On tables, doors and listening spaces

Our latest article, ‘On tables, doors and listening spaces: Parliamentary human rights scrutiny and engagement of others’, has recently been published in the Australian Journal of Human Rights as part of our project investigating a world-first ‘post-human rights’ framework for drug policy.

In the article, we examine parliamentary technical scrutiny and policy inquiry-based committees in the Australian Capital Territory. Our examination considers how these committees approach human rights, drug law reform and engagement of others, drawing from Kay Lalor’s work on listening and Sara Ahmed’s work on being at the table during bureaucratic processes.

We consider participation and human rights issues arising in the parliamentary inquiries into the recently passed Drugs of Dependence (Personal Use) Amendment Bill 2021 (ACT) and the drafting process that precedes legislation being tabled in the Australian Capital Territory parliament. We also consider listening practices in the Victorian Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee and three recent inquiries into drug law reform in the Victorian parliament. We consider how they engage with human rights issues surrounding drugs, as well as other forms of public engagement.

Reflecting on these case studies, we argue that:

Listening to different voices has the potential to change the perspective of the listening, but it depends on the positionality of that listening. Deep listening demands an openness on the art of the listener, including to emotion and a willingness for the views to be challenged and changed as a result […] Without a consideration of who is admitted and heard in parliamentary consideration of human rights issues, putative public engagement exercises ring hollow.

We suggest that people who use drugs are an important group of experts with the capacity to provide personal insight on how drugs legislation impacts (their) human rights, and that despite its value, this human rights expertise is seldom heard by parliamentary committees, including those concerned with human rights scrutiny. Instead, we argue that lived experience offers an expertise that should be listened to amongst the various voices which parliamentary committees hear from.

We conclude that parliamentary committees need to open doors to people who use drugs and bring them to the table when it comes to scrutinising human rights compatibility of drugs-related legislation and policy. Our article can be found here, and we welcome readers’ feedback.

Citation: Sean Mulcahy, S. & Seear, K. (2022) On tables, doors and listening spaces: parliamentary human rights scrutiny processes and engagement of others, Australian Journal of Human Rights

Link: http://doi.org.10.1080/1323238X.2022.2135677