31 August 2007

Bill of rights - we don't need it

There are a lot of things in which I am in heated disagreement with Philip Ruddock, but I have to say I am in heated agreement with him about Bills of Rights. Australia needs one like a hole in the head. As the Attorney-General said - a bill of rights didn't help African slaves in America.

A right is worthless without an obligation or ability to meet it. If one entrenches the obligation and ability then there is no need for the right. A right to water isn't much use unless someone has an obligation (and the ability) to provide it, and Ockham's razor tells us that if the obligation exists, there is no need for the right. In South Africa there is a right to housing. It's a right that is manifestly unmet.

A "right" is ephemeral and tells us nothing about how society can meet it. An obligation set out in legislation however is parliament-mandated, clear and able to be modified by parliament as required. So, if the Minister for Housing is obliged by legislation to provide housing assistance to certain people, we will know who needs to do what and with whatever funding.

Let's see what specifically is lacking in our society that provides the arguments used by bill of rights supporters; and let's fix those things. A bill of rights doesn't fix anything - legislation and action by the Executive does.

In Australia we are free to do what we wish, unless it is proscribed. We have a right to free speech right now; if parliament passes a law that the voters consider improperly interferes with that right, the opposition party will usually be only too happy to consider the issue.

You may also wish to consider that Zimbabwe's constitution has a bill of rights containing extensive protection of human rights... Yes, I understand that just because sometimes something doesn't work doesn't mean it's worthless. The point is that bills of rights are not the magic protector that they are made out to be. Australia's constitution clearly provides greater protections than Zimbabwe's - all without having to have a bill of rights and the attendant trouble that it may bring.

Australians have freedom that is inherent, and we have a parliamentary democracy that we can trust, even though we may not always agree with the actions of the Executive. To tinker with this by adopting a bill of rights would be unwarrantedly treading an unknown path.