An Ipsos MORI poll released over the weekend showed a number of revealing figures. As the IPA’s James Paterson noted here yesterday, 39% of Australians aged 16-64 years believe that the right most under threat in Australia is the right to free speech. This was the most popular response to that question, which should highlight the importance of repealing speech-infringing laws such as section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
Other results from the survey are not as optimistic. Question one of the survey listed a number of different historical documents, and asked respondents to indicate which they had heard of before taking part in the survey. According to the results, 65% of respondents had heard of the Australian Constitution, 53% had heard of Magna Carta, and only a slim 14% had heard of the Statute of Westminster (1931). When one remembers that the threshold was merely having heard of these documents, it is a very disappointing result, and a damning indictment on the education system in this country.
The Australian Constitution, passed in 1900, provided for the federation of the British colonies on the Australian continent to form a unified nation. Indeed, Australia would not exist, but for the Constitution. The Statute of Westminster (1931), which Australia signed in 1942, provided that the British parliament could no longer pass laws which would bind Australia. Its effect was to make Australia a sovereign nation. That only 65% and 14% are aware of these documents is disturbing.
Finally, the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 is a fundamentally important historical event which established (or re-established) the rule of law in mediaeval England. Its principles, such as the freedom from arbitrary arrest and to be governed by the law of the land (or the common law), permeate our modern democracy. A lack of awareness of these principles, and where they come from, makes it easier for those in power to dishonour them.
See the poll results from Australia, and other countries, here.