Advocates for an Australian Bill of Rights present less than half of an argument: ‘Look at all the wonderful things Australia could have if only it had a Bill of Rights!’ The High Court decision in Banerji (which held that a public servant does not have a constitutional right to go completely rogue about their employer and sledge their boss online) has encouraged some advocates to reheat their inedible souffle in favour of a Bill of Rights.
In The Canberra Times, Crispin Hull writes:
Get it through your thick skulls. There is no freedom of speech in Australia. Stop watching American movies.
Okay. He continues:
Australians should understand that to qualify as a liberal democracy a bill of rights is pretty much compulsory. History tells us that liberal democracy is both gained and lost gradually, step by step. In recent years, Australia has been taking some of those steps.
He provides no argument in support of this view.
Gillian Triggs, the former Human Rights Commissioner, argued along similar lines:
If anyone doubts the need for a charter of rights in Australia, the Banerji decision of the High Court handed down last week demonstrates why legislative protection for our common law freedoms has become a matter of national urgency.
Triggs argued that this was because the High Court did not discuss issues that were entirely irrelevant to the matter before it, and then notes:
A similar charter protection in Australian law may not have saved Banerji on the facts of her case, as it is arguably necessary to protect the integrity of the public service.
Coolio. Meanewhile, Josh Bornstein of Maurice Blackburn and Per Capita, turned to a discussion of Israel Folau, the sports celebrity who did a homophobia and got sacked:
[T]hose cheering on the loss of Folau’s livelihood and career have undermined the cause of countless other employees who espouse controversial progressive views and suffer the same fate. […] While Folau’s views are objectionable and arguably even hate speech, perpetual unemployment is a grossly disproportionate punishment.
It was harder to find impassioned defences of Kathleen Clubb, the woman who challenged Victoria’s laws which prohibited anti-abortion protests within the vicinity of abortion clinics. The Human Rights Legal Centre called it a ‘significant win for gender equality’. Academics from the Castan Centre for Human Rights were strongly supportive of the decision.
Here’s why Australia should not, on the basis of the above, have greater protections for human rights in Australia.