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The Forum > Article Comments > Rights, the republic and participatory democracy > Comments

Rights, the republic and participatory democracy : Comments

By Tim Anderson, published 24/3/2006

'New Matilda's' Bill of Rights is likely to fail for the same reasons as the 1999 Republican proposal and referendum.

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Proponents of a Bill of Rights, a republic or any other change to the Constitution donít want any participation from the hoi polloi. These elitists are about reducing democracy, not encouraging us to participate in it. They know that we are not prepared to swap elected representation for the whims of unelected lawyers and judges, many of whom already believe they have a right to make laws and believe that they know more about everything than the rest of us, including democratically elected politicians who are answerable directly to us.
Posted by Leigh, Friday, 24 March 2006 9:49:26 AM
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Some years ago, I had a discussion with an ACT Legislative Assembly Member regarding Bills of Right.

He passionately argued that a BOR does not grant rights, but rather limits them by listing these rights. He continued that unforseen changes in society at some future time may derail the whole principle of a BOR.

An example being the archaic American Right to Bear Arms. This makes sense when you are engaged in a war for your independence, but should this confer the right for Americans to have F15 Jet Fighters or Nukes in their backyards?

There is also the problem of suspending a persons rights. Which rights are suspended for convicted criminals? Which rights do we surrender in times of war? Which rights do we surrender in times of economic hardship? I can remember having the right to withdraw my labour - to strike. Not any more without incurring possible fines.
Posted by Narcissist, Friday, 24 March 2006 10:22:20 AM
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Any discussion on Bill of Rights that is limited to academics/lawyers is going to come to a dead end .
If these subjects are opened up to public discussion and then offered as a citizens referendum, there may be a positive outcome.
Posted by mickijo, Friday, 24 March 2006 2:07:28 PM
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Every single word helped to convince me that we don't want one, & that we can not afford to have a single word of our constitution changed.
Even if we got the words right, our legal system would damn soon give us an interpretation to our disadvantage.
Hasbeen
Posted by Hasbeen, Friday, 24 March 2006 3:15:05 PM
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Hasbeen, you are lucky, because New Matilda is not proposing that we change our constituion. It is a Human Rights Act - a piece of legislation - not a constitutional amendment. It means that the parliament can change the law if it needs amendment - just like other Acts of Parliament.

And Leigh, re your concerns, I think you should you take some time to read New Matilda's proposed Human Rights Act along with the UK and ACT Human Rights Acts.

You will see that none of these transfer the power to make or amend laws away from the parliament. What they do, is allow the courts to consider whether laws infringe rights and then report back to the parliament.

The parliament then decides what to do - it can keep the laws as they are and explain why the infringement of rights is justified or it can amend the laws to make then less damaging to rights.

This would lead to informed debate in the parliament and the community, not the exclusion of the hoi polloi frlom the legislative process.

The fact is, they are already excluded from the legislative process. The best example of this is the week long senate committe hearing whose report was ignored (remember Sedition) and the guillotining of the terrorism laws in the Senate after all of 5 hours and 41 minutes of debate.

In other words, the government wouldn't even allow a full working day of debate on highly controversial laws. And you think supporters of a human rights act are anti-democratic?
Posted by Racing, Friday, 24 March 2006 4:51:48 PM
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Whenever Bills of Rights and participatory democracy are mentioned, two thoughts come to mind:

1. Whatever its other defects may be, at least the text of our Constitution can only be changed by the people.

2. The first referendum that would take place after citizen initiated referendum was instituted would be one to bring back hanging.
Posted by plerdsus, Friday, 24 March 2006 5:04:10 PM
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