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Friday, March 06, 2009

We need dreamers.

I haven't read Geoffrey Robertson's new book "The Statute of Liberty: How Australians Can Take Back Their Rights"( Vintage Australia) but an extract published in the March 2009 Australian Literary Review (no link to the article I'm afraid) consisted of a draft of an act "to declare the rights and freedoms of the people and to make better provision for liberty in Australia."

Robertson (not everyone's cup of tea, I know-see Paul Toohey for his experience of a recent Hypotheticals) who has well-earned standing in this field says
"any statutory enumeration of basic freedoms should list those the advanced world holds to be universal, but the Australian statute should be infused with a spirit that reflects national pride and national progress. The adoption of a statutory charter would provide an opportunity for Australians to incorporate some of their struggles and achievements in the advance of human freedom and to reflect traits that (optimistically perhaps) we regard as self-definitive. A charter works for ordinary people (a condescending phrase used by lawyers to describe persons who are not lawyers) and it is they who must understand it."
The draft includes a long preamble citing achievements and regrets, 25 provisions on rights, one to allow derogation in times of national emergency, and another on the duties of Australians and plonks on the table as the National Consultation gets underway.

Robertson's ambitious list seems miles ahead of the debate we are about to have , and the extract doesn't go to how these rights might be best protected, which seems to be one of the crucial issues. It includes proposed words on freedom from slavery; prohibition on torture; right to life (after birth); freedom from compulsion; right to be set at liberty; rights on arrest; the open justice principle; right to trial by jury; the right to fair trial; no punishment without law; freedom of movement; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; right to own property;right to work; right to wellbeing; right to education; right to democracy; rights of parliamentary representatives; prohibition of discrimination; rights of children; rights of disabled people; right to a pristine and healthy environment, and special rights of indigenous people. Whew!

And the following, still leaving plenty of room for debate about the right to publish (12(iv)) and the right to privacy (13):

"12 Freedom of expression and the right to know

(i) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to hold and express opinions, and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by government.

(ii) Journalists shall have a right to protect their sources, subject only to overriding considerations of public interest.

(iii)The above rights shall be accorded especial importance in any civil court proceedings in which they are properly invoked.

iv) This right shall create a presumption in favour of publication, rebuttable only if the restriction sought to be placed on such publication is necessary in the interests of a democratic society to guard against incitement to crime or disorder, or to safeguard national security, or to enable other citizens to stop lies being told about them, or to preserve confidential information or to protect privacy as defined in Article 13.

(v) Citizens have a right to know about the workings of their government. In addition to their rights under the Freedom of information Act, and subject to vi) below, all cabinet papers and other government documents shall be made public within 10 years of their creation.

vi) These rights may be invoked by media corporations on behalf of their journalists and editors, and-or on behalf of their readers, viewers or listeners.

13 Right to privacy

Everyone has the right to have his or her home or stable family life respected and to prevent passing on, or publication of, intimate personal details, or disclosure of personal matters concerning children in their care. Public authorities shall not interfere with the exercise of this right unless such interference serves the public interest and is in accordance with legally prescribed data protection principles or ethics codes promulgated for the media."

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