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Consistency on Rights Please

The Newman Government in Queensland is less than two months old, but already the hysterical claims of a return to the Bjelke-Petersen era have emerged. These loopy claims started just days a matter of a week or two before the election, when it became clear a landslide was on the cards, which did eventuate and was above and beyond the expectations of just about anyone, serious pundit or not.

Alas, these claims have again been unearthed over the last 24 hours with a furore over a tent embassy, this time in a Brisbane park- it’s certainly been quite a year for those types of establishments/protests.

The tent embassy, based in Musgrave Park has been established for just a couple of months and was began as a protest for the sovereign rights of the indigenous people

Today, Queensland Police were dispatched to the park in West End to evict the demonstrators who ignored an eviction order that was put forward by Brisbane City Council ahead of the Greek Panyiri Festival which has regularly been held in the same park that the protesters have occupied.

It is unclear what stance both parties are taking over the matter, the protest group and the festival organisers, with conflicting claims being aired over whether or not the Panyiri Festival administration were happy for the indigenous protesters to remain in the park while the festival goes ahead this weekend.

Like the protest on Australia Day, the demonstration, this time involving a short-term protest, compared to the decades long Tent Embassy in Canberra raises some questions about rights in Australia and whether or not they are or should be limited.

But first to the hilarious claims of a return to Bjelke-Petersen era politics in Queensland. This is utterly ridiculous and should be laughed at. In the Bjelke-Petersen era protesters were barely even allowed to organise before they found themselves the victims of completely abhorrent laws that were so draconian that Queensland, because of its history, has a terrible reputation around rights and freedoms.

Why are the claims of a return to the dark days of the Bjelke-Petersen era ridiculous in this case you ask? Well that has a lot to do with the fact that protesters in this case were free to commence their protest and have been allowed to since March. The protesters were also able to march on parliament, a n0-no under Sir Joh that would’ve attracted arrest.

What is different about this protest is that an eviction order was issued by the Brisbane City Council and this was flouted, regardless of what you think of the rights or wrongs of the lawful direction asking people to move on from the park facilities. Those involved defied those orders, again whether or not they are right or wrong.

This then still raises the question of whether or not rights should be limited.

We have found, particularly in recent years that freedom of speech in this country, an implied, not legally or constitutionally expressed right does have its limits and is at the whim of a subjective test in the courts.

There are many people that have supported the limited right to freedom of speech that we have in this nation. In this stand-off today, what we have are the same people who supported limiting freedom of speech, protesting against a limited right to freedom of assembly.

What this debate requires is some consistency across all fundamental human rights, whether they have been expressed in law or have been implied. If one right is limited, then we should not be surprised if others are too and should allow all to have limitations.

However, rights and freedoms should ideally be absolute or, where practically possible, with little or no limitation which impedes the rights and freedoms of the individual.

One right should not take precedence over, or be held to a different standard as other basic rights and freedoms accorded to the individual in a democracy. Can we please have some consistency on rights across all groups please?

 

Not Allowing Parliamentary Footage to be Satirised is a Laughable Matter

Many astute and regular political observers know that there are many limits to the freedoms that should be fully enjoyed in a liberal democracy like we have by name here in Australia. Our freedom of speech and expression and other key rights have been given limits by governments of all political colours and been maintained by those same parties. Many people would be surprised to know however that the use of parliamentary footage for satirical purposes is verboten  under federal regulations and that is a laughable position to be held and yet has been maintained by both Liberal and Labor Governments.

This week, Craig Reucassel of Chaser fame brought a crusade of sorts to Canberra on behalf of television satirists around the nation to push the Gillard Government to overturn this archaic and undemocratic, frankly joke of a law as soon as possible. It seems counter-intuitive that not all material from parliament, which is often a cruel joke anyway is not fair game of comedians and television networks to be used and derided to their hearts content.

In interviews Mr Reucassel made the argument that television shows, like Insiders on the ABC and Meet The Press on the Ten Network, from time to time attempt make light of parliamentary footage in their otherwise serious programs. These shows often begin with the use of sound bites, selective editing and the use of the now much dreaded musical montage which begins just about every political show and attempt to cast bits of politics from the week in a comedic light. Thankfully though for the shows like these attempts to make light of political events often fall flat with the audience and therefore escape the provisions of the legislation governing the use of parliamentary footage.

