A very disturbing thing happened to a friend of mine the other day. Nick Holmes a Court, well known entrepreneur and digital media maven, saw some police activity occurring in a public place and he decided to video it on his mobile phone.
The full story has been reported in Courier Mail, Techwired and Crikey – but the short version is that Nick filmed the police in a public space. The police then confiscated his mobile phone, searched it without his consent and threatened him with arrest under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Now this all sounds like something that would happen in a police state, not in a free country like Australia. But it happened in Sydney this month to a citizen who had done nothing wrong.
Incidents like this remind us that we have no formal protection of our rights in Australia. In the past it was argued that our rights are enshrined in common law and that this is sufficient protection of those rights. Now we see that long held and traditional common law rights (e.g. habeus corpus) can easily be legislated away.
Many Australians do not realise that our constitution does not protect basic rights such as freedom of speech or freedom of association. The only rights explicity protected in the Australian Constitution are:
- freedom of religion, [Section 116]
- trial by jury, [Section 80]
- freedom from discrimination against out-of-State residents, [Section 117]
- and a right to acquisition of property on just terms. [Paragraph 51(xxxi)]
Any other rights are open to judicial interpretation under common law or can be legislated away by Parliament. Thus the assumed rights of Australians are extremely vulnerable to attack.
In Australia today our freedom is seriously at risk. We need the formal protection of a constitutional bill of rights. We need a bill of rights that cannot be attacked or diminished by politicians legislating away our rights. We need our human rights protected formally and in a way that the consent of the people is required in order to diminish those rights.
More information on the issue of a bill of rights for Australia is available on the Council for Civil Liberties site.
I suspect that there are constitutional experts who can explain the issues far better than I – please feel free to correct any errors in fact in comments.