The Bill of Rights Debate in Australia - A Study in Constitutional Disengagement

Bede Harris


The Commonwealth (that is, federal) government of Australia has launched a National Human Rights Consultation process to determine whether current protection of human rights in Australia is inadequate and, if so, what measures should be taken to enhance human rights protection.  The Australian Constitution protects only a few rights and contains no comprehensive Bill of Rights.  The current debate is anti-theoretical and has been characterised by absolute faith in democracy and a misunderstanding of the nature of a Bill of Rights and what effect it would have on the relationship between the courts and the legislature.  Lack of public knowledge about constitutional matters has been exploited by elements of the conservative press who oppose enhanced rights protection.  The conclusion is that ultimately progress in relation to human rights depends on improved civics education. 

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Journal of Politics and Law ISSN 1913-9047 (Print) ISSN 1913-9055 (Online)  Email:

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