‘Erosion of legal rights’ as government ignores report for two years

‘Erosion of legal rights’ as government ignores report for two years

Attorney-General George Brandis addresses the media during a joint press conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 5 December 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex EllinghausenThe Turnbull government has been slammed for ignoring a major legal report for more than two years, while continuing to enact laws that erode fundamental rights.

The Law Council of Australia and the libertarian Institute of Public Affairs have urged the new Attorney-General, Christian Porter, to curb what the think tank called “the ongoing erosion of legal rights” in Australia.

In its annual audit of the nation’s laws, released to Fairfax Media on Tuesday, the IPA identified another 19 breaches contained in statutes passed this year – taking its count to 324.

And the organisation fingered Treasurer Scott Morrison, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and recently-departed attorney-general George Brandis as the ministers behind many of the problematic provisions.

Six new items breached the presumption of innocence, largely impacting employers who are sued under the Fair Work Act, while seven provisions compromised people’s right to silence, the IPA found.

One such law, introduced by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, forces a person to answer questions about boats if a biosecurity officer believes they possess relevant information.

IPA research fellow Morgan Begg said the breakdown of basic legal rights “seems to be entrenched in the law-making process” in Australia.

He said it was also a “huge concern” the government has never formally responded to a major 600-page report on the same subject, finalised by the Australian Law Reform Commission at the end of 2015.

The Traditional Rights and Freedoms Inquiry was commissioned in the early days of the Abbott government. On Tuesday, Law Council of Australia president Fiona McLeod joined the call for Mr Porter to prioritise a response to the long-overlooked inquiry.

“We have been concerned over a number of years that traditional protections, including the right to silence, protection of legal professional privilege, the right to a fair trial … are not being properly protected and respected,” she said.

“We would welcome the government reviewing the ALRC report and moving forward with some of those recommendations in the new year.”

Through a spokesman, Mr Porter did not promise a response to the report, but said he would pay “close attention to [it] amongst his many incoming briefs” and was committed to striking the right balance between legal rights and “the modern operation of Australian governments”.

Crucially, the ALRC report shelved by the government two years ago found there was almost no cause for concern when it comes to freedom of religion in Australia. There were “very few, if any” federal laws that interfered with religious freedom, the review found – including anti-discrimination laws.

That is significant because the Turnbull government last month asked Howard-era attorney-general Philip Ruddock to again examine whether Australian laws adequately protect religious freedom – at a cost of $1 million.

The only part of the ALRC inquiry seized on by the government was a recommendation to further review parts of the Racial Discrimination Act. However, the government’s proposed changes to section 18C were ultimately unsuccessful.

Ms McLeod said that instead of responding to the concerns raised by the ALRC report, the government had moved in the other direction in 2017 by negotiating with the states a national preventative detention regime for terror suspects.

“The detention-without-charge regime is one the most glaring examples of the erosion of those traditional freedoms,” she said.

The ALRC president at the time of the inquiry, Rosalind Croucher, has now been appointed head of the Australian Human Rights Commission, and is also on the advisory panel for Mr Ruddock’s review.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.