Australia’s Human Rights and Civil Liberties

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 12
Words: 3297
Reading time:
12 min
Study level: College

Human rights in theory

Human beings are entitled to inalienable fundamental rights. Gavrielatos (2011, p. 24) defines human rights as the indivisible, interdependent and interrelated civil liberties. Human rights are normally guaranteed in the existing laws. These laws can be in form of international laws, general principles, customary international law and treaties. It is worth highlighting at this point that human rights laws are vital in protecting fundamental rights and freedoms.

Human rights are inalienable and universal because they are generally accepted. The demand for human rights has intensified globally with the passage of time. All social groups in society have moved to emphasize the need of ensuring that their demands are neither undermined nor overlooked. Gavrielatos further explains that the need to address all members of society equally cannot be effective without support of a strong human rights legal framework. While it is generally agreeable that a government should provide the necessary support for human rights, lack of supportive laws or constitution make it impossible to implement such rights.

Australia’s international human rights obligation

While it is clear that Australia lacks a legal framework for human rights, it is guided by the international human rights obligation. The latter is founded on various human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (Keeley, 2010, p. 19). Nevertheless, there have been sentiments that the international human rights obligation in Australia is restraining parliament from performing its functions fully.

The problem of citizenship on individuals’ legal status has not been the debate on how Australians will benefit. However, it has been about commitment and levels of loyalty to the nation (Anon. 2010, p. 3). Citizens in Australia possess the right to obtain a passport, service from juries, voting and working. Besides, citizens and non-citizens may work in public offices and also have immunity against deportation. The problem posed on the legal status of Australian citizens by these factors is lack of practicability when it comes to permanent residents. The element fostered by the Australian citizenship legislation is one that strongly supports proceduralism more than an individual’s legal status.

While critically evaluating the problem of citizenship and individuals’ legal status, Gavrielatos (2011, p. 3) argue that they should be addressed from an economic perspective. The reference of minority groups invokes a sense of poor social economic overtone that restricts their ability to move up the social economic hierarchy.

Australia’s human rights legal framework

Australia does not have an overarching human rights legal framework. This may be largely due to the continuous aboriginal deaths, detention of asylum seekers, Northern territory intervention and other human rights concerns. Both the Human Rights Act and the Australian law present major problems toward the efforts of ensuring equitable human rights. According to the latter authors, it is indeed fair for rights of individuals to be considered when making rulings on various issues.

However, lack of a legal framework to enforce a right clearly limits the efforts to protect individuals from vices in society. Ballis (2010, p. 4) concludes by indicating that the rule of law is witnessed in the human rights Act and has the ability to set regulations that rule over the parliament and the government. Besides making the Human rights Act formal and substantive, the rule of law enhances its superiority to other key organs of a nation.

The critical question that ought to be answered is whether or not the established Law Council has any powers to disqualify or make laws due to the incumbent limitation and if it can legislate on its own behalf. The concern demonstrated here clearly points out that the sovereignty of the council has been diminished due to lack of a strong human rights legal framework. The council has been forced to conform to the state laws for many years (Anon. 2010, p. 3).

This attempt has enhanced its effort to ensure protection of refugees. On the other hand, those seeking asylum rights have been undermined. Indeed, reliance on human rights legal framework and human rights act which is a prerequisite in determining cases has many times been suspended and its place given to state laws. This has presented major concerns on what the role of the council will be in the coming years if this trend persists.

However, it is imperative to note that that a law cannot be above an Act and that the council will still be able to provide protection of individual’s rights despite the many setbacks. There is need for the nation to overcome the historical accident of not having a constitutions and legal rights framework. Analysts indicate that this can be crucial in the realization of maximum adherence to various individual, social, political and economical rights.

The bill of rights

According to Ballis (2010, p. 4), the bill of rights is an important document that stipulates the rights of every citizen in a country. It is normally comprehensive and requires all people to be treated equally and in the best way possible. Besides outlining the expected conduct of the public towards each other, it further seeks to prohibit law makers from making laws that may affect the rights of the people.

