Australia’s monarchist hangover
Friday May 01st 2009, 8:07 am

The government is in the process of conducting a ‘Human Rights Consultation‘ with a view toward establishing some sort of Bill of Rights or human rights declaration. Good idea. We don’t have basic human rights codified in Australia, not even freedom of speech/expression.

However, the Terms of Reference for this consultation negate its very existence. Last note in the Terms:

The options identified should preserve the sovereignty of the Parliament and not include a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights.

Rights doctrines do one thing and one thing only- protect citizens from excessive exercise of government power. They’re of little value if they are enacted on a statutory basis, where they can be modified, overridden or even dissolved by a simple act of Parliament.

The notion of ‘preserving the sovereignty of the Parliament’ could only be acceptable to authoritarians and monarchists. Governments in liberal democracies are constituted of, by and for the people, not the other way around. You don’t get imbued with the right to deprive others of human rights merely because you have been elected to a public office. The only sovereignty which should be established by a rights doctrine is that of the citizen over the government.

If there’s to be a human rights declaration, it must be a constitutional instrument or it has little value. Regardless, GetUp are pushing participation in the human rights consultation:

This government consultation is a once in a lifetime chance to call for a Human Rights Act to permanently protect human rights in Australia.

Sorry, but the Act as framed will not ‘permanently protect human rights in Australia.’ It will be white-anted by the present or subsequent governments, merely because it will not be entrenched as part of the Australian Constitution, which offers some resilience against tampering by a simple Parliamentary vote. I can’t support GetUp’s campaign unless they lobby to change the terms to specify a constitutional rights declaration.


2 Comments so far
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I’m not sure I’m convinced of the value of a bill of rights, whether constitutional or otherwise, but I’ll give you a piece of proof for your white anting argument: the suspension of the racial discrimination act for the intervention.

Comment by Armagny 05.01.09 @ 3:31 pm

Thanks for that. 🙂

Why don’t you think that a bill of rights has little value? At present, specifically with regard to freedom of expression, you have all the rights you can sue for in our system of rights-by-case-precedent. A bill of rights would reduce litigation and afford protection of unpopular views to those who cannot keep a QC on retainer. If you don’t have any controversial opinions or simply don’t express them, you probably do fine without boilerplate rights protections.

However, if you use the internet, either as a reader or publisher, at present, government have the ability to stop you reading or writing topics which they don’t like, merely because they can. See the proposed mandatory internet filter. If we had speech protections, we definitely wouldn’t be discussing any sort of mandatory censorship.

At the end of the day, I believe that citizens should have rights until the government can demonstrate why they shouldn’t, instead of citizens having no rights until they can demonstrate why they should. The presumption of superiority of government over the citizen is that monarchist hangover which prompted this post.

Comment by weez 05.02.09 @ 6:56 am

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