THE FORMER advisor to New South Wales Premier Nick Greiner and federal Finance Minister John Fahey has argued that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has effectively “undermined any rational objection to Australia adopting its own enforceable bill or charter of rights”.
The long running debate about whether Australia should have a bill of rights continues this week as former Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Anthony Mason, spoke on the topic at the recent Australian Lawyers Alliance conference. Sir Mason’s comments were followed this week by comments made by Greg Barns, the former advisor to Premier Greiner.
In an article published on the OnLine Opinion website, Barns refers to a speech given by the British Prime Minister at the University of Westminster last week. Brown announces that the British Government was commencing consultation on a statutory bill of rights and duties.
The speech, Barns argued, quashes the primary argument that has been previously put forward by the Liberal Government against an Australian bill of rights; that is, that a bill of rights is unnecessary because our rights are already guaranteed by the common law. In fact, he said, it argues the contrary, that a statutory bill of rights is something that “naturally evolves for the common law tradition”.
Specifically, Barns describes as “nonsense” the notion put forward by the former Attorney General, Daryl Williams, that a bill of rights would “freeze the values that it represents” because, unlike the common law, it is not evolving. In response, Barns states: “The values that a bill of rights, which preserves and enhances genuine liberty, would reflect are immutable and therefore timeless.”
Barns also refers to a comments made by Prime Minister John Howard in his 2006 Australia Day address, that “A bill of rights would not materially increase the freedoms of Australian Citizens” and that it could “lessen our ability to manage and resolve conflict in a free society”. Barns, however, rejects as “breathtakingly naive” the view that Australians already know what their rights are and that there would be danger in codifying them. Summarising a point made by Brown in his speech, Barns argues that in fact “given the plethora of legislative activity on a daily basis in democracies such as Britain and Australia it is difficult to establish with certainty what fundamental rights and freedoms each of us is entitled to believe are guaranteed”.
Barns also supports the point made by Brown in his speech that it is the responsibility of this generation to “strengthen freedom and liberty” and it is important that this issue is not pushed aside as a result the focus on headline issues such as terrorism and globalisation.
Barns describes Brown speech as a “perfect blueprint” for Governments who are willing to keep an open mind about, and seriously consider an Australian Bill of Rights.