Notably, Australia happens to be the only country in the Western democracy that lacks a legislative or constitutional bill of rights. However, the nation has been able to sign five different treaties forming the International Bill of Human Rights. While this may be seen a move towards establishing individual rights laws in Australia, the International Bill of Human Rights does not bind Australia legally in any way. It does not provide checks and balances for control of power in Australia.

Analysts are of the view that the alternative bill of right that Australia can adopt is the US Bill of Rights due to the fact that the American model has a strong judicial view and has constitutionally entrenched the bill of rights. Contemporary liberal democracies observe this as a benchmark for their constitutional arrangements. This can be a solution to Australia’s historical accident of exeptionalism over bill of rights.

Instances related to lack of law supporting human rights have led to various problems. One such problem is the current proposal by the administration seeking to infer greater powers to the police in searching criminal suspects’ houses and premises appears to negate individual rights. Every individual should be free from unwarranted search and unreasonable seizure (Keeley, 2010, p. 19). Human activists have indicated their discontent with possibilities of the public privacy being intruded on. Through this has been a matter of speculation, analysts are indicating of possible abuse for the same powers.

Whereas the current administration has received massive praise both locally and internationally because the nation has been able to ensure that various rights of its citizens are protected. It has received major criticism on how it has been dealing with discrimination related issues. Though the administration has not been involved with any act of discrimination, the vice is still evident in some of the public and private sectors (Anon. 2010, p. 3). Needless to say, the vice can be eliminated if adequate and appropriate legislations on anti-discrimination are adopted.

Suffrage and disenfranchisement

The challenge on who is supposed to vote in Australia is one of the difficult issues to address in society due to its internal nature. Analysts indicate that discrimination in terms of voting has seen strong internalization and therefore its application has long term implications due to its widespread nature in the society. People’s attitudes must be effectively changed in order to reflect on the need for all people’s contribution towards their growth and development. Ballis (2010, p. 6) argues that institutions that emphasize on equality as part of the societal cultural development must be developed at all levels.

In Australia, every citizen has the right to vote provided that he/she is eighteen years and above. However, there are a number of limitations that might hinder an individual from voting. Some of them include when and if an individual is serving a jail sentence of three years, if convicted of treason or of unsound mind.

Barnes (2012, p. 13) emphasizes on specific intervention methods for females in the society with a major aim of creating the needed awareness on the existence of gender discrimination. This strategy has however been criticized for being biased and therefore predicted to lack the holistic outlook for addressing the problem. It is important that the strategy incorporate mechanism of facilitating attitude change in the community as the main platform for influencing personality changes.

Though policies over the years appear to have failed in generating the need for equality at all levels in the society, their strengthening would create strong support for other mechanisms to be more effective. Barnes (2012, p. 13) further suggests that with effective policies in the society, elimination of the stereotypically derived voter discrimination would be easily guided. The legislation should particularly seek to facilitate strong cooperation between institutions and organizations both at the local, regional and international levels to create more emphasis and urgency. This legislation was established to promote realization of maxima potential by all the voters in the society.

The act seeks to eliminate discrimination of any kind and therefore giving all the people equal opportunities to cast their votes and elect their preferred leaders. Passing of this legislation was seen as the key fulcrum towards addressing the problem of women discrimination as it sought to increase their involvement in at all levels of development and management in the community.

Indigenous rights movement

Smith (2011, p.14) argue that diversity and equality remain the most important tools for creating social harmony. If all organizations fully embrace the concept of diversity, all groups of people in society would be represented with hatred among them ebbing out. Rights movement is a global movement which consists of three major subcomponents namely legal development, direct action, and philosophical consideration that dictate its constitution and operations. According to Smith, the main concern of indigenous rights is anchored on the need to address effective application of human rights to minimize human suffering.

