By Dave Munro
Much is touted about the freedoms we have living in Australia. We believe we are one of the most free societies in the world and we tend to frown on human rights abuses in other countries. There seems to be a constant stream of refugees from war torn countries seeking asylum in what to many must seem a paradise. Simply take a bit of time and surf the internet to see how we want the world to perceive us. The official government site –
states, quite plainly under the heading “Five Fundamental Freedoms” that … “All Australians are entitled to freedom of speech, association, assembly, religion, and movement.”
Reading through this site, and particularly this page, one can feel that freedom truly exists in the lucky country. The fact remains however that we really only have access to “implied” freedoms while we do not have a Constitutional Bill of Rights. In 2004, the then Prime Minister John Howard, expressed his support for a Bill of Rights in Iraq. In 2009, in delivering the Menzies Lecture in Perth, “Mr Howard said there was no need for a separate bill of rights in Australia because our rights were already entrenched and protected in common law, and that elected parliamentarians should be responsible for protecting those rights.” (Dennis Shanahan, The Australian August 27, 2009).
Why is there such a difference in attitude to human rights? Are Australian politicians so special that they can be trusted implicitly, is our media so free and unbiased that everyone has a say and nothing is controlled?
The Constitution of Australia
The Australian Constitution does not make mention of “freedom of association” anywhere in its pages. Approved by referendums in the Australian Colonies between 1898 and 1900, given Royal Assent by Queen Victoria on 9 July 1900 and coming into force on 1 January 1901, the Constitution does not include a Bill of Rights.
Why? Though some delegates at the 1898 Constitutional Convention were in favour of a Bill of Rights, much like that in the United States Constitution, a majority did not. That majority believed that the freedoms and protections provided to British citizens by an elected Parliament and independent judiciary were sufficient.
In 2012 some Australian citizens may disagree with that.
There are express rights in the Constitution such as; Right to trial by jury, right to just compensation and express freedoms such as freedom of religion. Most people would be surprised to learn that the right to vote is not an express right but in fact is an implied right and was only ruled on in 2007, in Roach v Electoral Commissioner. There are some implied freedoms, which are not rights of individuals but are limitations on legislative power, such as the “freedom of political communication” as found by the High Court. Freedom of Association is not an express freedom and will be tested in court many times in the future though the implication of freedom of association has received occasional judicial support.
The problem and the testing times ahead.
A stream of State Governments has been enacting anti-association laws under the guise of public security. The “Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Act 2008” of South Australia is commonly referred to in the media as “the bikie laws”. The reference to bikies is a deliberate ploy to make the draconian legislation more palatable to the public. The public thinks, generally, that the laws will never affect them. However, the laws are not “bikie” laws. They can affect any group in society. When the Agape Ministries in South Australia first came to the attention of the public then deputy Premier, Michael Foley stated that the SOCCA laws could be used against them.
Similar laws in NSW have already been used with the imprisonment of a 21 year old disability pensioner. Charlie Foster, from Inverell, was jailed for consorting with his housemate. Charlie is not, nor has ever been a bikie and by all reports has nothing at all to do with the bike scene. At the time of the sentencing of Mr. Foster, Justin Dowd, president of the NSW Law Society, criticised the new consorting law stating “It’s one that not only civil libertarians but anyone with a concern for the rule of law would be worried about,”. The sentence has since been set aside by a NSW District Court Judge after finding the elements of the offence not proved.
This is not going to go away. The various governments aim to keep this powerful tool in their armoury. The use of secret evidence alone is something that should be questioned, loud and often, by a thinking population.
What can you do?
To date the fight against this draconian legislation has been taken up and funded by bikies. The United Motorcycle Councils of Australia have been at the forefront. Politically, the only party that will come near the fire is F.R.E.E. Australia Party. The major parties are in agreement on keeping the power that is given by these laws. The government has deep pockets when it is in their own interest. Our freedoms need to be guaranteed, as we seem to think they already are. F.R.E.E. is at the forefront of a push for a Constitutional Bill of Rights for Australia. We need to make a stand, join your local UMC, join F.R.E.E. Australia, sign a petition, question your local member, get onto social media and make a noise, hell… run for Parliament, I did. We need to make some waves and let those that decide for us know that we are not happy with what they are proposing.
There is no place in a free society for condemning someone, anyone, for something the powers that be think they will do. That smacks of fiction as seen in Hollywood movies such as “Minority Report”.
There is no doubt that Australia is a lucky country and a wonderful place to live. As someone who has worn the uniform of my country I am a proud Australian who will associate with whomever I please.