In the Sunday Age this week I made a conservative argument for a minimalist bill of rights that would protect ‘headline’ liberties rather than a mishmash of UN-invented ‘rights’:
What would a conservative or liberal bill of rights look like? It would have to be entrenched within the constitution. It would have to mean something.
Courts would be able to enforce it. Labor attorney-general Rob Hulls was very proud of introducing Victoria’s Charter of Rights in 2006 but the government can – and his government did – ignore that charter whenever convenient with no consequence. Why fill the statute books with motherhood statements? A bill of rights is a radical measure, not a tool for political self-congratulation.
Yet politicians don’t like the idea of a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights. It might prevent them from doing whatever they want. The Rudd government forbade the National Human Rights Consultation report (which received 35,000 submissions) from considering anything that would reduce Parliament’s ”sovereignty”. But that’s the point – to stop Parliament from trampling our liberties. Anything less is a waste of time.
And I explain the big conceptual difference between a conservative or liberal bill of rights and the proposals which dominate our human rights discussions:
The American bill of rights is very powerful. The First Amendment unambiguously protects free speech, free press and religion.
Yet in Australia, bills of rights haven’t had much support by liberals and conservatives. The reason is simple. The First Amendment was written more than two centuries ago. Modern bills of rights tend to increase government power, rather than limit it. This is because our human rights advocates believe that to protect human rights we simply have to transpose United Nations treaties onto Australian law.
In recent inquiries, those advocates have called for a rights act to guarantee everything from free university to welfare – all because they’re in UN documents.
Read the whole thing here. In my book, I go into further detail about just how powerful the First Amendment has become at protecting freedom of speech. It’s hard not to admire should a potent constitutional weapon for liberty.