Indigenous rights movement group ideology in Australia has been inclined fighting for the implementation of the rule of law. Particularly, they seek to liberate suffering individuals and ensure that they are placed in areas with permanent safety. Besides, they seek to infer the necessary destruction to property and other related facilities that anchor human torture. By inducing extreme economic damages to the related subjects, the group seeks to communicate to political leaders on the need to protect the rights of individuals. Besides, the group seeks to infer its international presence where it can have a voice in making decisions related to citizens. However, achievement of these agendas is indeed very dismal, holding to the fact that the group lacks the necessary harmony in terms of leadership and management.

According to Ballis (2010, p. 4), leadership is all about culture and building support for communities in society. Notably, national cultures as outlined by Hofstede in his cultural dimensions model clearly define a country and its people. Mary Jo Hatch’s model of cultural dynamics strongly concurs with Hofstede’s work and points out on the need to appreciate people and their diversity. A leader who fails to appreciate cultural diversity and human rights could consequently be considered doomed.

In full cognizant of this reality, indigenous rights movement groups strongly move to creates ties with cultures in the nation and beyond. Smith (2011, p.14) argues that to women who are highly vulnerable or have been subjected to poor leadership due to stereotypes, the act seeks to restore the needed dignity and respect for them in the society

Through understanding the needs of the nations, indigenous rights movements have been able to embrace change, create the force for progress and ultimately reap the diversity in wisdom and approaches towards conflicts resolutions as well as sustainability.

Gender and human rights

Discrimination against women through gender stereotyping undermines realization of their holistic potential. It also increases the challenges facing them and ultimately stalls societal growth and development. Researchers have indicated their discontent with the high levels of discrimination against women over the years. This consideration is based on the social roles that give greater preference to men. In their view, Ballis (2010, p. 7) expound that though laws and policies in Australia have been passed to address the problem over the years, there is urgent need to re-evaluate their efficacy and therefore facilitate effective contribution by all in society.

In their study on gender issues, Simpson (2010, p. 23) found out that female discrimination in developed countries is less pronounced compared to the case in developing countries. However, it is still evident and has serious implications to the society. In Australia, the department of labor estimates that women working for about 41 hours every week earn an average of about 79% of their male counterparts working for the same period.

Discrimination is perceived to be a major problem by about 40% of the population in the European Union. Besides, Simpson (2010, p. 23) indicates that that in the major top leadership and managerial positions, women were highly discriminated and therefore poorly represented in Australia. They only constitute 5.2% of the total population and 0.3% of the total legislatures in the country. Despite their increasing numbers from different universities, Simpson laments that their input is still minimal in major professions due to discrimination.

Notably, attempts to address the problem of discrimination have been made in Australia to facilitate higher levels of equality and therefore facilitate maximum potential realization in the community. The problem of stereotypes that largely culminated to not only their discrimination in the work place prompted the establishment of Equal Pay Act (1972) in Australia. Most women in various labor considerations received less pay for performing similar types of jobs with men. As a result, Ballis (2010, p. 4) indicate that most women suffered greatly in the hands of men as they were less regarded and even denied key leadership and managerial positions in the country. The act therefore sought to establish a more level operating platform for both genders in the country.

Another Act was the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984. Notably, this legislation provides the description of discrimination against women and therefore seeks to generate their continued inclusion and representation in all areas of social economic developments. Outlining various sectors such as education and employment, non-discriminatory approach is seen as the key for the country’s success. Though the act has impacted greatly on the problem of women discrimination, analysts indicate that there is need to lay more emphasis on the people’s attitude changes in order to address female discrimination related problems.

Refugee rights Right to seek asylum in Australia

Boarder crossing remains a highly gendered phenomenon due to inherent opportunities and risks that have naturally remained especially among refugees. Dangers presented to the refugees have presented resilient and new challenges over the years that tend to be more oppressive to women compared to men. Since many individuals are fleeing their nations due to war, hunger, natural disasters, new vulnerabilities, precarious health outlook, and abusive working environment, there are myriads of underlying issues that affect refugees.