The Chaser co-star also raised that cartoonists in this nation have, since time immemorial had the freedom to be able to satirise in the national and local papers not just parliamentary goings on, but even going as far as picking on character and personality as well as physical traits and embellishing ’til the cows come home.

Although not related to satire of parliamentary footage,  it is worth noting that Queensland also has little freedom with the usage of parliamentary footage being banned for political advertising and the LNP needed to withdraw an ad from broadcast because it used footage from the parliament in prosecuting its message. This is also an area that needs to be addressed in both state and federal jurisdictions.

YouTube has a very healthy selection of videos which make fun of parliamentarians, adding farting noises and displaying clips of our politicians in compromising positions such as picking their noses and being made to appear on occasions that they were mimicking interesting acts, yet no knickers in a collective knot there.

We really should not continue to go down a path where a television network is not able to highlight and make people laugh at the “facepalm” moments that happen on a regular basis in our parliaments around Australia. All shows should be allowed to attempt to make fun of events that occur regardless of whether the jokes end up falling flat on the audience and parliamentary footage should be free for use in any medium for any purpose. This laughable joke of a piece of legislation must be removed, people already laugh in ironic astonishment at some of the things some of our politicians do and should have the ability to laugh at the kinds of things that political cartoonists have been ad nauseam. Anything less than complete freedom of political expression is a laughable joke.

Bill of Rights, Yes We Can and Must, But Likely When We Become a Republic

In the Australian political discourse there are calls, from time to time, about whether or not Australia is in need of a Bill of Rights, whether it be enshrined in the Constitution of Australia or its own legislative instrument. We need a Bill of Rights, but it is likely that any move for such a protection of rights will not come on its own, but in conjunction with a future Australian republic and that is most certainly a great deal of time away from materialising.

Australia is in urgent need of a Bill of Rights, constitutional or otherwise to defend all the basic rights and freedoms which must be afforded to all human beings. Not only that, Australia needs such legal provisions to clearly express those rights which at the moment are implied or form part of the common law of the Commonwealth of Australia. Too often, because the rights we are supposed to enjoy are either implied or in common law, there is not a clear understanding of the extent to which they apply.
As I have already expressed, there are two forms that a rights bill may take, that is constitutional and legislative.
A constitutional Bill of Rights entails those basic rights and freedoms we should all experience in a liberal democracy being enshrined in the Australian Constitution. This would require a constitutional referendum where a majority of people in a majority of the states and territories vote in favour of putting rights and freedoms into our constitution.
A legislative Bill of Rights is exactly as it sounds, a piece of legislation that is passed by the parliament of the day, requiring a simple majority of parliamentarians to vote in favour of it becoming law.
The question then becomes: what form should a future Bill of Rights take? My answer, is that any future rights bill must be enshrined in our Constitution. Why is this the case? Because, like any form of law made by parliament, a legislative rights bill could indeed be rescinded for any reason, of which none are valid and therefore parliament could erode our collective rights at their whim if they chose to do so.
Now, a constitutional version of a rights bill is not without its downside either, though the downside is indeed both a positive and a negative. Because a constitutional referendum requires a majority of people in a majority of states to pass, it would be incredibly difficult to have a successful referendum (8/44 referenda have passed). However, as I said, that is also the positive, our politicians could not vote a constitutional Bill of Rights down and the people are unlikely to vote out something which they helped institute in the first place.
Now this is where it becomes tricky for the idea of a Bill of Rights to be enshrined in our Constitution any time soon. Because a constitutional rights bill is much more robust, the best chance of it passing at a referendum, would not be under its own steam as a stand-alone move. A human rights bill, forming part of our Constitution, would best be linked to a future Australian republican referendum where it would be almost certain that we would adopt an entirely new Australian Constitution.
Consequently, a new Australian Constitution, complete with human rights protections will most likely be some time away. With an ALP Government, usually strongly committed to a republic, no longer publicly talking about the idea and still two years from election and the would be next Liberal Party Prime Minister a monarchist, by my calculation, a republic and therefore Bill of Rights is inevitable but at least 10 years away.
I don’t think we can or should wait that long. The question is: can you wait? If not, get loud and get talking about it…
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