The whole notion of “human rights” has fallen out of vogue in Australia over the last few years, as befits a country with an offshore detention regime that no-one seems to enjoy thinking too hard about.
And often rights are framed either as the work of whinging snowflakes demanding their feelings be honoured, or aggressive nutters demanding that they be allowed to impose their opinions on others.
But the fact is that Australia has some weird blind spots in the rights-sphere, some of which are things that you might reasonably have assumed were settled.
You probably know, for example, that your right to access an abortion is very conditional and differs from state to state. But there are other things which Australians tend to assume is covered and might be a little surprised to discover is actually not a thing.
Here’s a fun one: freedom of speech.
The internet is full of people furious about how infringed they are, but if they’re Australian then they don’t have it to be furious over. Sorry.
Now, there’s an implied freedom of speech based on legal precedents, but you don’t have an absolute right to say whatever you like. And that implied right is limited by all sorts of things, like hate speech laws and laws governing fraud and offensive behaviour and privacy laws and so on.
Oh, speaking of which: you don’t have a right to privacy in Australia either.
Again, there are laws that touch on it – privacy of your personal information, for example, is covered (inadequately) by several bits of legislation, states have different laws on recording phone calls, and it’s illegal to open someone else’s mail, but there’s no particular “right to privacy” you can invoke when, say, your Medicare information turns up on the Dark Web.
Also, there’s no “right to the person” – in other words, you can be wrongly detained and have very limited avenues for recourse.
Again, you can see why this might not be something that governments are keen to enact with the whole detention thing, but it’s led to some horrendous miscarriages of justice. Most notably with the case of Cornelia Rau, who suffered from schizophrenia and was held in immigration detention for ten months despite being an Australian citizen.
Now, it’s worth making clear that these things could be addressed through legislation in parliament rather than creating a Bill of Rights which would constantly be argued in the courts. And it speaks volumes for how good we have it in Australia that these cases don’t come up especially often.
But next time someone accuses you of denying their freedom of speech, then… well, you know what to do.