Analysts generally concur that the ramifications presented from different migratory process have increasingly elicited greater focus in the sense that they represent a key mirror of the society. It is generally agreed that they are still highly disadvantaged with statistics shifting as more women continue being involved in immigration. An understanding of the need for migration has therefore been critical in generating further insights into the problem. Most of the refugees often immigrate in search for peaceful environments, run away from oppression, and also search for education. Most of the women are particularly disadvantaged due to lack of the necessary qualifications that culminate to their assumption of low level opportunities in the new countries.

The Australian government has been keen in ensuring maximum protection of the rights of refugees. Being a partner of the Refugee Convention, it applies the principle of non-refoulement to protect them from harm. The nation is also governed by Conventions of the Rights of a Child, Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These conventions among other treaties protect refugees and asylum seekers from being sent back to their countries.

However, many asylum seekers and refugees are under detention in Australia. This is due to the fact that they have broken the Migration Act of 1958 that calls for visa acquisition from Australia. This also includes refugees who arrive on boat. It is imperative to mention t that their detention is normally infinite; a consideration that has called for measures to alter detentions and ensure their rights of freedom is maintained.

As such, the Australian government has considered creating bridging visas for detainees in order to offer them community against detentions. This ensures protection of human rights for all immigrants. The Australian Refugee Rights Alliance (ARRA) also plays critical role of ensuring that their needs are catered for according to the law. This has been instrumental in enhancing improved status of refugees.

Public civil and political rights

The class of rights comprising civil and political rights in Australia are founded on the general rules of human rights. These curb repression and discriminations against age, national origin, race, religion, gender and disability. They also allow freedom of movement, press, religion, expression, speech and thought.

An understanding of the concept “freedom of speech” is critical in generating the critical analysis of the internet and the press. According to Smith (2011, p.14), public civil and political rights are a connotation of an individual’s ability to express themselves with minimal limitations or censorship. Freedom of speech is therefore considered to include, reception and imparting of ideas and information needed by the public.

However, the latter notion of the media has increasingly received sharp focus due to possible fears that go along with some visual methodologies. Smith further indicates that under article nineteen of Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICPR), the “freedom of speech” has been recognized as a human right. Besides, article thirteen of American Convention on Human Rights and the African Charter on Humans and People’s Rights equally consider freedom of speech to be part of human rights.

However, unlike most of the cooperating countries and states such as the European Union, the United States and Australia among others, freedom of speech is considered differently (Zadkovich 2010, p. 15). Notably, some countries have strong restrictions for the freedom of speech. This has direct links with democracy and political orientation. Freedom of speech as well as other forms of freedoms under the public civil and political rights is a critical facet that seeks to infer intrinsic consideration by different people in their daily operations.

Since invention of Information Technology, internet has brought international communities closer to each other by anchoring their ability to share ideologies and perceptions on issues affecting them. Notably, provision of speech freedom is highly regarded in Australia while it is least articulated in developing countries. It is worth noting that the ability to share critical information by creating necessary interlink for deliberating issues affecting people at different levels have drastically increased over the last decade.

Arguably, due to high levels of participation and myriads of research activities on the ground, it is no doubt that freedom of speech will indeed be hard to talk about without the application of public’s civil and political rights.


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Ballis, J. 2010, Australia is a human rights laggard, Surry Hills, Australia, Surry Hills.

Barnes, F. 2012, Federation must campaign for same sex marriage, Surry Hills, Australia, Surry Hills.

Gavrielatos, A. 2011, ‘Stop playing politics’ with children’s futures, Surry Hills, Australia, Surry Hills.

Keeley, T. 2010, Education in Prison, Surry Hills, Australia, Surry Hills.

Simpson, S. 2010, Vale Paula Bloch, Surry Hills, Australia, Surry Hills.

Smith, M. 2011, Need to educate about diversity, Surry Hills, Australia, Surry Hills.

Zadkovich, G. 2010, Aboriginal education – a 25-year plan, Surry Hills, Australia, Surry Hills.