New report a 'wake-up call' on the state of rights and freedoms in Australia

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and Attorney-General Senator George Brandis. Photo: Janie Barrett
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and Attorney-General Senator George Brandis. Photo: Janie Barrett

A new report from Australia's law reform commission is a "wake-up call" about the state of the country's rights and freedoms, a legal advocacy group says.

Attorney-General George Brandis released on Wednesday the Australian Law Reform Commission's final report on Australian laws which encroach on traditional rights and freedoms.

The wide-ranging, two-year long inquiry covered hundreds of laws which affect "traditional" freedoms such as freedom of speech, movement and association.

The report highlighted the country's counter-terrorism and national security laws as those which should be subject "ongoing and careful review".

"While some of these laws have been subject to significant scrutiny... it has been suggested that many are not proportionate, and would benefit from further consideration and analysis," the report said.

Laws encroaching on freedom of speech, freedom of movement and association would also benefit from further review to ensure they don't interfere with Australian rights and freedoms, the report said.

Emily Howie, director of advocacy and research at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the centre welcomed the report as an important "wake-up call" about the state of fundamental rights and freedoms in Australia.

"[The report] adds to the growing evidence of how Australian laws are increasingly infringing on rights," she said. "It provides expert advice on how Australia is falling short in ensuring people can enjoy basic rights, like freedom of movement or right to a fair trial."

She said certain counter-terrorism laws were a "classic case of government overstepping the mark" and, as the new report noted, many had already been found to "drastically" erode basic rights.

The law centre, which is part of the team representing asylum seekers who challenged the lawfulness of offshore detention, released its own report on Australian democracy last month.

At the release the law centre said there was an "unmistakable trend in Australia of eroding these foundations with new laws and practices that entrench secrecy and stifle criticism and accountability".

The commission is charged with investigating areas of law and highlighting further opportunities for review at the request of the attorney-general.

In the case of traditional rights and freedoms, the report notes "it is widely recognised that there are reasonable limits to most rights", and "only a handful of rights are considered to be absolute".

The question the commission asked was whether those limits were justifiable.

The report stops short of making specific recommendations, but President Rosalind Croucher hoped it would serve as a "road map for future work".

In launching the report, Attorney-General Brandis said it represented "one of the broadest inquiries ever undertaken by the Commission".

He said he had written to the ministry to ask them to consider what action the government could take regarding laws the commission had identified as warranting further scrutiny.

"The Government is committed to preserving and maintaining the freedoms which underpin the principles of democracy," he said. "Individual personal freedom, liberal democratic values and the rule of law sit at the core of our national identity."

Professor Croucher said rights and freedoms should be interfered with only reluctantly, and only when truly necessary.

"This report identifies and critically examines laws that limit rights and will inform decisions about whether such laws might be amended or repealed."

This story New report a 'wake-up call' on the state of rights and freedoms in Australia first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.