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Freedoms and Rights

Australia is a signatory of various international treaties and laws. Treaties, conventions, protocols and covenants are agreements between nation states on how best to respond to international issues. Since the Second World War, a growing need for international regulations regarding protections of human rights became apparent, leading to the establishment of intergovernmental organisations, such as the United Nations (UN), to promote global cooperation. 

One fundamental UN treaty that relates to this resource is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), which aims to promote equal civil and political rights for all, including freedoms of speech, assembly and electoral rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also relates to this module, but as it is a declaration it is not bound by international law in the same way treaties, conventions, protocols and covenants might be. 

However, even when the Australian Government agrees to international treaties, this does not mean the treaties are immediately incorporated into Australian law. New domestic legislation is not always established for ratified treaties, if an assessment shows these treaty commitments are already covered under the current legal system. Therefore, it is possible that freedoms and rights established in treaties will not be translated into domestic law exactly as outlined in the treaty.

For example, Australia is the only Western democracy without an established ‘Bill of Rights’ document, which means many basic rights are unprotected. Of the rights that have been legislated, many are mentioned inconsistently in common law, Acts of Parliament or the Constitution. The problem with only brief mentions in legislation is that these freedoms can be hard to justify, and the lawfulness of these freedoms can be open to interpretation. This was the case when determining the legal freedom of ‘political communication’. On multiple occasions, the High Court of Australia ruled that the Australian Constitution holds an implied freedom of political communication, in order to allow for a true representative democracy.

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