Lawyer’s plea for Bill of Rights amid health pandemic
The global pandemic has shone a spotlight on a "tremendous civil rights breach" that Australia does not have a Bill of Rights, according to a prominent Queensland lawyer.
Travis Schultz, principal of Travis Schultz and Partners, wants a debate into what should be included a Bill of Rights on our daily rights and liberties.
"Every day we are witnessing a new example of the ensuing behaviour that is generated by the placeholder where a Bill of Rights should be: a vocal university student involved in an apparently offensive protest, a "sovereigntist" wreaking havoc without a mask in a Melbourne Bunnings store or even a self-proclaimed billionaire lodging a High Court challenge to a state's entitlement to close its own borders," the leading compensation lawyer said.
"Now is the time to fill this gap and end the confusion. A quality debate on what should be included in our own Bill of Rights needs to start now."
Mr Schultz said there was a common misconception that Australians were protected by an existing legislated Bill of Rights, when the Australian Constitution recognises only five rights: The right to vote, trial by jury, freedom of religion, a prohibition on discrimination on the basis of state of residency; and protection against compulsory acquisition of land by government on anything other than just terms.
He said this leaves many other rights to the vagaries of common law.
"Separate Commonwealth and State legislation also prohibits discrimination in various forms including age, disability, sex, pregnancy, marital status, gender identity or sexual orientation. "But the big issues such as a right to freedom of speech, a right to comment on political matters and a right to associate with others are seemingly left to the opacity of inference and interpretation by judges and tribunals.
"In "normal" times, we tend to accept the right of anti-vaxxers to their dangerous minority opinion but in the face of a COVID-19 tsunami, are Australians as tolerant of their personal proclivities standing in the way of the safety of herd immunity?
"And should we all enjoy a right to freedom of movement if it risks transmission of a virus to the vulnerable members of our community?"
Independent Federal MP Andrew Wilkie spearheaded the last attempt to bring the lack of a Bill of Rights to the fore in 2017.
But Mr Schultz said without the backdrop of a global pandemic crisis threatening the very rights the document would protect - his introduction of the Australian Bill of Rights into parliament failed to garner support.
"It is now that we need to bring about serious debate on this issue. If the COVID-19 crisis has brought one thing to my attention - it's that there needs to be limits placed on the freedoms that we enjoy," Mr Schultz said.