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So Australia Needs a Human Rights Act ?

January 11, 2011

Geoffrey Robertson

For a year I llstened to academics argue that Australia was behind the rest of the world in not having a charter of rights. Geoffrey Robertson and Susan Ryan argued, with the support of all university law schools, our record on rights lagged all comparable countries.

Okay, imagine this.

Australian police arrest 114 environmental activists gathered to plan the occupation of a coal-fired power plant. They photograph and monitor protestors. They use a police informer planted for seven years in the protest movement to bring the case. The case gets thrown out by a judge.

Imagine the outrage – and the argument that such police abuse now made the case for a charter of rights irresistible. Imagine the David Marr fulmination.

Trouble is this case occured in the UK, the arrests made in Nottingham last April, PC Mark Kennedy the policeman planted for seven years like an agent of the Okrana under the Tsars was a British cop and.. the case thrown out by the judge yesterday in a British court.

It happened in the UK which we have been told is a shining model for Australia because it lives under the European human rights charter.

Hence my argument, which I trust had some value in persuading the Rudd cabinet not to adopt Father Brennan’s recommendation for a human rights act : Australia because of its ethos is a damn lot freer than countries with human rights charters and there is no evidence that having one resolves every argument over balancing freedoms and duties in civil society.

Again, imagine what conclusions charter advocates would have drawn if this scandal had occurred in Oz instead of one of the jurisdictions with a charter.

6 Comments
  1. January 11, 2011 8:49 am

    “It always will be ok because it always has been” is terrible logic. Our system sadly if left wide open to abuse due to a lack of enumerated rights in our constitution.

    Though I agree we don’t need a charter of rights. We need a constitutional bill of rights which protects political freedoms, such as freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom from unlawful search and seizure, and equal protection under the law.

  2. Phil permalink
    January 12, 2011 2:36 pm

    Not only do we need a constitutional bill of rights that enshrines human rights in the constitution in a manner that an incumbent Government cannot manipulate its way round them – so also we need the Judicial Court Structure that enforces the Australian Bill of Rights – set up in a manner that grants every citizen access at reasonable or no cost

    Initially this will be expensive, but only because State Governments are some of the worst examples of those who circumvent the Rule of Law and as a result there is a very great deal to do. Indeed that is ultimately what will bring the present NSW Government down

    The people demand their rights and the Rule of Law

    Government Departments such as the Ombudsman’s department and the Independent Commission Against Corruption seem to protect rather than prosecute offending departments

  3. Horatio Hufnagel permalink
    January 15, 2011 1:52 pm

    I’m sorry but this is a poorly thought out post that has zero justification for any of the claims made or conclusions implied. Basically, your argument rests on two things, 1) that this hurts the police, and 2) that Australia’s ethos is a ‘damn lot freer’ than other countries.

    1) This is irrelevant. The police is meant to serve the public, not serve themselves. If a court can throw a case out based on a bill of rights, than that is what it is meant to do. If the police don’t respect human rights, then they shouldn’t have the right to prosecute. Human rights are more important than the efficiency of the police to carry out useless and futile operations; I say this because if you say ‘but the efficiency of the police saves lives!’, I’d like to point out that police seem to be more preoccupied with saving the wallets of corporations than saving the lives of people, and that a human rights bill would not affect the safety and security of people because it is there to protect it.

    2) Where is your justification for this? Just by looking around? I don’t see how you can quantify how ‘free’ a country is, and in what form this ‘freedom’ takes place. Is your claim based upon the antiquated, fabricated, and nonsensical farce of the ‘larrikin’, and the ‘fair go’? If so, you should probably take another long hard look at the Australian public because ‘larrikinism’ exists only within the bounds of a rigidly conservative and often regressive populace. We don’t have the same freedoms as most people in France do, for instance, or Switzerland. We are constrained by horrific laws like the anti-terrorism acts and the anti-biker acts, which were reactionary right-wing tools to gather more control over the status quo in Australia. The government feels it has the right to regulate ‘morality’ — it doesn’t.

    An example of this would be on a Q&A episode where a politician claimed that individual rights, like gay marriage, can be compromised for society’s whim. No, this is absolutely wrong, and this is why we need a bill of rights. So the government can’t compromise our individual rights for the sake of gaining votes. Because our rights as individuals are more important than the government having the ease of unrestricted power. If what the government, or the police, or whomever, is doing goes against enshrined human rights, then perhaps there SHOULD be trouble for them. What is wrong with struggle? We need a government that actually tries to persuade people why they are right, rather than controlling the population to accept every decision they make.

    All in all, perhaps there is no ‘evidence that having one resolves every argument over balancing freedoms and duties in civil society’ because perhaps there doesn’t need to be — perhaps our freedoms in civil society are a given, while our alleged duties have to be legitimised. Tell us why we have specific duties, and if they’re justified, we will do them. But don’t try and take our freedoms away just because it makes the politician’s and the policeman’s life easier.

    • Ivan Cribb permalink
      January 17, 2011 9:04 pm

      Politicians tend to be opposed to a Bill of Rights because they believe they are the source of all wisdom and, because they have been successful in persuading the voters to elect them, they are uniquely qualified to decide how the community should be governed. That is arrant nonsense. The fact that Austrlia is the only democracy without a Bill of Rights should be enough to show that tere is something awfully wrong with this logic. A Bill of Rights is not a panacaea but it should not e beyon the intelligence of the Australian community to devise a set of rihts that should be enshrined in a way to protect us against the overweening excercise of power by politicians. Most of whom, in any case, are only thereto do as their leader tells them without exercising any independent judgment.

  4. January 16, 2011 4:54 pm

    Good on you, Bob. If Australia ever adopts a Charter of Rights or anything like it then our freedom will be finished. I have faith in our elected leaders of either end of the political spectrum to strike the right balance with our laws. Unelected judges will hold the nation to ransom and change the country as we know it.

    • Horatio Hufnagel permalink
      January 16, 2011 5:37 pm

      You have ‘faith’ in them? Faith is unjustified belief — and unjustified it is, because our elected politicians are no compass for human rights. They do what is needed by voters, but voters are often wrong. Like I said, no vote would make slavery, or the death penalty, or apartheid acceptable, so why should our elected politicians be responsible for human rights? Judges won’t hold our nation to ransom; if you make the bill of rights clear enough, the bill of rights will protect minorities, rather than have our minorities held to ransom by the majority.

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