have raised it. Didn't Professor Nicholas Aroney raise that this morning?

MELISSA MCMAHON: He is one of about the 30 lawyers that we've had today that has.

TEESHAN JOHNSON: But he's also a professor of law, as is Professor James Allan.

MELISSA MCMAHON: As are many of the people we have had before us today. I am just saying that's one of the many. So I'm just wondering, the legal opinion that you base that on is from the same--

TEESHAN JOHNSON: Several people have said that. As I said, James Allan says it, Professor Aroney. There's others I've read from our legal research team who did as well. I can get you a list of all the ones who have that. I'm happy to do that for you.

MELISSA MCMAHON: We have his submission here.

TEESHAN JOHNSON: Yes, of course, but there's probably 10 or 15 that we drew from. Yeah, thank you. (mumbling from participants)

DEPUTY CHAIR ā€“ JAMES LISTER: Thank you very much Ms. Johnson for your appearance today. I'm one of those electorates that has lost a number of maternity wards, so that rang true for me. Can I just ask you, if this bill were passed tomorrow, what consequences do you see flowing?

TEESHAN JOHNSON: That's a really big question. I think it would further solidify the lie that the unborn in Queensland are not human beings or they are not treated as people. To me, that is a grievous thing. It would further take away freedom of speech from people with an opinion contrary to the prevailing government.

The appointees to the judiciary would no doubt be government appointees and, because we have a Labour majority government and within that Labour majority government the left faction is dominant, there would be quite left ideology, which is a grave concern, particularly because this ideology said that the unborn don't have any rights even up until birth.

The Termination of Pregnancy Bill allows for a termination up until birth. It's very selective. It takes power away from the MPs. I think in time it would be used to weaponize freedom of speech. I think we would have, sorry I beg your pardon discrimination laws would end up, I want to find some notes. I actually wrote quite a few notes so if you can hold one moment, I beg your pardon.

JAMES LISTER: While you're doing that, may I ask you, the sources of that legal opinion you referred to be among the 25 or so eminent jurists who wrote essays in a 2009 paper against a bill of rights, including Paul de Jersey and the former Justice Richard Chesterman among others?

TEESHAN JOHNSON: Yes... So I'll give it as a question on notice.

I think one of the consequences would be unfair judgements. When I say unfair, there would be an inherent bias which is a function of the government's bias. We all have bias, my bias is pro-life, but it would be averse to people like myself who hold a strong view that the unborn are people even before they're born. I think there would be needless expense, which is concerning. I think, as I said, there would be a shutdown of freedom of speech for those with views contrary to prevailing thoughts. There would be state sanctioned killing of the unborn up until birth. That's already the case, unfortunately, with the Termination of Pregnancy Act but it would be further solidified by the passing of this. There would be state sanctioned killing of babies who survive an abortion, because now we have the Termination of Pregnancy Bill so abortion is legal but these little ones haven't been provided for, so effectively by not covering them in law it's actually agreeing with their killing.

There would be state sanctioned thinking, as different judgements over time would make it clear what thinking is acceptable to the judiciary. This would create obviously case law. There would be state sanctioned jobs. When I say that, you couldn't say some things and get some jobs. Even me, with my views, I couldn't get some jobs because I would be seen as against the current thought. I think there'd be more of that as there's more weaponizing against freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. You could have freedom of conscience, you could have your own thoughts, but you really couldn't speak them out. I think there'd be a lot of shutting down of freedom of speech and I think that's very scary. There would be judicial misinterpretation, as we've seen in a case in Victoria as I outlined in my submission.

I'm also concerned if there is a federal change of government. With a federal Labour government wanting to bring in 33 genders, what does that look like? Does that mean there could be men in women's toilets, natural born men who are still kind of transitioning to whatever they want to be and me as a woman, if I say, "I don't want you to be in a toilet. "I've got my young niece here or someone's got their little "girl, this is not appropriate." Am I going to suddenly be pulled before the Human Rights Commission saying "That's disgusting behaviour?" It is like, no, actually that's absurd behaviour. I am very concerned.

JAMES LISTER: Thank you.

TEESHAN JOHNSON: Thanks.

CHAIR: Are there any more questions from the opposition? (mumbling from participants)

JAMES LISTER: Was Cherish Life consulted in the development of the bill by the government?

TEESHAN JOHNSON: This bill?

JAMES LISTER: Yes.

TEESHAN JOHNSON: No.

COMMITTEE MEMBER CORRINE MCMILLIAN: Yes, Ms Johnson, I'm sorry that you see doom and gloom. But in what ways do you see that the bill of human rights will improve Queenslander's enjoyment of their basic human rights?

TEESHAN JOHNSON: What way do I see it would improve? I don't think it will improve it.

CORRINE MCMILLIAN: Okay, thank you.

CHAIR: That brings to conclusion this part of the hearing.