Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Advocates step up calls for bill of rights de -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

TONY JONES: More and more Australians are asking: when is it legal to take a picture? Fear of
paedophiles has led to a number of councils banning cameras in recreational centers, and at
children's activities there are ever-increasing limits on photography. And the concerns go beyond
children. Already people have been charged in New South Wales for taking pictures on public beaches
with mobile phone cameras. Civil rights advocates say it's one more civil liberty being taken away
following the pattern of expanded police search powers and sweeping anti-terror laws. It's time,
advocates say, for a new debate on a proposed Australian Bill of Rights. But the Federal
Attorney-General doesn't agree. Norman Hermant reports.

NORMAN HERMANT: For many young Australians, this is a big part of summer. They turn out by the tens
of thousands for festivals like this one. They get music, they get fun, and sometimes they also get

POLICE OFFICER: And just through your hair with your fingers.

NORMAN HERMANT: This kind of mass police search is perfectly legal in New South Wales. Police don't
require specific suspicion or individual warrants. To be subject to a search by sniffer dogs, all
you have to do is show up.

MAN: These days they seem to be able to do anything they want. I don't know - I don't like it much,
but can't do much about it.

NORMAN HERMANT: Here's another slice of Australian summer life. Enjoying the beach would seem to be
about as far from the debate over civil liberties as one could get. It isn't, and this is the
reason: cameras, especially those in mobile phones, are spurring debate over just what kind of
photography is legal at public beaches. Already, at least three people have been charged for taking
pictures in Sydney. Local councils are free to make their own rules. Some now even have beach
patrols on the lookout for so-called offensive photography.

PETER HALCRO (BEACH INSPECTOR, RANDWICK COUNCIL): When we observe someone actually taking photos
inappropriately, we'll observe them and then just walk up to them discreetly and ask them to stop
doing what they're doing and let them know that it's offensive and inappropriate for that sort of
thing to happen on our beaches. If it continues, police will be notified and they'll be asked to
stand by until the police turn up.

NORMAN HERMANT: The fact is, the Internet and the speed at which pictures can be published has all
States scrambling to catch up. In Queensland, a debate erupted after pictures of children taken in
public wound up on a photographer's website. Police found that none of the photos were pornographic
and no charges were laid. Still, the State's Attorney-General says the legislative challenges are

ROD WELFORD (QUEENSLAND ATTORNEY-GENERAL): The difficulty, of course, is trying to draft laws broad
enough to address the problems of photography used for illicit or improper purposes, but not draft
it so widely as to capture innocent activities of genuine citizens engaged in photographing in
public places.

NORMAN HERMANT: But it's not just the challenge of mobile phone cameras or photography at the beach
or the broad search powers enjoyed by the States and the Commonwealth. Civil rights advocates say
it's the big picture, when all of these are taken together, that is so troubling. They say for
years in Australia, there has been a slow and steady erosion of civil rights.

GEORGE WILLIAMS (UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES): We're not aware of our basic rights. It means
we're not aware of when they're offended, as other people would be in other countries, and it also
means we simply don't raise a fuss when perhaps sniffer dogs or other types of issues are raised.

NORMAN HERMANT: Constitutional law expert George Williams says that's because, alone amongst
developed nations, Australia has no Bill of Rights in its constitution or as an Act of Parliament.

GEORGE WILLIAMS: Well, in other countries like the United States, and now even the United Kingdom,
when people feel as if their basic rights have been violated, they also feel as if there's
something they can do about it. In this country, where we do run into issues like sniffer dogs
invading our personal space to too great an extent, have terrorism laws taken away too many of our
basic freedoms, we lack the backstop, we lack the opportunity to take redress in the courts.

NORMAN HERMANT: So why is it that Australians, to balance the broad powers of government, have no
federal statute defining individual rights, like every other developed country? Social researcher
Hugh Mackay has 50 years' experience studying how Australians think.

HUGH MACKAY (SOCIAL RESEARCHER): I think one of the great myths about Australian society is that
we're anti-authority, we're all libertarians at heart; the larrikin streak in us means that we'll
do anything to hang on to our personal freedom. I think the evidence is absolutely to the contrary.
When it comes to buckling under authority, we've got a long history of being obedient and being
quite remarkably acquiescent.

NORMAN HERMANT: But Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock says Australia doesn't need to look
anywhere else when it comes to protecting civil liberties.

PHILIP RUDDOCK (ATTORNEY-GENERAL): Why would I regard Britain and the United States as having more
preferable arrangements?

NORMAN HERMANT: Mr Ruddock says the great advantage here is that parliament has the final say, not
judges, and if the people want change, they have the ultimate power - the vote.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: I don't think we need a Bill of Rights to try and tell us how they're going to be
adjudicated and put ourselves in a situation where, in the end, we're given some advice on these
matters by unelected officers - judges - and then find that a parliament can't unwind it.

NORMAN HERMANT: The Attorney-General also says it's too simple to view things such as searches and
restrictions on activities as an infringement on civil rights.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: In relation to photography, for instance, people are saying, "I should be free to
take a photograph of who I please, any time I please, in any circumstance", and an individual might
say, "I have an entitlement to privacy", and I think that sort of issue is one in which you are
balancing rights rather than an erosion of rights.

NORMAN HERMANT: The reality is that in all the debates over a proposed Bill of rights for
Australia, public support has been lukewarm at best. Hugh Mackay has an explanation for that, too.

HUGH MACKAY: We make a lot of noise about being larrikins, but when it comes to civil disobedience,
that's never been our strength.

NORMAN HERMANT: For now, when it comes to protecting civil liberties, most Australians appear to
believe their governments know best.

TONY JONES: Now you know what Lateline's Norman Hermant looks like. Send emails if you'd like to
see more of him.