Law Reform Commission report a wake up call to restore basic rights and freedoms in Australia

The Australian Government should remove unjustified limits on basic rights and freedoms in Australia, said the Human Rights Law Centre today. HRLC Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, welcomed the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report, Traditional Rights and Freedoms – Encroachments on Commonwealth Laws, that adds to the growing evidence of Australian laws that infringe on rights.

“The Law Reform Commission’s report is a wake up call about the state of our fundamental rights and freedoms in Australia,” said Ms Howie. “It provides expert advice on where Australia is falling short in ensuring that people can enjoy their basic rights like freedom of movement and the right to a fair trial. It’s imperative that the government take immediate steps to restore these rights." 

The report highlights the erosion of basic rights through a raft of counter-terrorism and migration laws, two areas highlighted in the HRLC’s earlier submissions to the Law Reform Commission’s inquiry. 

Ms Howie said the counter-terrorism laws addressed in the submission were a classic case of government overstepping the mark and neglecting to adequately safeguard fundamental legal and democratic principles.

"Australia’s national security and counter-terrorism laws have proliferated since 9/11 and, as the Law Reform Commission highlights, many have already been found to drastically erode basic rights,” said Ms Howie. “Media scrutiny, accountability in the courts and fairness to the accused are essential for the health of our democracy and mustn’t be simply discarded in the pursuit of national security,” said Ms Howie.

The HRLC recommends the repeal or substantial amendment of the control order regime, travel bans, ASIO’s extraordinary questioning and detention powers and the ASIO ‘special intelligence operation’ secrecy provisions.

Last week the HRLC released Safeguarding Democracy, a report that highlights the clear and worrying trend of Australian governments chipping away at the vital foundations of our democracy, including a free press, protest rights, strong and diverse civil society and the rule of law. 

“Our Safeguarding Democracy report showed how Australia’s increasingly secretive migration system is silencing whistleblowers, severely limiting the freedom of the press and ousting the important oversight function of the court system,” said Ms Howie. “The result is a system that is not only curtailing our democratic freedoms but providing an environment of impunity for human rights abuses that occur inside it."

Ms Howie said Law Reform Commission report is an important contribution to the debate on rights and freedoms in Australia, despite the fact that the terms of reference focused on a limited number of rights and prevented the Commission from directly considering how laws infringe on freedom from arbitrary detention, privacy or freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. However, the laws subject of the review clearly also touch on those rights.

“The government has an important duties to keep people safe and to manage immigration, but it also has a duty to respect and protect human rights in the process. If we keep chipping away at safeguards, we’ll be left with very little protection from dangerous practices such as arbitrary detention and the silencing of critical voices in our community”, said Ms Howie. “The Law Reform Commission’s report should be the catalyst for important law reform to restore basic rights."

For further information contact: Emily Howie 0421 370 997