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Time for a Bill of Rights debate.
Time For A Bill Of Rights Debate Robert McClelland - Shadow Attorney-General
Media Statement - 25 August 2000
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Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's call for renewed debate on a Bill of Rights is timely and appropriate.
In my view, Malcolm Fraser is absolutely right in saying that the common law does not give Australians sufficient protection against unreasonable government interference.
Mr Fraser's reference to the forced removal of aboriginal children is a dramatic example of an instance of the failure of the common law to protect a vulnerable group in society.
Since Federation, there have been numerous examples of the failure of the common law to protect rights, including cases decided by the High Court:
finding that the common law applies differently as between citizen and government; âï¿»ï¿»ï¿» rejecting the principle of "one-vote one-value"; and âï¿»ï¿»ï¿» ruling that certain ministerial detention orders were not reviewable by courts. âï¿»ï¿»ï¿»
A more recent example was the jailing of activist Albert Langer for 10 weeks in 1996 for advocating a particular form of voting.
And many Australians would not know that State governments are under no compulsion to provide just compensation for acquisition of property.
The question of a Bill of Rights is not merely a debate for the benefit of bleeding hearts and do-gooders. It should fundamentally be about everyday matters that affect our standard of living such as equal access to medical services, education and even technological infrastructure. These issues are fundamental to people living in regional, rural and remote Australia.
Australia is now the only Western democracy that does not have a Bill or Charter of Rights. The experience in New Zealand, Canada and Great Britain is that it does shift the obsessive focus from all things economic to a consideration of how the lives of ordinary citizens are impacted by government action and inaction.
The ALP national conference recently endorsed an amendment to the Platform committing Labor to implement a legislative charter of rights and aspirations.
But community debate is vital because it would be pointless to have a Bill of Rights which did not reflect community values and aspirations.
Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.